According to the world population clock, on November 15, 2016, there were 7,359,444,900 people inhabiting our planet. More than twice as many had been born (117,572,614) than had died (49,606,841) during the year by then. Those numbers include the 315,873 babies born on that date alone, and the 133,275 people who died in hospitals, in back alleys, in third-world hovels, in military firefights, in car crashes, by lethal injection, and at the hands of terrorists, and who breathed their last breath surrounded by loving families or alone, disregarded and unmourned.
We live in a staggering sea of humanity. Yet each of us lives our life as an individual. When we laugh, grieve, hope, hunger, create, destroy, suffer, make love, and engage in all the experiences and emotions of being human, we do so as an I, not as an amorphous droplet subsumed by a vast conceptual ocean called the human race. Concepts don’t feel; individuals do.
You do. I do.
When we love, it’s one on one. It’s on the individual level, not the global, that significance and love play out. The survival of our species is not a value for me. Faces, names, and personal relationships—those are a value. My beloved Lisa’s well-being is a value to me. When I think of her, it’s not as “a member of the human race” but as a person I care about deeply, someone very important to me whose value is beyond calculation. I think of my mother and sister and brothers and friends the same way, each in their own right. And that’s how it is with you too with the people you love. You know each one by name, uniquely.
How small we are, and how utterly unknown and unimportant, on the grand scale of humanity. Yet how big each of us is, and how known and beloved, as an individual in the lives of other individuals whom we ourselves know and love.
That is how God views us: individually.
In the midst of a brutally pragmatic, humanistic Roman culture, Jesus revealed a God who knows and cares for every person as someone special and intrinsically precious. Here are some of the things Jesus said:
“If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!” (Matt. 12:11–12).
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29).
In his book Who Is This Man?, John Ortberg writes, “When a baby is born, what do parents do when they look at [its] fingers and toes for the first time? They count
them. . . . Jesus was saying, ‘God doesn’t just number your fingers and toes. God loves you so much that he numbers the hairs on your head.”*
How is that possible? you may wonder. God has an incomprehensibly vast universe to manage. How can he possibly keep track of every life on our planet, let alone care about me?
By being God—a being who far transcends anything our intellect can grasp. God views size, scale, quantity, distance, and even time from a perspective we know nothing of. He stands outside the universe and holds it in the palm of his hand, viewing it as if it were a handcrafted model. Yet God also permeates that same universe, inhabiting the tiniest space within spaces, where electrons loom like planets, and in the infinite smallness he declares, with complete identity and authority, “I AM!” Every point of view in time and space, from the interior of the remotest sun to the intimate chain of our thoughts from birth to death, is at God’s command simultaneously. Words like big and small, fast and slow, far and near are irrelevant to God except as tools for communicating with us, locked as we are in a physical frame of reference to which he himself is not bound.
It is no big deal for a being like that to attend to you and me individually, no problem at all for the very Source of personhood to care for us personally.
Number and track the hairs on every one of 7.4 billion heads? No sweat. Number the hairs on your head, call you by name, know you thoroughly, and care for you beyond what you can grasp? Child’s play for your heavenly Father, motivated by his unfathomable love not just for anyone but, very particularly, for you.
Our problem in trusting in God’s care for us doesn’t lie with his limitations but with our own. We simply cannot grasp how utterly GOD he is.
This is the One to whom you and I belong. I need to know this; I need to believe this. Amid the overwhelming problems facing our country and our world, amid the mass of humanity and the events sweeping across our planet, I need to know in my heart that here in our little apartment, Lisa and I are not alone. Our heavenly Father knows us, sees us, loves us, cares for us, guides us, and provides for us. How desperately I need him to do these things for us—and how faithfully and lovingly he has done so and continues to do so.
For he is El Roi, the God who sees (Gen. 16:13). In the far, lost reaches of the desert, he saw the runaway Hagar. And in the back corner of this world, where most of us live our unremarkable lives in obscurity, he sees you and me.
Because God is GOD.
And God is love.
* John Ortberg, Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 35.