Understanding why God knows the number of hairs on our heads
God knows the number of hairs on your head. So, He knows what best for you.
I’ve been in church as long as I can remember, and I’ve heard something like that statement more times than I can count. The preacher means it as encouragement, implying that since God knows such crazy, insignificant details about us, then obviously He must know how to handle all the big stuff that’s going on in our lives.
It’s based on a verse from Matthew 10 (or Luke 12); and if the preacher really wants to drive the point home, he’ll include what Jesus said in the immediate verse before and after:
Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.
And that’s very true. God does know everything about us, and of course He knows what’s best for us. But the whole idea of me-being-more-important-than-insignificant-birds-because-God-knows-how-much-hair-I-have has never inspired me to not be afraid. So I have just shrugged off the metaphor as something useful or motivating for first-century people and not given it much thought, no matter how many times I hear a preacher bring it up.
As I hang out more in the Psalms, one thing I’m learning is that Jesus quoted them – often. He knew them very well, and the Jewish people did, too. However, Jesus would also reference the psalms or present familiar passages in new ways. Two of David’s psalms specifically mentions the hairs of my head:
For troubles without number have surrounded me;
my sins have overtaken me; I am unable to see.
They are more than the hairs on my head,
and my courage leaves me.
Those who hate me without cause
are more numerous than the hairs of my head;
my deceitful enemies, who would destroy me, are powerful.
Though I did not steal, I must repay.
David uses the number of hairs on his head to descriptively exaggerate how overwhelmed he was by his troubles, sins, and enemies. In both psalms, David is seeking strength and rescue from God. But how does this relate to Jesus talking about the value of sparrows? When we pull back into the larger context we find Jesus saying this to His disciples:
Matthew 10:16-18, 21-22
Look, I’m sending you out, like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations…Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of my name.
Jesus foretelling of persecution, betrayal, and death for Christ-followers? That’s some pretty heavy stuff. But Jesus offers this encouragement:
Matthew 10:26, 28-31
Therefore don’t be afraid of them…Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Jesus wanted to make sure His disciples understood that just as God has authority when the insignificant sparrows die, so He also has authority over when His disciples would die. Knowing that their lives were in God’s hands – and not in the hands of their enemies – would give them the strength to carry on with the Gospel and God’s Love. Even if they are outnumbered and feeling overwhelmed.
When trouble comes, and it feels overwhelming, we wrestle with fear. It’s easy to become afraid in those moments when we are despised, cussed out, shunned, passed over, shouted down, and, in some parts of the world, physically tortured for being a Christ-follower. When it seems like we Christians have more people against us than there are hairs on our heads and our very lives are on the line, God knows where we are and what’s going on.
We’re never abandoned.
God is still in charge.
So be brave.
Don’t be afraid.