Last Friday, as I harvested some of the bounty from our little garden, I was surrounded by dozens of butterflies. The pollinator garden in the opposite corner of the yard, with phlox, butterfly bush, and milkweed all in bloom, was a nectar smorgasbord for the beautiful creatures. Spicebush Swallowtails in black and blue. Bright yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and the orange of the regal Monarch and delicate American Lady wowed me. The beauty of creation, manifest in these creatures, was a sign of grace, pointing to God’s goodness.
I turned my attention back to the onions, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, as glorious and gorgeous as the butterflies. The beets caught my eye. The iridescent green of the leaves and the earth red, maroon, and white of the beets made me hungry. The beet and beet green salad that followed was delicious. The bounty of creation, revealed in the garden, was a sign of grace pointing to God’s abundance.
Monday morning a derecho, an inland hurricane, blew through leaving destruction in its wake. We were safe. The house has a little ding but stood strong. There in the front yard, however, a third of our Autumn Blaze Maple had been torn away from the trunk, leaving a gaping wound. We planted it in 2013 to honor my father and brother after their deaths. My heart sank. Where was the grace in this broken limb? Was God in the derecho?
When things are good, and beautiful, and inspiring, it is easy to feel blessed and for people of faith to see God in butterflies and beets. Broken limbs and destruction are different. Though the awesome power of nature can turn our thoughts to God, it is hard to see grace and a loving God in the wind. In fact, many will look to the destruction as punishment from an angry God. When we see the good we receive in the world as our blessing and the bad as punishment, we have entered a spiritual cul-de-sac.
The mistake is to think that God is revealed or manifest in butterflies, beets, and broken limbs. We think that God’s moods are shown to us in loving bounty or terrifying anger. That kind of God looks a little too much like me, I am afraid. Not that I can make beets (just the salad). The whim of the moment, the uncontrolled emotional swings, are more a revelation of me than God.
Luther maintained that God was hidden, beyond our knowing. God reveals the divinity of the Trinity as God chooses. Only if God has been already revealed can I see grace in butterflies and beets. God chose to be revealed to us in Jesus Christ on the cross and in the resurrection. That revelation is what gives me eyes to see grace in the bounty of beets and butterflies. The one who fed the multitude with a bit of bread and fish; who turned water to wine; who shared his life with all is manifest in the beet that feeds and the butterfly that amazes.
The Crucified One, dying on the cross and rising from the tomb also allows me to see God in the broken limb. I asked a local tree guy what was best to do with the huge wound in the tree. He said, “Clean away the torn bark, the jagged edges; watch for pests and fungus; let it heal.” That is all. God was not in the wind. God will be in the healing, in the resurrection of that tree.
God has been revealed countless times in the last few days as we stood in the aftermath of the storm. We connected members with saws and strength to members who did not have either. Branches were cleared, healing began, and friendships in Christ deepened. Unknown neighbors came to the rescue, line mechanics worked long says to restore power. There is God in a storm.
Creation is the fruit of God’s work. It is an awesome and sometimes terrifying thing. We cannot, however, find God in creation itself. As Stephen Paulson, a theologian at Luther Seminary has written:
“Thus for those who use creation as their telescope to peer out of the world and into God’s naked majesty, the created masks only inspire fear and dread. A person trembles before the fallen leaf. God cannot be pinpointed in the cosmos.[i]”
God is not in the beets, the butterflies, or the broken limb. But I can see God’s hand in them. God in Christ is in the middle of it all sharing our joy and our sorrow. God is in the healing and the new life. God is in the butterflies, beets, and the broken limbs if we can see through the lens of the cross and resurrection.
[i] Stephen Paulson, Luther on the Hidden God, Word & World, Vol. XIX, No. 4 Fall 1999