I didn’t mean to let a week go by before I continued with this post. Maybe you thought I forgot about it. Maybe you even hoped I did! But alas, here I am on another Sunday evening and I fully intend to finish my thought. To refresh our memories (read Part One here), I am the kind of painter who will abandon a project once it has moved out of my control. I will begin to create something, and if it is too slow to get in line with my vision I will scrap it with little remorse. I do not lose sleep over this, generally, that is to say that I am quite at peace with the power I wield as a creator to cease and dismantle any creation that displeases me. Writing that makes me sound like a quitter, but even if that were true about me (I could argue that I’m not, perhaps another day, another post) I would think that even the most steadfast and persevering artist would, at some point when his creation has reached a dark and unforgiving dead-end, give up. Cut our losses, cut and run. It’s expected.
The question I posed in Part One was would God, the Creator, when faced with the same frustrating rebellions of his creation, similarly give up? Setting aside the story of The Great Flood for now (which, like the battlefields of Joshua, is a difficult one to understand) it’s a pretty simple answer. But sometimes simple answers take us by surprise. Such was the case as I was first considering this, some time towards the end of February, after my canvas had disappointed me and I had thrown it away and I thought, “Is this how God operates?”
And a verse crept up on me, kind of toeing shyly at the edge of my consciousness at first, but doing so persistently, and then I had to search around a bit to locate it. In Philippians 1:6 Paul writes, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Anyway, there is the answer. But I didn’t start writing this to give you a single verse and a pat on the back. I want to make you imagine that, to consider what that means. God. In his studio. Creating.
He’s started this one painting but the framework is a little bit warped. He takes the time to correct it. He is stapling the canvas down but notices it buckles in some places. He carefully removes the staples, pulls the buckled cloth taut, and restaples them. He begins to apply gesso with his wide bristled brush but notices there is dirt and hair collecting on its surface, mixing with the white acrylic and causing the surface an unsightly texture. He waits patiently for it to dry, then sands away the imperfections and applies another coat. He begins to paint, lines of delicately varying weight, arching and dipping gracefully across the canvas, and the subject begins to emerge. It is me. He is continuing to form me with shapes and colors when I make my first ugly mistake. With hardly a blink he corrects it and continues painting. I jerk again, almost involuntarily (but of course it is always voluntarily) and something is smeared. He sighs this time and dutifully he corrects his painting once again, but almost before his brush meets the surface of the canvas his subject has begun her outright rebellion. Every color is garish and unsightly, every line revolts against its intended path and black and gray tangle with muddied pinks and oranges and browns and yellows and the Creator, realizing that the subject has every intention of running its own life, steps back and lets it do so for a time. It becomes increasingly vile, increasingly hideous, and it is painful. It is a crime against the art world, against creation. The Creator, after a time, steps back to his painting and begins to wrestle with it, fighting color with color, texture with texture, and after much effort he has reworked the piece into something lovely, something much closer to what he had intended. The artwork revolts yet again. It threatens to become something putrid, something truly abhorrent, but the Creator had made up his mind before he even began: this was his painting, he would see it through to completion.
And so it goes in God’s studio. We who are creations of a diligent and faithful Creator can be assured that we will not be discarded at the first sign of failure, not even after the tenth or twentieth or ten thousandth mistake. The reason why, I think, is also aided by an art metaphor, that the final work, the masterpiece, is priceless. It will hang in a museum for all to see and it will be a light shining, reflecting the Creator’s glory. There is nothing more valuable to a creator than his masterpiece; it is, without a doubt, worth every drop of sweat, every hour spent toiling. God has given us this promise, that he will sweat over us and toil over us and will not give up on us, no, not ever. I will throw away a canvas because I have failed it, but God will never fail us, and never throw us away. God is faithful. He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
So there, your sermon for today. If you’re reading from Wisconsin, go make yourself a mango smoothie and enjoy the last few days of winter. The great melt is coming!