Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Mess – or a Masterpiece?

Leading the pack to try something new isn’t a big deal for me. Whether it’s computers, cell phones, clothing styles, or the latest movies, I don’t like pushing to the front of the line. Let others serve as the guinea pigs, and if something passes muster, then I’ll think about joining the crowd.

This is why my wife and I just watched “The Shack,” the film based on the best-selling novel by William Paul Young. We thought about going to see it when it was in the theaters, but more important things always seemed to be going on. So, we waited until it came out on DVD; we were glad to finally see it.

From his narrow perspective, Mack sees not much
more than a mess in the colorful garden.
The theology seemed a bit loosey-goosey in spots, but hardly enough to dismiss the positives presented in the film. Overall it offered a thoughtful treatment of a universal problem – trying to make sense out of suffering and pain, and seeking an answer to the question addressed so well by Philip Yancey in his book, Where Is God When It Hurts?

If you’ve seen the film, I’m sure you arrived at your own conclusions, so I’ll just focus on one of its most memorable moments. Mack Phillips, the film’s central character, is battling despair after the abduction and murder of his young daughter, Missy. He has a dramatic personal encounter with God, and at one point is led into a colorful garden that seems as much in chaotic disorder and disarray as it is beautiful.

His guide, Sarayu, an Asian-appearing woman portraying the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, asks what he thinks of it. While acknowledging its natural beauty, Mack quickly points out what seems to be obvious: “It’s a mess.” 

A broader view of the scene reveals the "mess" is actually
a masterpiece of floral designs.
After some dialogue, the scene shifts and the camera offers an overhead look at the garden, initially a close-in shot of Mack and the tangle of vegetation surrounding him. Then the camera pulls back for a wider view of the setting. The “mess” suddenly transforms into a visual delight, a design of spirals comprised of hues ranging from pink to green.

This brief perspective, perhaps as much as any in the visually captivating movie, serves as a metaphor for life as we all know it. When in the midst of hardship – perhaps a perplexing family issue, overwhelming financial stress, a worrisome health report, or even a car problem at the most inconvenient moment – all we can see is the mess. Immersed in the misery of the moment, we can’t imagine how anything good could arise from the crisis.

Hours, days, weeks or months pass, and finally the difficulty is resolved, maybe even eliminated. Then, through the wonderful power of hindsight, we often see the truth of Romans 8:28 has been at work: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

It’s like trying to examine an artistic masterpiece, a celebrated painting, with your nose pressed against it. From that distance, you can see only a handful of brushstrokes. We could wonder why the work is so critically acclaimed. But then we step back, viewing the creation in its entirety, and marvel at its mastery. The singular brushstrokes we saw at first, joined with all the others the painter used, have combined to produce unexpected and unparalleled beauty.

The apostle Paul, who endured his share of “messes” during his life after giving his life to Jesus Christ, was drawing from firsthand experience when he wrote, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Amid life’s tribulations, it’s so easy to see nothing but the mess. But God asks us to trust Him, promising that in time He’ll give us the wider view, demonstrating that out of our mess the Master is creating a unique masterpiece.

As Paul encouraged the church in Corinth, For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). That includes the messes that are such an unavoidable part of everyday life.

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