I could draw you. Spend considerable time on the portrait. Study in great detail your face and expression, and make faithful lines and shadows to represent them. I might even manage to conjure something of your essence – but of course, I could never grasp you fully on paper. You would only have to turn your head, or blink, or laugh – and my drawing would be exposed as an imitation of you only – like a tracing of a dancing shadow. The best I could do would be to hint at the you underneath – I could never make the paper alive like you are.
Artists have struggled with this problem over the centuries. How to depict life. How to translate it from the realm of the breathing into inanimate mediums. How to grasp ahold of and capture it and put it on display. But life won’t be caged on paper or canvas – nor instill itself in stone. Only God can make live what is dead. Only He can make life from dust – or pen and ink.
And He’s done that. We are witnesses of all He made, all around us. And we are ourselves that which He has made from dust. It is brilliant and it is beautiful – all that God has created. But sometimes we can’t see it that way. Sometimes our eyes get caught up in the pen and the ink, or we become fixated on the brush strokes – and we can’t see into the brilliance beyond the canvas of our lives. And it’s true – sometimes the pen stokes hurt and make jagged lines – and sometimes He paints in colors from the palette of sorrow. But this is how He expresses life. It’s how He expresses our lives. And it is good.
Of course we have some choice. We can try and knock away His hand – which we often do when the etching becomes painful – or we can trust Him and allow Him to color our lives freely. And I suppose if we saw Him face to face we’d always sit still patiently. But the problem is he reaches out and into our lives from behind the canvas and He uses the people around us to make His marks. How unpleasant it can be. How hard at times to humble ourselves and allow others to crudely scribble in our lives. How difficult to make the connection of God at work behind it. That takes faith.
And how easy it is, when God is using us to draw in someone else’s life, to bend the pen just a little this way or that, to make a point of our own, or even to stab with it when we are particularly frustrated. All these lines remain. All we etch and all He etches through us remains. Sometimes we make beautiful flowing lines, and sometimes we wound. Even those we love. Maybe especially those we love. Looking back we can be appalled at our own failures – embarrassed by the childlike, sometimes angry, often selfish pictures we’ve produced. But He keeps us at it. He sharpens us like pencils and puts us back to work.
We may not be the artist, but we are the artists tools. And through us He will make beauty in the lives of others, if we let Him. And when we finally get to look, with Him, at the canvas of our life, don’t we want to see a picture of Him and us? A picture of redemption – painted with bold, beautiful strokes of love and grace, faith and forgiveness? And don’t we want to then see in many other canvasses how we were instrumental to His coloring with kindness – His truth?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-1