When the grading piles up and I find my mind wandering aimlessly between consciousness and uber-consciousness, I get lost in a thought experiment. Trust me, when you read papers on ‘The English Reformationer, Martian Luther King, Jr.,’ it’s less a wander and more of a sprint. The thought experiment is this: If I could get into any room in the world, which room would I choose?
The world opens up (pun intended) in a hurry with a question like this. I’ve had lots of candidates thrown at me by other people: the Situation Room at the White House, recording studios for famous bands, perhaps even an after-Oscars party overflowing with swanky celebrities. The answer I’ve been personally entertaining these last few weeks is less thrilling. I’d like access to the hidden rooms of the Vatican or the Louvre—where all the stuff no one sees is being kept. Not in a Robert Langdon, I’ve-got-to-prove-the-Church-is-covering-up-Jesus’-real-identity sort of way. Rather, I want to enjoy firsthand the priceless works of art that are being restored by the small army of gifted artists, historians, and curators. I know it’s not sexy, but there is something deeply profound about the related acts of protection, restoration, and revelation.
Just 3 hours to the west of the Louvre, the small French town of Bayeux rests in the heart of Normandy, just a stone’s throw from famous shores of the Allied invasion. The treasure of Bayeux is a thousand-year old masterpiece, the Bayeux Tapestry. At a length of 70 meters, this embroidered strip of linen chronicles the events surrounding the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century. That’s over 220 feet of history, delicately stitched into fabric as a lasting testimony to battles and bloodshed, heroism and folly. I can only imagine the dedication of those who sat diligently at that table, almost a millennium ago … and the equal commitment of those who have been a part of its momentous restoration campaign.
That’s it, in the background. It’s a stunning piece of human history.
Which is why I say the following with deep seriousness: Re-creation is greater than creation.
In every act of creation, two forces spring into action. On one side, the laws of entropy and decay rage. How long does it take a brand-new bathroom stall to be initiated with original works of art? For every book of poetry, a critic. For every Youtube video, a vile comment. For every act of vulnerability, a person ready to exploit it.
On the other side, there exist the forces of preservation that resist the inevitable slide into outright disrepair. Their job is to ‘make something new again.’ For every trash heap, a collector. For every computer game, a mod. For every levy break, a youth group and a bunch of worn-out work gloves.
On an easy scale,
It’s easier to destroy than to create.
It’s easier to create than to re-create.
It’s easy to have a wedding. It’s even easier to break up that contract in divorce. But marriage, the ongoing restorative acts of confession, forgiveness, community, child-rearing, growing into fullness – these things are hard.
Re-creation never ends. Luther once described how God’s work in creation was fundamentally different than other human acts of creating. He says that while a builder might construct a home with great diligence and personal attention, he can, at the end of the project, leave the home to stand for decades. His work is complete. God’s creation, by contrast, is wholly different. God must be engaged in the constant act of re-creation, a sustaining provision that accompanies his creative work. In other words, if God the Creator withholds his sustaining power to his creation, all the kings horses and all the kings men, …
The Christian life is, in part, a participation in God’s ongoing re-creating of the world. We are agents of restoration, finding where the Spirit is moving and engaging in that work, one person at a time. Too often, Christians have disengaged from this task, either: 1) arguing that God will bring about destruction to those who don’t believe, or 2) they’re fearful that any overt participation in the movement of God will lead to charges of works righteousness. Yet this disposition isn’t found in the New Testament. Jesus lays forth an identifying feature of those who love and serve God. They feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bind the wounded, visit the prisoner. Christians sit before the great tapestry that God has created, look for the parts that are frayed or devoid of original color, then set to work, needle in hand.
It’s simply not good enough to be fatalist. It’s not acceptable to sit on the sidelines and say, ‘Yeah, that’s a shame.’ To be resigned to the fact that God will do what He wants, so … whatever. Those Christians who press hard for God’s sovereignty as the principle way of understanding him often fall into this trap, as if sovereignty somehow becomes deus ex machina, a way to tidy up all that is wrong with the world.
The better way forward is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Sure, we can recognize God’s sovereignty as he carries out his will for humanity, but this attribute of God cannot overpower his desire for our personal discipleship—God molding our inward orientation toward the way of Christ. Jesus’ first command was, ‘Follow me.’ This implies that we can, in fact, follow him. Therefore, what he accomplishes at a universal level is mirrored by the ongoing service in the nitty-gritty of human existence.
Jesus dies to sin, claims victory in resurrection.
Christians suffer, await resurrection.
Jesus heals all wounds, completely, fully, spiritual and physical.
Christians visit, feed, clothe and care.
Jesus reconciles God to man.
Christians work toward the reconciliation of man to man.
And Jesus redeems the utter failure of our best efforts. He comes to make all things new, even the mistaken, misconstrued, misunderstood ways of man as they try to embody the ways of God.
“Those Christians who press hard for God’s sovereignty as the principle way of understanding him often fall into this trap, as if sovereignty somehow becomes deus ex machina, a way to tidy up all that is wrong with the world.”
I offer that the Christian life is not too far off from the life of the art restorer. It’s the life of protection, restoration, and revelation. We protect the defenseless because Christ protected us, as a hen protects her chicks from threats seen and unseen. We work to restore the broken, because Christ became broken in our place.
And revelation? Well, when an act of art restoration is complete, it is returned to the world in all of its glory. The Bayeux tapestry. The Raphael rooms. What does God have in store for us when the New Creation, the Re-Creation, becomes reality? Well, let’s just say that it’ll be better than creation.
© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 No one knows with precision when the Bayeux Tapestry was commissioned or completed. The first written evidence of the art piece came in the 15th c. from Bayeux Cathedral, but most scholars insist that its creation was much earlier in the 11th c. Some legends say Matilda of Flanders (wife of William the Conqueror) set her ladies-in-waiting toward this project, others point to Bishop Odo, who may have commissioned the work in honor of the conquest.