Listen To Article
A couple of weeks ago I had the great privilege of being the featured teacher at “The School of Preaching” held at a church in Nairobi, Kenya. Having the opportunity to speak with, teach, and interact with around 175 pastors across five days was for me a rich experience. The warmth, encouragement, and love I received from my fellow pastors was deeply meaningful.
This was actually my third trip to Africa since 2013 but this was the first time I had the opportunity to do a small safari as I had an extra day that allowed a trek through Nairobi National Park, the only such park in the world that is encompassed by a major city. Think of New York’s Central Park, albeit bigger and actually filled with wild animals. But the point is, even as you are out in the wild environs of the park, you can see the city in the near distance.
In any event, I did not get to see all of the animals that are referred to as “The Big Five” but I did get to see several of them as well as a wonderful variety of vibrantly colored birds, African Wild Buffalo, Warthogs, quite a few Ostriches, Impalas, Gazelles, Caribou, and more.
But it was a small herd of giraffes that provided what I regard as the highlight of the day. There must have been about fifteen of them in the area where we encountered them, including many adults but a few younger ones too. They seemed largely untroubled by our presence and we were able to get pretty close–I have a good many photos that turned out well and that did not need much by way of the zoom lens. It goes without saying I had never seen giraffes (or any of the animals that day) in the wild and I think I ever only saw one giraffe in a zoo many years ago.
They definitely count as being in the category of “What was God thinking when he made them?” Impossibly long necks and legs, their lovely coats whose patterns are apparently like human fingerprints: there are no two exactly alike. They seem ungainly at best but when we got a little closer to a couple of the younger ones than they cared for, it turns out they can run faster than you’d guess. The average person would definitely lose a foot race with a giraffe.
A few weeks before this trip to Kenya, my co-host David Bast and I had finished up a “Groundwork” radio series on the Book of Job. And, of course, among the great surprises about the ending of Job is that when God finally breaks his long silence to answer Job and his friends out of the whirlwind, God does not engage the deep theology and philosophy that make up the shank of the Book of Job. Instead and for the most part, God takes Job on a tour of creation. They go on safari. And as they do, God introduces one creature after the next for Job’s consideration. Not only did God create this wild variety of creatures in the first place, the Book of Job makes clear that God continues to delight in watching giraffes being giraffes and donkeys being donkeys. God himself finds ostriches to be a little odd but he still enjoys watching these huge flightless birds.
What did any of that have to do with the huge, grand scale questions about evil and suffering and humanity that had preoccupied Job and his friends? At first blush, nothing. But upon closer examination you realize what God was saying through his tour of the cosmos and his showcasing of one wonderful critter after the next: any God who can make, maintain, and delight in such a world of wonders can be trusted to do all things right and well in the end. Our hardest questions may go unanswered for now but at the end of the cosmic day, there will be answers. There will be justice. There will come a day when (as Julian of Norwich said) “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”
On the day I encountered those lovely giraffes, I had just come off of five days encouraging preachers how to present the Gospel as clearly and as lyrically and as gracefully as they could in their sermons. I encouraged them (as my colleague Paul Scott Wilson has taught me) to end their sermons with hope and joy (and not long “To Do” lists that can add to people’s burdens). I told them to end their sermons with many sentences that have God, Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit as the subject of active verbs as a way to remind their congregations that God is on the move, that Good News is real, that our God in Christ has us and this world in his loving hands.
And then I saw giraffes who craned their long necks, looked right at me, and then carried on with their eating those parts of trees none of the other animals can reach. Somehow, as they looked at me and as I soaked in their own unique majesty as creatures, the same message I had taught the preachers came home to me in this safari setting: God’s got this thing. God is good and God is loving and through Jesus Christ, all has been and will be made right.
The giraffes told me that. And the God of Job knew they would.