Deus Ex Machina

cos-01-miranda-kerr-november-deOne of the most powerful insights I’ve heard regarding the nature of worship is that our worship is transformative; in effect, we become like what we worship. 

G.K. Beale, who authored a book with a similar title, puts it this way: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” This concept has made its way through my mind quite often over the past few years, and I continue to dwell on its real-time implications in our modern culture.

I am currently teaching through Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with my British Literature students. Sir Gawain is a medieval poem that follows the challenges and trials of one of King Arthur’s most noble knights as he seeks to prove himself worthy of honor. As I’ve been rereading through the story, I have found myself quite struck by a particular quality of Sir Gawain’s quest. On the outside of his shield, the side he brandishes in the face of combat, is a pentangle, a five-angled star that symbolizes the ideal perfection and exaltation of a true knight. The chivalrous knight par excellence is brave, good, chaste, loyal, and unerring in his manner and conduct; he is the paragon of medieval society. The only problem is that behind the knight’s armor stands a mere man – utterly unable to achieve such a standard of perfection.

This notion of expectation vs. reality cuts deep to the bone of our American society. For example, I have encountered a number of young ladies in my classes over the years who are beside themselves trying frantically to reach the bar of feminine beauty and fashion that they feel our media culture has thrust on their small shoulders. “Whatever it takes to look like her” has become their mantra, “accept me!” their daily cry. And so, as an inevitable result, we have waves of girls dragging the ghosts of self-loathing, inadequacy, and shame down the halls. We have girls pushed toward seduction with their hearts stitched tight in straitjackets. In short, we have girls who are told to reveal as much and as little as they can – show your skin, hide your scars.

Prodded by the flood of advertising and celebrity mania, these young ladies are being converted to a hollow religion, a new devotion towards thousands of graven images carved on our magazine covers, spreading the lie that these are the women that girls ought to look like. But in our heart we know they are no longer really women; they are our feminine form of the deus ex machina – goddesses out of machines. Mangled by the digital scalpel, processed through the filters of Photoshop, airbrushing, and cosmetic overload, these women in the spotlight have become mere echoes, shadows of their true humanity. They are a part of a smoke-and-mirrors gimmick, a ruse. I can almost hear the Wizard now: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

Yet, the principle remains: we become like what we worship (Ps. 115:8). We reflect what we behold (2 Cor. 3:18). Contrary to what they are told, these young ladies pining for acceptance and worth by straining to look like cover girls are not becoming more beautiful; they are becoming less human. They are worshipping an image of edited humanity, images of women scrubbed of their flaws. This ache to see oneself as, and ultimately become, utterly flawless is a consequence of the primal temptation to be God. We are running Eden on repeat, reaching to take and eat of the fruit with every glance at the mirror.

How gracious is our God for spilling his blood, his real, warm, human blood, to buy us out of our cold, self-absorbed condition. May we yearn, like Moses, to see glimpses of God’s glory and, to quote the old hymn, “turn our eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face.” May we see Jesus and “behold his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). May we learn to acknowledge our brokenness, our failure, our human limitations and look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For we are most certainly becoming like what we worship; let us worship the God of mercy and of grace who forgives our sin and truly makes all things new.

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The Poetry of God

downloadIn Ephesians 2, Paul declares that we as Christians are the “workmanship of God”:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Interestingly, just a verse earlier, Paul reminds us of the sobering reality that we are saved by grace through the gift of faith, not the strength of our own theological prowess or pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps, “can-do” optimism. There is no amount of self-help literature, meditative yoga, or American patriotism that can yank us out of the muck of our depravity. We are just plain sunk. Apart from him I can do nothing (John 15:5).

So how are we to read this declaration that we are God’s workmanship? If all the good in us comes from grace, what does this identity mean? Are we valuable? As Joe Rigney once said, “I know God loves me, but does He like me?”

It’s notable that the Greek word rendered as “workmanship” here in Ephesians is poiema, from which we can clearly see our English word poem. When Paul encourages the church at Ephesus that they are “God’s poiema” created “in Christ Jesus”, we must recall what the Apostle John called Christ at the beginning of his gospel: the Word (“In the beginning was the Word…“).

So, quite truly and wondrously, we are the poetry of God created by the Word of God. We are His poiema created in Christ Jesus for good works. One cannot help but remember the glorious image of the great lion Aslan, singing all of Narnia into existence, creating from nothing the majestic symphony of space, the living splash of Nature’s color, the taste of golden water and the scent of purple skylines. All of creation, with man and woman as its crown jewels, is woven together into a grand and passionately wild poem by the even grander and wilder God who penned it. The ink of God’s poetic effort is the living and breathing dreams and glories of man. We are God’s poiema created in Christ Jesus. Majesty upon majesty.

As David wrote in Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.”

The poetry of God flames out through all the earth. Observe the fullness of His glory as it is declared in this passage: the sun comes out like a bridegroom, coming for his bride, running his course with joy. Every sunrise, then, is a beautiful picture of the Great Bridegroom pursuing His bride down the cosmic aisle of the skies and clouds, chasing after her well into the night (as every groom ought).

As Victorian poet Gerard Manly Hopkins puts it:

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God / It will flame out like shining from shook foil”

All of creation is charged with God’s grandeur, an electric livewire coursing deep into our veins. We are not a dull, lifeless poem, stuck in the pages of a bedraggled, spine-torn anthology in my English classroom. We are a living, spoken, adrenaline-pumping poem uttered by the very breath of God. We are His workmanship, His craft, the diamonds carved from coal, man from dust, woman from bone.

So, yes. God likes us. We are His poem. God passionately pursues us and love us because we are crafted by His hands and His Word, made in His very image. We are the clay of a dedicated, careful Potter. We are the rhymes and notes of a marvelous Poet. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. May we learn to live this way.

As Doug Wilson once noted, it is no wonder the first recorded words of human history were poetry: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23).