Thursday, July 5, 2018

Canyons, Conceptions – and Cocoons

Imagine all that was involved in forming the Grand Canyon.
Have you ever seen one of those gossip magazines at the grocery store with a cover photo of a beautiful actress, except she’s not wearing any makeup? Who knew so much work went into making someone look gorgeous! 

Beauty, of course, isn’t restricted to the realms of Hollywood. We find it all around us: spectacular sunrises or sunsets; scenery right after a snowfall; the pallet of colorful leaves in the autumn, or another of nature’s myriad wonders. We have manmade beauty: inspiring works of art; stirring  and complex musical compositions; a poem that grabs hold of the heart, or a stunning work of architecture. 

Occasionally, as I’ve written before, I even encounter something that seems truly deserving of the term, “Awesome!” But to my shame, rarely do I feel appropriate appreciation for all that was involved in bringing about that awesomeness. 

This exquisite porcelain creation in
Herend, Hungary took many hours
of painstaking artistry.
Take the Grand Canyon, for example, or other wondrous vistas around the world, even if they don’t quite match the famed Arizona landmark’s grandeur. We can’t begin to conceive the factors and forces that combined to create them. Years ago I visited Herend, Hungary, where I viewed exhibits of rare and exquisite porcelain and china treasured by collectors around the world. Painstaking artistry has gone into creating those pieces, some dating back to the 1800s, but we see only the finished product.

When we admire paintings or sculptures from art’s grand masters, we hardly fathom what went into each work’s conception or the years of preparation that led up to its execution. We can enjoy compositions by Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Chopin and many others, but can we fully comprehend the inspiration – and perspiration – expended to complete such majestic works?

Even the simplest things manage to escape my understanding. As the late author and poet Maya Angelou wrote, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

As a butterfly flits from flower to flower, do we stop to ponder its prior journey from caterpillar to cocoon – the struggle it endured before arriving at such delicate beauty? There’s perhaps no more compelling symbol of rebirth in nature.

This leads me to consider the even more profound phenomenon of spiritual rebirth. Jesus told Nicodemus, the Jewish leader, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). Then, for emphasis, Jesus restated, “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).

One way of understanding this powerful declaration is that becoming a part of God’s eternal family doesn’t involve making improvements – it requires total transformation, far more wondrous than what butterflies go through. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 

Most often, however, this “instant” transformation has been a long time in the making. In my case, even though I had an intellectual belief in God, it took more than 30 years before I was willing to embrace Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. And yet, that was just the beginning. Ever since, God has been to work in and through my life, continuing to mold and shape me into the person He desires for me to be. I have been engaging, sometimes unwittingly or even unwillingly, in what Philippians 2:12 describes as, “working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” In other words, discovering how to work out what God has already worked in.

In terms of “beauty,” the Christian life is a bit of a mixed bag. At times we might strike others as splendid new creations, but at other times we slip back into the old forms of our past life, almost as if a butterfly could slip back to being a caterpillar. Maybe God should slap a sign on our backs reading, “Work in Progress.”

The good news about the Good News is that, indeed, God isn’t finished with us even after we become “born again.” As Philippians 1:6 affirms, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

At that moment we will realize the fulfillment of the assurance given to us in 1 John 3:2, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Perhaps then, more than ever, we’ll appreciate all the work that’s required to create a thing of true beauty.

No comments: