Finely Tuned

I'm sitting on my back deck on a beautiful Spring morning, with a cool breeze gently nudging me. The birds are energetic. Having quite a conversation. Or debate? Flirting? Turf war between the robins and finches? I don't know, but they all sound lovely.

Scientists talk about "fine-tuning." You know, how the conditions for life to exist on this planet have to be "just so." Just a couple of miles more distant from the sun and Earth would be a big ice cube. A few miles closer and we'd have a mass of molten lava. It "just so" happens we are perfectly aligned in the cosmos. Astronomers and astrophysicists aren't the only ones to notice this. Biologists see how the tiniest details of life have to be "just so." All the intricate parts of a single cell have to work in tandem. Just a little out of whack, and it just doesn't work at all.

You don't have to be an expert at all to see this fine-tuning. It's obvious, and it's everywhere if you have the eyes to look. Or ears to hear.

My ears are hearing it right now. Alfred Hitchcock once made a movie in which all the birds mysteriously and suddenly decided they didn't like humans. So they attacked them. The results were pretty horrifying. As Hitchcock rightly imagined, we'd be utterly helpless. I propose a different movie. How about if all the birds sounded like fingernails scraping a chalkboard? Or what if they sounded like pigs grunting? Or maybe just an incessant ring, like constant Tinitus in our ears? Or a mechanical sound: scraping, beeping, honking like a horn? Or maybe lets just pretend they sang horribly out of tune.

Stop right now and listen. To the birds. You don't normally do that because you take their song for granted. Listen to the ones singing and chirping right now. Imagine that sound was something horrible. What would life be like?

It wouldn't be "like" anything, because life wouldn't exist. We'd all have long ago gone stark raving mad. It "just so" happens that the background soundtrack to our lives is also finely tuned.

The birds sing the praise of their Creator, and their voices are worthy for the task.

Put Down Your Bible and Listen

For quite some time, my wife has been listening to the Bible. Every night she crawls into bed and turns on David Suchet's wonderful reading of the NIV translation. (Highly recommended.) And let's be really honest: some of it is a chore. The prophets, particularly, have been downers. You probably should time this so that you don't listen to the prophets during the dark winter hours. Night after night of judgments and threatenings can be psychologically difficult.

But she made it through. And finally the New Testament has begun.

And she told me how different it is. Wildly different.

No, I'm not going down the old well-worn path of how allegedly mean and angry the "Old Testament" God is compared to the "New Testament" God. But I am saying there is a difference. And we talked for awhile about what, exactly, that difference is. The one that she's hearing. I think we found it.

She's been listening, night after night, to the messengers of God. Every prophecy, every book, is filled with these phrases: "The word of the LORD came to..." and "This is what the LORD of hosts says..." and "The LORD Almighty declares..."

And then... Jesus arrives.

Jesus almost never says anything like, "This is what the LORD says." He never claims, like the prophets of old, "The LORD of Hosts proclaims to you..." He speaks in direct address: "I say to you..." If you really stop to think about it, the prophets always provide their credentials at the beginning ("The LORD Almighty came to so-and-so"), but Jesus simply talks. And when he's done he says things like, "my Father testifies about me."

Think about that. Not, "I testify about the Father." It's the other way around. Not, "Let me tell you about the Father," but "the Father tells you (testifies) about me." Jesus is central stage. He's not a third party delivering a message from God or pointing or directing you to God. This is nothing, I mean nothing at all, like the prophets.

Listening straight through makes a difference. You get just a glimpse of why those who heard him in the flesh were astounded. The gospels tell us their reaction: "Who ever taught with such authority?" This is the authority. No longer is God sending messengers. No longer is God's speech a third-person address through a mediator. God has entered his own story. He is the lead actor in the play.

It is a thoroughly remarkable change, and one that we miss entirely by not hearing it. We've got chaptered and versed Bibles. We stick to chapters or (when we're busy) verses, but don't bother with the long slog. But for people conditioned to, "This is what the LORD Almighty says," to hear a Rabbi come around saying, "You've heard it said, but I say to you..." and "truly, truly, I say to you" is a radically jarring thing. Just who does this fellow think he is? The third-person has become first-person address.

People often doubt that Jesus claimed to be divine. There's an entire industry of popular books written on that premise. I suggest they put down their versified Bibles and simply listen. His authoritative volume is deafening.