Broken, But Beautiful

As long as evangelicals have been handing out Gospel tracts, the Good News For the World they’ve communicated has clearly been: “Jesus died for you, because you’re a sinner.”

Concise. Attention-grabbing. And theologically, not incorrect.

Theologically, though, it’s not complete either.

In an era when morality is almost entirely subjective; when, based on this nebulous morality, most members of modern society consider themselves to be basically good; and, most importantly, when we’re willing to share and consider only those ideas that can be summed up in 140 characters or in a catchy meme; it seems only reasonable to boil Christianity down to what appears to be the essentials.

The question is: are those the essentials?

Almost. But not quite.

Recently, a missionary-in-training visited our Sunday school class to share his future plans and describe how his missions organization functions. One distinctive of this organization, he explained, is that its missionaries (who visit remote tribes that often lack a written language, let alone a Bible) share Christ by beginning with the book of Genesis. After all, he pointed out, it’s hard to understand the concept of sin — or one’s subsequent need for a Savior — without an understanding of who God is, who we are in relation to Him, and why, therefore, sin matters to Him.

It makes so much sense. And what I wonder is: why should we present the Gospel any differently, right where we are? After all — to state the ludicrously obvious — the Bible begins with Genesis. Surely God wouldn’t have inspired its authors to record the details of Creation (as well as the entire Old Testament) if He considered everything before the book of Matthew to be frankly inconsequential. And if He wants us to know about the details of Creation, He must have a purpose in sharing them with us.

Take a look at Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 

And His assessment a few verses later:

And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Gen. 1:31)

What do these verses tell us? That God made us in His image, and that what He created was good.

What does this mean for us? That we are worth something to Him. In her book Total TruthNancy Pearcey perfectly encapsulates the typical approach to evangelism and points out why it’s incomplete:

Consider the typical evangelistic message: “You’re a sinner; you need to be saved.” What could be wrong with that? Of course, it’s true that we are sinners, but notice that the message starts with the Fall instead of Creation. By beginning with the theme of sin, it implies that our essential identity consists in being guilty sinners, deserving of divine punishment. Some Christian literature goes so far as to say we are nothing, completely worthless, before a holy God.

…In fact, it is only because humans have such high value that sin is so tragic. If we were worthless, then the Fall would be a trivial event. When a cheap trinket is broken, we toss it aside with a shrug. But when a priceless masterpiece is defaced, we are horrified. It is because humans are masterpieces of God’s creation that the destructiveness of sin produces such horror and sorrow.

…Beginning with sin instead of creation is like trying to read a book by opening it in the middle: You don’t know the characters and can’t make out the plot.

So why does this matter?

I suspect that the frequent overemphasis on our sin nature emerged as a reaction to modern society’s firm belief in its inherent moral goodness — the belief that, in fact, when Nietzche declared God to be dead, sin died along with Him. It is well and good that we counter this with the truth: that all of us are tainted by sin, and that only by believing in the necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection can we be restored to a relationship with a holy God (Rom. 3:23-24). But if we start and end there, we show a lack of understanding of ourselves…and, by extension — because we are made in His image — of God.

Imago Dei. It means that we are more than animals. That we have souls. A will. Creativity. A sense of the beautiful. A sense of right and wrong. When mankind fell, every facet of personhood was poisoned by sinbut not lost. 

When somebody gives food to the homeless, he reflects God’s image, whether he realizes it or not.

When somebody cares for an ailing parent, she reflects God’s image, even if she denies His existence.

When people gather to clean up a town devastated by a hurricane…they reflect God’s image, even if they believe they don’t need Him because they are already good enough.

Without the imprint of God, none of us would be able to do good, and when we share Christ by telling others that every good thing they do is utterly worthless, what we are really intimating is that they are less than human.

How much better it would be if we shared the whole story:

That God created something beautiful — His children, the pinnacle of His handiwork…

…that tragedy befell, and His children rebelled so that the beauty was marred…

…that, instead of punishing His children by making them strive ceaselessly for a holiness they could never fully attain on earth, He sent a Rescuer…

…so that those who realized where they came from and saw that the original beauty, though still there, was forever tainted, needed only to acknowledge Him…

…and that when they confessed their need for the Rescuer, they could throw themselves into the open arms of the One who loved them from the beginning of time.

A Farewell Tribute

For those who don’t know: my father recently retired from Cairn University School of Music after forty years of service. Below are the words I offered at his retiriement celebration.

Seventeen years ago, I completed my last Chorale Tour with my dad. Since then, I’ve gotten married, sung in a few church choirs, done some conducting of my own, and had a couple of kids. Given that I’m so far removed from the college choral experience, it would seem only natural that I’d consider his retirement an unmixed blessing; after all, he’s of age, he’s worked hard, and now I’ll get to see more of him…and my children will get to see more of their Granddad.

The truth is, though, that when he quietly informed me and my family last spring that this would probably be his last year, an enormous lump rose in my throat and has remained there ever since. Because the truth is, something beautiful is coming to an end.

The Chorale under Dr. Shockey is something uniquely wonderful. Every year, my dad inspires a new group of students to sing music more challenging than many of them have dreamed of attempting, and through him, they learn to love that music more than they have dreamed of loving something. His love for music, his commitment to excellence and to raising the bar far above what is generally expected to come out of a private evangelical university, his dedication to his students, and most of all, his love for the Lord, have encouraged generations of students to strive to be a better version of themselves: harder workers, stronger musicians, better friends, and more devoted Christians.

You can almost see this when you listen to the Chorale singing — the way they watch him is more than just a disparate group of people following a conductor’s hand motions. We saw it on April 21st, when scores of alumni joined the Chorale to sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” one last time. My dad means a lot to so many people, and if you know him, you know why.

To me, it seems as if there would be a temptation to coast through one’s last year, or years, of professorship. If my dad has encountered any such temptation, he hasn’t shown it. For musicians, of course, it’s already understood that weekends are not one’s own. In addition to the performances he has led, though, my dad has done so much more than what his position requires.

He is constantly – and I do mean constantly – bringing students to operas, recitals, concerts, and conventions; supporting his colleagues by attending their concerts; inviting students into his home; and going to recitals, not just of his own voice students, but of almost every student he knows personally. It is this love for people – an outpouring of his evident love for the Lord – that, in the end, is why people love him so much.

My dad has poured more of himself into his work in forty years than many people would in sixty, and his retirement is well-deserved. Still, I can’t quite grasp the idea that I will never again hear the Chorale under his masterful direction. Truly, his home concerts have been among the highlights of my years as a stay-at-home mom; things of beauty whose joy lingers in my ears long after the last notes of the Benediction.

However, we are not to lay up our treasures on earth, and I am trying to let go — just as my dad has, so graciously and humbly. Instead of clinging to what would have inevitably ended someday, I am choosing to be thankful that I had the privilege of singing under his direction; that I am lucky enough to have a father who, in every aspect of his life, is such an example to me of walking with the Lord; and that, having left an eternal impact on so many colleagues and students, my dad will be able to breathe more deeply than he has for years.