What does it mean to walk the path of Christ as a flawed person? We see over and over that God calls flawed humans to enact His word. What kind of perfection can God create with flawed servants such as us? What does it mean that we are part of God’s plan, that He knows everything, when the world is marred by the cataclysm of the Fall?
We have recently read from the Book of Jonah, a prophet so full of flaws. His name calls to mind how God punished him by having a whale swallow him whole. And even after Jonah completed his task, more successfully than any human could have reasonably hoped, he still failed to see the wisdom in God’s mercy towards the people of Nineveh! Even in this, Jonah is a perfect example of the difficulty humans have in seeing God’s plan.
This difficulty continues today, with the sometimes poignantly, sometimes mournfully, sometimes snidely asked question “Why would a loving God allow bad things to happen?” as people look at the world, and wonder how a perfect God could allow things to get…like this.
The short answer is two words: free will.
To elaborate, God has endowed to His Creation with free will, that we may follow Him or not follow Him as we wish. As a loving God, who is Love, God understands that true love cannot involve coercion. Without the ability to say “no,” we cannot truly say “yes.”
We have the ability to roam all of Creation, and the free will to do anything we want, so when we want to follow God’s will, it becomes a gift to God.
At the same time, we are allowed to say “no.” It is through our saying “no” to God that the ills of the Fallen world are exacerbated. As humans say “no” to the Fourth Commandment, we see punishing work schedules that tear people and families apart. As humans say “no” to the Fifth Commandment, we see elders being neglected and dying alone. As humans say “no” to the Sixth Commandment, we see war and the innumerable atrocities and horrors inherent therein.
It is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking to experience, it is heartbreaking to think about, it is a curse of this Fallen world. The very free will that allows for love allows also for all of this.
And amidst all this it can be hard to imagine even God can ever uphold His plan with us as His tools.
But it is a poor craftsman who blames his tools.
These days we in the industrialized world tend not to work with our hands. Our days are usually filled working a set routine, often with computers which use a set way of working. Some jobs may have chances for improvisation, but by and large, we no longer create, or make, or construct the things that we interact with on a day-to-day basis.
When we do that specific act of creation, we learn that our initial plans rarely work out. Oftentimes there are things inherent to the tools we are using that greatly impact the process. We set up to take one path, but end up having to veer greatly off our original course.
This is best exemplified in my mind in the art of sculpture, both marble and wood.
Michelangelo is considered one of the greatest sculptors who ever lived. He once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside of it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” In describing his completion of another statue he said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” In these two quotes, we see a process that describes not just a master imposing his own will onto a blank block of stone, but an artist using the nature of the particular and specific material in front of him to find the specific form that suits that marble best.
When one is presented with a block of marble, there are already facts about the marble that one may or may not be able to see within it.
Perhaps a fault runs through that top corner, maybe an irregularity a third of the way through, barely glimpsed on the surface, widens further in. There are aspects of the essence of the marble that ordain the nature of the statue that can or cannot be carved from it.
An amateur might attempt something, only to find that the top corner, which had been the beginnings of an artfully extended arm, cracks and falls. Or, again, perhaps an irregularity that the sculptor had hoped was only surface-level grows larger and larger as the surface is carved away.
An expert can understand these facts within the marble and so can work with them, instead of working despite them. The end result shows only a perfectly executed piece of art, one in which most people would be hard-pressed to see any flaws.
If such a thing can be accomplished by a human sculptor, what more can be accomplished by God?
Trees grow as they may, with knots and scars, parasites and woodpeckers, and yet beautiful creations are carved from wood, often using the tree’s history to emphasize and enhance the ultimate work. Our own histories are filled with imperfections, stemming from our own faults, from the faults of others, and from simply existing in a Fallen world. In this life, with our astonishing gift of free will, we have the choice either to exacerbate the brokenness of the world, or to live out the glad tidings that God wishes for all His children. You have the choice be the help you prayed for in your darkest hour to someone who needs that help now.
And even when we slip up, make mistakes, while we wander aimlessly sometimes, uncertain in our path on Earth, know that we ought to take comfort in the creation around us. When imperfect artists create sculpture, paintings, music, architecture, dance, anything that can move us, know in your heart that what God can do, then, is ever-greater.
Image: Michelangelo’s “Angel” statue in the Basilica of St. Dominic, Bologna, Italy. From Wikimedia Commons.