It was one of those situations that slows traffic as we strain to sort out the details. The police, tow trucks, ambulance, and vehicle wreckage are all part of a picture that is all too familiar. Except this time it was me.
I had been taking one of the last motorcycle rides of the season. We were on the way home from the west coast of the island and life was very good. The last thing I remember was a deep sense that all was well in the world. I was mentally going over some of the connecting pieces for the next day’s sermon.
The next thing I remember was trying to answer a policeman’s questions about what had just happened. I told him I didn’t know. That’s normal, was his reply, as we stared at the crushed side of the bike.
The woman I hit thought I was dead and wouldn’t come back even when she was assured that I was okay.
And I was okay. My friend took me home and I spent those two hours trying to put the pieces together. The only clarity I had was that the line between a pleasant fall ride and eternity was suddenly razor thin. It was even more disconcerting because the concussion had wiped the entire incident from my memory. There was nothing there – I may as well have been struck by lightning from a clear blue sky.
All people are like grass
Isaiah’s words were rolling around in my addled brain: “A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All people are like grass…’” (Isaiah 40:6).
How true! But it has a terrifying ring to it when you are sitting in the wreckage of a perfect autumn bike ride. Is life really that fragile? One minute you are going along with hopes, dreams, and plans; the next minute it is all over. It is deeply unsettling.
“All people are like grass.” True. But where is the comfort in that?
It is supposed to be a comfort. After all, the same voice had just told Isaiah to “comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1).
There was little of that on the ride home and Isaiah’s cry was just part of my post-concussion brain’s attempt to find some solid ground. It did not feel solid but the verse would not go away.
In our heads, we know life is fragile but there are moments when the reality of “all people are like grass” drives deep into our souls. Sometimes, calamity strikes from out of the blue. The world of the modern highway keeps reminding us how, in an instant, our detailed plans can be wiped away without warning.
Tsunamis of life
Motor vehicle accidents are not the only way calamities happen.
Recessions change lives. Incomes are lost when, in the veiled world of international finance, something goes wrong, and when both present incomes and future dreams prove to be built on sand and sink into a rising tide.
Sickness changes lives. Relationships take heart-wrenching turns. And what was supposed to be a pleasant ride becomes wreckage.
Sometimes, we see it coming like an advancing tsunami and scramble to get out of the way. Sometimes we do not. These tsunamis have many forms. All of them should remind us how fleeting our lives and fortunes are.
So where is the comfort when the transient nature of life stares us down?
The comfort didn’t come quickly but when it came it rose out of a grand juxtaposition. Countless men and women have been driven to despair by the vanity and brevity of life – but not Isaiah. That brevity is only half the picture. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
We are grass, and our vast God stands above all creation. And that is the comfort because this is the vast, infinite God who “tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11).
We may be grass but we are creatures loved by this astonishing God. And if our astonishing infinite God loves and cares for us, that is comfort!
Jesus picks up Isaiah’s imagery and connects the dots. “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you?” (Matthew 6:30). We are carried close to the heart of God.
It seems we cannot understand this comfort until we know we are grass.