Born Outside the Garden Gate
You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. - Psalm 8:5
What does it mean to be human?... that tenderly-formed mound of clay, bearing holy breath. The most beautiful of all the angels, Lucifer, must have surely decried it an obscene mix of flesh and divinity. It terrifies me to think, gazing into a mirror, that I am often tempted to agree with the “father of lies”; what a mess we’ve made of things. What was God thinking when He created man?
Any human who has ever walked the earth plays both the perpetrator and the victim. Armed with the best intentions, we tend to leave a wake of destruction, while even the ill-intentioned often become victims of others’ deceit. Navigating our everyday lives entrenches us in a battleground in the most prosperous and peaceful times. The hurts we inflict and the blows we absorb accumulate in our bodies and minds. Sadly, when our justice systems are functioning at their best, they can never serve true justice; they can never serve to un-spill the physical and psychological blood. We all bear stains of this world on our souls, and we all, in some way, perpetuate the pain.
But is there beauty to be found in the darkness?
…Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them. – Matthew 13:15
Should it not be God who created us, who has the final word about whether there is any good in us? Is there anything worth saving in His wayward stewards? I can think of no more robust affirmation of the human being than God deigning to become human himself. Christ reassured us of our dignity when He walked among us, teaching us to use our spiritual ears to truly hear and our spiritual eyes to truly see what the human being was designed to be and the reality we are destined to reclaim. With eyes of faith, Jesus wants us to perceive the divinity and holy breath that permeates his creatures and the wilderness we navigate. Reclaiming our spiritual senses will lead us to a place of wonder and awe, positioning us to truly worship and contemplate the God who chose the human being to steward His glorious masterpiece. He did not relent when Adam and Eve fell into sin but doubled down on his commitment to his creation, allowing us to nail Him to a cross and directly involving us in its redemption.
We were expelled from the garden so long ago, but could it be that God is still waiting for us to trust Him… to know him? We should have trusted that sparing us from the knowledge of good and evil was an act of mercy, and we must learn to trust that in the end, while the horrors of the battle will never be undone, the beauty will outweigh the suffering when placed on the scales of eternity. We must have faith that there was and is something in us that is worth saving. It is easy to let the scars and brokenness command our focus, easy for us to “take and eat,” to be tempted into only seeing the physical realities of our world and the scars of a weathered soldier. But what would Christ have us see? When we are tempted to spurn the brokenness of that reflection in the mirror, let us remember that one day the dust from the battle will settle, and we will trade that destitute reflection for the ecstasy that is Christ, for He has declared us sons and daughters of the Most High. We will stand before Him, bruised and battered, with tears streaming; we must trust that through the filth of the ages, He will be able to recognize what we often cannot… that holy kiss of divinity breathed into Adam so long ago still moving within us.
We cannot see love any more than we can touch hate, yet our experience as humans tells us they are very real. We can only describe the spiritual conditions of the soul by relating them to material things that we can quickly identify. Paul knew this well and employed the tactic to try and communicate to the believers at Ephesus the dire spiritual condition in which we all find ourselves. Paul details the standard armor of the easily recognizable Roman soldier to help us understand that we must be prepared to engage in a very real battle that we cannot touch or see. The lengths to which he takes the metaphor help us understand the importance of the subject to him and the seriousness with which we should take the matter.
The metaphor often cited to refer to the spiritual aspect of the human is the heart and mind. I have been blessed in the first half of my life, having never walked amongst the horrors of an actual battleground, yet I can testify to the war in my heart and mind. The enemy often assaults my psyche with accusations of worthlessness and shame. The rhetoric varies, but it never misses its targeted nerve; “You’re not a good mother.” “You’re not a good wife.” “Congratulations on another horrible painting.” These attacks attempt to push me to the precipice of one of my more troubling thoughts, “If your Christ truly saved you, there would be more evidence of it in your life.”
What makes the enemy’s assaults so effective is that they are often a perversion of truth. Just as he cited scripture to try and keep Jesus from taking up His cross, the webs spun within our minds usually begin with a solid point of departure. That is to say, if I truly have been saved by Christ, there should indeed be evidence of it in my life. Why have I made so many mistakes?
When we become bogged down and confused when taking on enemy fire, we must recover our bearings on the battlefield by remembering what the scriptures say. Paul encourages us to “take up the whole armor of God that we may withstand the assault when evil finds us.” A key element in taking up our armor against the father of lies is knowing the truth about who we are and what we are in the process of becoming. It is tough to find truth in this world, but as believers, we know that we can find it in the scriptures. We must wield the word of God against the assault of our enemy; the scriptures relay the truth of who God is, His work done on the cross at Calvary, and what we mean to Him.
This self-portrait stands as a testimony to my spiritual assault, a testimony to an insidious enemy who constantly highlights my failures and faults. It records the time in my life when Christ helped me embrace my scars and wounds, accept my mistakes, and view them as part of being born human, a destiny He chose for me. Those living scars are not merely skin deep, they permeate the soul, and the Lord is using them to make me whole. I have taken my hits, and I have left spiritual gashes on others bearing God’s image, but the word of the Lord has promised that the Spirit will keep me from being knocked off the right path and that He will bring “healing in His wings.”
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