There is a red-tailed hawk who perches often in the trees in my backyard.
My husband and I have been fascinated with him ever since he arrived in the summer. He keeps his post in the trees sometimes for hours, looking fiercely out over the landscape, and then sometimes we’ll see him gather his legs and then launch himself out into the sky, gliding in that free, effortless way that hawks do. Once or twice, we’ve watched him plunge to earth. When I occasionally come out to get photos of him, he cries out at me until I relent and go back inside.
I’m fond of him. I am also fond of the little fat squirrels and chipmunks who occasionally hide nuts in our backyard. Obviously, this creates a serious conflict of interest. When one of our familiar squirrels emerged recently, searching for a nut he’d buried in the yard, I kept one eye on the hawk and urged the squirrel along. “You better find that nut in a hurry,” I told him, and added, plaintively, “Mr. Hawk, please stay in your tree.”
Mr. Hawk obeyed. But the day might come when he won’t. And that’s nature, isn’t it?
When animal documentaries show a lion chasing down a helpless gazelle, I cringe and I turn away before the inevitable occurs; I can’t help but cheer if, on occasion, the gazelle escapes to survive another day. At the same time, I’m aware that this is nature. It is normal and acceptable in the wild for creatures to hunt and eat each other, even if I find it disturbing. And the longer you look, the more nature will horrify you: species eat their own to survive, mothers eat their children, some creatures kill partners after mating.
That’s just the way it is.
But that’s not how it ought to be. I find myself thinking of Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25, respectively:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.
Because these are prophetic verses, scholars differ on them. Some believe that the verses imply a literal occurrence: natural predators settling down together to live in peace, feeding not on each other but on straw and dust. Others believe the verses to be a metaphorical symbol of the peace that will occur under the reign of God: a world in which the cycle of death, predation, hurt, and suffering has been destroyed.
Frankly? I like both. They’re not mutually exclusive.
And either way, when I read those verses, I boggle at how unfamiliar they sound. How the image presented here of God’s ultimate desires and plan so upend the order of nature as I understand it. Predator hunts prey: that’s the law in the wild. Creatures live and then they suffer and die, sometimes too soon. But it is not the intended order of things. Hurt, suffering, all forms of decay and death: none of it was meant to be. And when God redeems all things, none of it will be. Can you imagine?
It’s at times like these that I understand why some people struggle to believe the Bible, and to believe God. I don’t think it’s just because of innate skepticism or because they can’t bring themselves to believe in what they perceive to be myths; I think they’re afraid it’s too good to be true. It feels almost gullible to hope so. Childlike. Imagining a world where we get to be reunited with our loved ones, where the good we do in God’s name is rewarded, where there’s nothing but love, no tears, no suffering, no pain…
I think people are afraid to believe in the possibility of a world like that. I think they’re afraid to believe in the possibility because they’re afraid of that hope being betrayed. Because deep down, I suspect – as much as we try to hide it or deny it – we all have that hope. We all want to believe that there really is a happy ending available to this story. That what we see isn’t all there is, or will be, or can be. We want to know that death isn’t the end, that we’ll one day forget what it was ever like to cry in pain or loneliness. That what seems “natural” and unavoidable here – death, and suffering, and destruction – was not what was intended, nor what we were meant for.
I’m glad that I do believe. I’m glad that I was given the grace to believe, because I know that what faith is in me does not come from me but is instead a gift from God. And because of that, in the coming year, what I want to do is make the possibility of that world alive to other people. To show them glimpses of the kind of love, and peace, and freedom from suffering that I know will come and will be waiting. To show a world where there will be neither harm nor destruction, only living like we were meant to live the whole time.
We are here to give a glimpse of the world as it might be. I can only pray I live up to the privilege.
Here’s another photo of the hawk, just for fun: