From the window of the airplane, the earth below is a random collection of rugged snow-topped peaks. The Rockies give way to placid lakes scattered like pearls over the snowy landscape, strung together unevenly by meandering streams, rivers and forests.
We descend into the lowlands where the marks of human habitation are easy to spot. Rectangular fields furrowed in straight lines. Barns and houses, situated neatly in a corner; the lines between properties delineated clearly with fences and hedges. A ribbon of highway cuts along the valley towards the suburbs. The patterns of vast parking lots, vehicles, uniform box stores and rhythmic subdivisions are the marks of civilization as I know it.
It occurs to me that humans like order. The farmer ploughs a straight line. The builder uses squares and rectangles for his measure. We operate according to clock, calendar and schedule, meting out our minutes as if we were in charge of them. Our plan, on any given day, is to get from Point A to point B along the smooth and efficient highway with no traffic or accidents.
We want to know our children will come home from school. That our parents will live a long and happy life and die peacefully in their sleep. We want the security of knowing we have a job tomorrow with its accompanying paycheque.
Like Job in the Bible, we don’t appreciate the disruption of devastating illness, random violence or the collapse of financial security. When relationships break, when a loved one falls ill and dies, our desires for predictability and order are shattered. We want our plans to work out.
When viewing the chaos of life from an earthly perspective, some refuse to acknowledge a God who allows such apparent disorder. Others cry out to the God of the universe, asking Him to re-order our lives, to make the crooked straight and to restore what is broken and lost. To make everything to how. It. Should. Be. According to our straight and limited designs.
But God’s order is not like ours. His designs are subtle and yet profoundly beautiful. As viewed from the airplane, I do not first notice the design etched upon the crags of the mountains where the snow has collected or the perfection of individual snowflakes. I cannot fathom the fractal placement of each tree branch and the measured out tributaries of the snaking river which follow this same pattern. The Fibonacci sequence which is the numerical blueprint for flower petals and pinecones is a complex mystery to my mind. The Creator whispers His mysteries in the secrets of nature down the side roads, along the winding forest trail and even out the window of an airplane.
That same God reveals beauty in other unexpected places. The smile of a child with Down’s syndrome. The vision of heaven experienced by a woman on her deathbed. The sorrow of a prison inmate who repents from his past life and begins anew.
I don’t like to be told “everything happens for a reason.” It is such a clumsy attempt to sum up God’s plan when things go awry. We might naively think we should find a reason or even think we know it. But if we are honest we realize it will rarely be in this life. Humanly speaking, we are incapable of seeing it, just as the intricacies of a snowflake can barely be discerned without a magnifying glass.
The patterns of nature are not immediately visible, but they are there for those who would observe. Life in this world may seem haphazard and unfair, but when we reflect on God’s creation, study His character and take note of His workings throughout the kaleidoscope of history, glimpses of a pattern will emerge. The rest will be revealed. In God’s own time and way.