The Nostalgic Exile part 3: Flowers and Thorns
“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more”
Seeing the Mona Lisa in person was a rather lackluster experience for me. While the work itself is an impressive piece of artistry, the viewing situation left me empty of true appreciation.
This celebrated Renaissance masterpiece draws thousands of onlookers each day. The crowds throng and surge together as they vie for a fleeting glimpse of a 3 foot by 2 foot painting (much smaller than I anticipated).
When I visited the Louvre during a college semester in Europe, I dove headfirst into this art-gazing battle royale. After many excusez moi’s and less than gentle shoves, I found myself front and center before Da Vinci’s magnum opus. Just as numinous awe was about to overwhelm me, I was quickly excusez moi-ed off to the fringe of the surging mass. Even though I couldn’t enjoy this experience as I wanted, the celebrated splendor of the Mona Lisa is not diminished; its throne in the Parisian hall of glory is objectively deserved.
As Da Vinci’s vaunted masterpiece has earned its place in the Louvre, the museum curators would probably never consider replacing it with a lesser caricature hastily drawn by a boardwalk artist. Were this unfortunate switch to occur, a viewer may still recognize it. However, they would only acknowledge it as a lesser distortion of a greater work.
The introduction of sin into God’s perfect creation had a similar affect. The once glorious divine image in man and woman has been reduced to a crooked caricature. Even though the image is bent, it is not broken; though the refulgent glory is veiled, it is still perceptible. When evil sank its loathsome claws into God’s pristine artwork, how did the picture change?
The brilliant glory of God’s image in humanity derives its luminance from abiding in divine fellowship. When a lightbulb is removed from its socket, however, it can no longer shine. In eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3), Adam and Eve evicted a key component of the fellowship equation. Instead of walking lockstep with God in the evening’s fading light, they hid away. Since that fateful moment, we spend most of our lives in dark shadows hoping that God won’t see us.
As we slink through the darkness of life, we no longer perfectly live out the greater purpose for which the Lord crafted us: the primal call to glorify God by abiding with him and making something very good in this world. What was once a full-bodied cube that had depth and perspective has been reduced to a two-dimensional square. Sin robs life of a key ingredient: an orientation toward honoring God.
Though Adam and Eve had face-to-face fellowship with the Lord, sin carved out a yawning chasm between both parties. Referring to this gaping gulf and God’s perfection, the prophet Habakkuk writes, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and You cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13). From the first bite of the forbidden fruit through today, no person can look on God’s pure essence and live. Even Moses, who knew God as a friend, could only see the back of the Lord as he passed by. Since we willingly turned our eyes away from the Creator, we can never return to that gaze on our own.
Just as Adam and Eve walked away from being with God, they also rejected creating for his glory. Men and women will always be makers. Instead of crafting for God’s glory, however, we keep our own pride as the focal point. When bakers make bread from the wheat, they are still working according to God’s design. Instead of baking out of delight for the Father, though, their motivation has turned elsewhere. Every creative action we take bears the mark of this disorientation. Though many good and wholesome reasons abound, they become idols if they supersede a desire to honor the Lord.
Grounds for the curse
When God’s image bearers bent away from their created trajectory, the rest of creation was forced along this new path. Our rebellion introduced death and suffering into the design. After our primal parents first sinned, God pronounced this consequence: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Genesis 3). Indeed, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). The cultivated soil which once bore bountiful fruit yielded barrenness instead. Because of one act of disobedience, thorns would crown our every effort.
Thorn to flower
The fall, an event which makes an embarrassing caricature of God’s good masterpiece, is painful to discuss. The recounting, however, is necessary for the exile to understand why he is so far from home. Though thorns grow in the path now, the thistle will one day yield flowers.
Even before sin entered the narrative, God planned to redeem the wandering exile. “Even before he made the world,” Paul writes in Ephesians 1:4-5, “God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” The Lord’s great love will always supersede your sin.
After our fallen parents’ first sin, God communicated a great hope to them. Speaking to their tempter, the snake, the Lord said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Our Father himself would send a valiant warrior to wage war on our behalf. Thorns would crown that effort too.