Ever since boyhood I have been fascinated by watching craftsmen at work; a carpenter, a bricklayer, a painter, an artist at his easel. People using materials and tools to mend or make something. Admiring their skills I dreamed of copying them and imagined myself becoming like them. The variety and volume of creative hobbies indicates the inherent human desire to create and the deep satisfaction people get from making something – be it knitting or Lego, mosaics or muffins, arranging flowers or making bread. We are created to become creators.
Mending and making is a recurrent theme throughout the Bible. The Bible opens with the act of Creation and ends with the vision of a New Creation. God makes the first human out of dust. God fashions a nation from a slave people. Jeremiah uses the image of God as a potter (18:2) and Ezekiel ‘turning hearts of stone into flesh’ (36:26). First the Tabernacle, then the Temple, then the Church and then the New Creation. God becomes incarnate in Jesus to mend the relationship we broke. After the resurrection and the release of God’s Spirit at Pentecost a new creation became possible in which human lives are transformed, a society is created and a new age is born.
We are living in that new age and, through Christ, are invited to become co-creators with God in the new creation he is bringing into being. Imagination distinguishes us from other species. Gregory of Nyssa wrote ‘Every person is a painter of his own life, and the choices is the craftsman of the work, and the virtues are the paints producing this image’. Reflecting on our own life we need to ask ‘How do I use my imagination? Am I a mender or a breaker, am I a maker or a destroyer?’ When we look at the life of Jesus we see he went about mending broken lives and relationships and making new beginnings possible. He repaired broken limbs and restored those alienated from society. Mending and making were part of the new creation process in which he invited others to join him as ‘apprentices’. N. T. Wright defines the elements needed in the process as mercy, justice and beauty. All three can be seen in Christ.
We live in a broken world; pictures of wanton destruction flood our screens, breakdown in negotiations and violent protests are a common occurrence, lies, threats and subterfuge are repeated between nation and nation. Lives are destroyed through addictions, marriages broken through brutality, and broken promises in politics and local government have become a daily feature in the media. The world is in a broken condition. Scientists are now telling us the impact of our human destruction of natural plant habits may leave us worse off than the Ice Age did. Exploitation, deforestation, pollution, corruption and destruction are all human activities. Our consumerism is unsustainable and the extinction of life species is alarming. Destruction takes only seconds. Construction takes time and energy – as our housing backlog proves! TV regularly show us what beautiful objects can be made from scrap, and what new homes can be created replacing the old, outdated premises and furnishings; delighting and surprising the owners. Through imaginative enterprise we can join with God in his recreation activity, leaving things better than we found them.
We have a lot of mending and making to do. Both activities are redemptive and are integral to God’s continuous act of creation. Creating something beautiful is a sacred activity. The incarnation became God’s visible way to give himself to mend the relationship we broke. The resurrection releases the energy for his new creation. We can destroy a person’s life by words and actions, or we can use them to help fashion a character of beauty and grace. His Spirit can first prompt us and then empower us to engage in repairing or restoring what we, or others, may have damaged, or neglected.
The church was not commissioned to formulate doctrines, dogmas and rituals. That is all head stuff. Jesus asked his followers to ‘go and make disciples …. And teach them to obey everything I have commanded you’ Mt.28.19. ‘The Message’ translates it ‘go out and train everyone you meet in this way of life….then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you’. That is all related to the hands on action of relational living not the process of accumulating knowledge. How come we have got so tied up in orthodoxy to the neglect of orthopraxis? The church is in the business of transformation not information; making wrongs right, mending broken lives, repairing broken relationships, making people’s life and character beautiful. Paul reminded the Ephesians they were ‘God’s workmanship’ 2:10, or God’s ‘work of art’. Thank God there are those inside (and some outside) the church whose life and skill is being devoted to working with people, mending, making, restoring, combining beauty with mercy which surely makes them co-creators with God’s Spirit.