Icarus fell from the sky for the wings he wore were made of wax; the sun melted them, and he plummeted to his death.
This image from Greek mythology contrasts sharply with the wings we find in the Bible. Especially in the Psalms, the predominant theme associated with wings is one of refuge. God’s wings protect his people. In them one abides safely. When analyzing wings as covering, the image also reveals a transformative effect. When we wear the wings of God, we do not fall downward, beset by the ugliness of sins; we fly upward. We soar through the power of God and shelter in the beauty and wonder of his holiness.
Another writer who emphasizes the sheltering aspect of wings as related to God is Gerard Manley Hopkins. His poem “God’s Grandeur” ends with these two lines:
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. (13-14).
To brood, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as a verb means to 1. “to sit on (eggs) so as to hatch them;” 2. “to cherish (young brood) under the wings, as a hen does.” The Holy Ghost in the lines above is imaged as a broody hen gathering her chicks for shelter. If we abide in the “shadow of his wings” as the Psalmist phrases it, we are being cherished by God. In a desert country, the shadow would provide shelter from the sun, relief from the elements. God’s wings thus provide refuge, a place of safety and replenishment. The exclamation,“ah! bright wings,” at the end of Hopkins’ poem, is an utterance of astonishment. It affirms the protective power and beauty of God.
The ugly story of David’s ravishment of Bathsheba, a story compounded further by more lies and violent actions, shows how bent and deformed our world is. It also reveals that even in those chosen by God—as David was—there is need for transformation. By his actions, David left the shelter of God’s wings and tried to cover up his sin through other avenues. He sought to use his kingly robes, his wings of wax, to keep his status and position. In the light that Nathan brought from God, David could only fall. We are bent people, awkward and truncated souls. Fortunately, there is God. Through His grace, His wings will cover and transform us. This is the turning point for David, who once again accepts the shelter of God’s wings. God’s beauty and holiness change us, covering our imperfections and changes us into beings in harmony with Him.
Then we can fly. Another poet who echoes imagery of the Psalms is George Herbert. “Easter Wings,” a pattern poem whose very title embeds the resurrection and upward motion it grants to us all reads,
Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store, Though foolishly he lost the same, Decaying more and more, Till he became Most poore: With Thee O let me rise, As larks, harmoniously, And sing this day Thy victories: Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
Sin or “the fall’ can be reversed only through God’s death and His gift of grace. Only through joining ourselves to God can we move into harmony. Through God we are raised into better beings. These are indeed wings of Grace. We achieve flight and will not fall, as long as we “imp” our wings on God’s (Herbert, line 19).
Why then did David’s child die? What did Bathsheba feel in the background of this biblical story where David becomes the emblem for humanity? How can they be integrated into this story of flight? What is their portion in all of this?
God redeems us, but our actions still have effects, and those effects can have costs. Our world is broken. David sinned and the cost of that sin was the baby. The baby was innocent and died. David lived and repented. He lived to experience the wonder that is restoration. He understood the gift of God’s covering and accepted it. As for Bathsheba, one wonders what she felt or thought. Another child was given to her by David. In biblical thought, it would have been seen as a blessing. He did grow into the wisest King of Israel. She too must have abided in the shelter of God’s wings.
God’s wings are not meant to act as a band-aid. They protect and transform us. They lift us from our turbulent and often ugly world into the realm of God’s grace, a region of light and beauty. Transformed through the care of God, our afflictions caused by the sinful world in which we too often participate, can be changed, transmuted through the power of God. “ah! bright wings” In his care, we fly.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3151