Since work is slow, my friend and fellow artisan, Paul, invited me to do a job for one of his clients. He created the pattern and brought me the glass. I just had to cut the stencils and sandblast the design.
Diving into the project, I found out just how much there was to know about the simple line drawing he left for me. Lines my eye didn’t even notice became very important to the overall design and I found myself comparing my work-in-process to his original time after time.
As I aimed my sandblaster, slowly eroding the glass to create Paul’s pattern, I thought about the process of interpretation. Not just in the medium of sand and glass, but in life.
The point is not originality,
Paul had already established the design. Reinventing Paul’s work was not my responsibility; my job was to accurately interpret his ideas onto glass.
God isn’t looking for us to come up with a new corner on the truth, to see insights that no one has ever seen before. He is looking for faithful representations of the life of God in human existence, a modern demonstration of His character through flesh and blood.
Understanding grows in the soil of obedience.
Doing something is one of the best ways to understand the nature of that thing.
Try to imitate a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-style stained glass window and you’ll see what I mean. The lead lines are so perfectly ordered, the intersections so thoughtfully arranged, that the mind registers “simplicity”—when in reality the piece is demanding both to design and to execute. The finished window, if well done, doesn’t convey the “busyness” communicated by a less organized, though less complex design.
If we really want to know the will of God, if we want to understand His Word, then playing arm-chair quarterback won’t do. We’ve got to get into the game, get smeared in the mud and knocked around with the rest of the team—then we’ll begin understanding the finer points of God’s purposes, the nuances of His intentions, and the voice of His Spirit.
Quality is determined by comparison to the original.
Careful planning is required in sandblasting a pattern on glass. Removing pieces of the stencil in a particular order is the only way to achieve contrast between white, semi-transparent, and clear. Without contrast, a sandblasted design looks like a frosted smudge on a clear background.
I studied the pattern as I removed pieces of stencil, aware that one mistake could ruin of all my work. Sandblasters don’t come with erasers.
But to check my interpretation, I had to go back to the original over and over again.
It’s easy to get comfortable living the Christian life, confident we know what God says and what He thinks. But to be sure we’re on track, we must constantly check our life-in-process against the original pattern.
About the time we think we know something, we find we don’t know what we don’t know. Once we realize that, we’re on our way to growth in our understanding of the will and ways of God.
Truth is dynamic when it flows through our experience.
When Paul handed me his black-and-white line drawings, he didn’t tell me every detail about how to interpret the pattern. He gave me his parameters and left me to express his wishes through my own personality and skills.
For my part, I kept thinking about what would be pleasing to Paul. What would he think about the way that I carved the leaves? What would he think about the unintended frost over here?
Truth is alive whether we understand it or not. Truth is truth whatever we think. But truth is most vibrantly expressed through the medium of life. That’s when truth comes home. That’s when the lofty doctrines of the Scriptures shine.
The dynamic impact of one “living truth” outweighs stacks of good, but unread books.
Have you ever heard a great pianist play? Beneath his hands, black specks on paper become a living, breathing thing and carry us off to another world. He fills our minds with the story as he sees it; he overflows our hearts with his pathos. He owns the music and from the wealth of his intimate knowledge he shares it with us.
Another musician might attempt the same piece, but sound like a schoolboy’s recitation. All the notes were present and accounted for. Each movement was complete. We might even applaud his technical skill—but remain unmoved. The communication itself was ineffective.
Consider . . . Neither pianist composed the music. Both played the correct notes. But for one, the music was in his blood, not just his head. He experiences the music; he lives its message.
That’s the kind of dynamic translation of truth that God wants us to be.
When God chose to reveal Himself, He did it through the personalities and experiences of men.
“ . . . no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21).
The human authors of Scripture didn’t make up our own views and call them God’s. Revelation didn’t originate with men. But as men turned over complete control of their lives to the Holy Spirit, they were carried along—and God spoke through them to us. Their experiences and personalities formed the perfect channels through which truth could flow.
Personality doesn’t alter truth; it doesn’t add to it. But when a personality overflows with the truth, the result is a unique and dynamic expression, a one-of-a-kind window on the character of God.
Joseph’s life gives us a glimpse into God’s sovereign purposes. Daniel’s life testifies to the power of God to deliver us from any circumstance. Jeremiah’s life unfolds the compassion and faithfulness of God against the backdrop of suffering and brutality.
We see truth from the eyes of Matthew, the tax collector; we hear the words of God from the lips of Peter, the fisherman; we learn something about forgiveness as Stephen endures the agony of stoning and cries to God on behalf of his murderers.
God’s revelation is complete. But His expression of that revelation through the lives of His people is still a work-in-progress. No, we don’t make the truth alive: The truth, as it courses through our lives, makes us alive—vital and brilliant and dynamic.
And as we become personal translations of the Word of God, others see the Truth for who He is.
© 2011 by Robert G. Robbins