As we exited the back door and made our way across the spacious green lawn, my one-year-old daughter pointed excitedly upward at the great blue heron soaring through the sky. Her eyes widened with wonder, and she exclaimed "Tsst!"
"That's right," I said. "It's a bird."
Lately I've been spending more time than usual with my nose stuck in God's "other" book—the book of nature—and I've re-discovered how true the words of the Psalmist are: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge" (Psalm 19:1-2). There is a beauty and order in creation that we so often fail to appreciate, and as my daughter and I continued our journey into the woods, the crystal-clear brook, the newly-budding patch of daffodils, and the warm kiss of springtime wind all testified to this. It seems that, unless we are forced by necessity to do some serious study of the book of nature, so many of its intricacies go unnoticed. Ironically, we cease to exult in the miraculous monotony of the everyday simply because our Creator's fingerprints are too numerous to count. We become numb through repetition.
But maybe the regularity of the seasons and the glorious monotony of creation are meant to reveal something to us about the constancy of God. In his Lectures on Genesis, commenting on Genesis 1:20 ("And God said, 'Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.' "), Martin Luther makes this profound assertion: "Nothing—even raising the dead—is comparable to the wonderful work of producing a bird out of water. We do not wonder at these things, because through our daily association with them we have lost our wonderment. But if anyone believes them and regards them more attentively, he is compelled to wonder at them, and his wonderment gradually strengthens his faith."(1)
The newly-budded branch. The seasonal return of the geese. The dandelions pushing their way up through the soil. The regularity of these occurrences reveals a God who delights in the regular rhythms of life.
But there is another side of nature, just as sure and certain and predictable as life. Death.
As my daughter and I neared the trailhead, I smelled it first. And then I saw it. The carcass had been there for a while and the vultures were having their way with it. The odor of rotting flesh filled my nostrils as I tried to hold my breath and quickly moved past the dead animal, hoping it wouldn't catch her attention. In the middle of a green clearing surrounded by spring flowers, death was on full display.
Although nature is beautiful, Tennyson was right—it's also red in tooth and claw. If the Discovery Channel documentaries have taught us anything, it's that. The Wolf pack seeks out the lagging caribou calf, the baboon troop kills and eats the progeny of its rivals, and cattle have been known to throw out their own wombs during birth. Life is everywhere, but so is death. It can't be stopped, and it can't be ignored.
Luther knew this well. Here's the rest of the quote: "Since God is able to bring forth from the water the heaven and the stars, the size of which either equals or surpasses that of the earth; likewise, since He is able out of a droplet of water to create sun and moon, could He not also defend my body against enemies and Satan or, after it has been placed in the grave, revive it for a new life?"(2)
This world is beautiful. But it is also deeply, deeply broken. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:22: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." Adam & Eve ate the fruit, they broke the world, and death entered the picture. Nothing has been the same since. Though we may catch glimpses and glimmers of order and beauty, they are always reflected through a shattered mirror. Paradise was lost, and only the faintest vestige of its goodness remains. No more tree of life. No more walking with God in the cool of the day. No more contentment. From Heaven to earth, every last molecule was riven.
But perhaps that's the real miracle of this time of year; not that it's simply pretty or orderly or colorful. In the full bloom of springtime, God brings forth life where there was once only barrenness and death, and in this we catch glimpses of our own resurrection. The true miracle of springtime isn't simply its beauty, but in the way it foreshadows the sprigs of life that spring forth when God creates faith from the fallow ground of dead sinners.
In the springtime we encounter not just a Psalm 19 God who creates beautiful things, but a Psalm 116 God who redeems life from death: "The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: 'Lord, save me!' You, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living."
This is the God of Easter in all of His glory, emerging from the grave victorious over the forces of darkness and death that daily threaten to overwhelm us. This is the God forever in our flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who overcame death by being overcome Himself. What we broke in the Garden, Jesus fixes at the empty tomb.
Our world may be riven from top to bottom, but the good news, as poet Christian Wiman points out, is that we have a God who "goes belonging to every riven thing he's made." He belongs to us and we to Him, and He came to make all bad things come untrue. And He will. In fact, He's doing it right now. We live in a perpetual spiritual springtime.
In a world of Covid-19, where death daily bares its biceps and the maw of the grave is on full display, Jesus comes to slam its jaws shut and to remind us that life gets the final word. And this Word is as sure and certain as the dawning of each new day.
So the next time you walk through the woods and catch a glimpse of a young fawn scampering through the underbrush or new shoots bursting through last year's growth, remember that.
Keep your eyes peeled, because the God of springtime is everywhere.