"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."
The above quote comes from Matthew's gospel, chapter 10, and I've always felt a little uncomfortable with it! I've never really understood exactly how I'm supposed to find it comforting. "not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father" - how much comfort is that to the poor sparrow who does fall to the ground, apparently in line with the Father's will! "you are worth more than many sparrows" - so it's less likely (but still not impossible) that anything bad will happen to me! This doesn't help me that much to feel loved or protected by God...
As I've pondered this more recently though, another angle has occurred to me:
First of all, on re-reading it I've realised that I've previously failed to properly take the context into account. In the preceding verses, Jesus warns his followers that they are actually quite likely to get killed because of Him. His intention can't have been then, to assure them (or us) of physical safety. So what was he getting at?
I think just this - "you matter"! God doesn't promise that nothing bad will happen to you, but if and when it does, it doesn't mean he doesn't care! Jesus doesn't say, "the very hairs of your head are all numbered", to illustrate the fact that God is a great big know-it-all, he says it to illustrate how much attention he gives you. God is that interested in you that He actually would sit there and count every hair on your head!
So "don't be afraid"? - seriously? Well, first of all, the context here is eternal. Death (and therefore suffering) is not the end of the story and this message comes through very clearly in this passage and elsewhere in Jesus' teaching. Apart from this though, surely the scariest thing is not to suffer - or even to die - but to suffer and die alone: to suffer and die (and no-one can perpetually avoid either) in the belief that no-one cares and that you don't matter. The message of the above quote though, is that you will always matter. Even sparrows matter to God. But don't be afraid, you are worth much more than many sparrows!