[We reprint this article with permission from Sam Williamson’s blog Beliefs of the Heart because it captures a great sense of what it means to approach our world with a positive, missional vision. ] A friend of mine challenged me to adopt—perhaps embrace—a Transcendent Pursuit for the coming year, something life changing, something I can bring to the world to make a difference.
Then I re-read the first chapter of Genesis. It felt like I was reading it for the first time, and I felt the nudge of God.
The first thing I noticed was the creative artistry of God. The opening verses do not focus on God’s unparalleled power. Instead they reveal—and almost revel in—the beauty. After each creative act God doesn’t say, “That was powerful;” he says, “This is beautiful” (a better translation than what we are used to).
Next I noticed that God sees potential where no one else ever could. God hovers over and looks into the chaos and void; he takes the raw materials of darkness and depth, and he creates light, and it is beautiful. As are the oceans and fields and skies.
After observation and creation, God gives. He gives this unparalleled treasure of creation to man. The opening chapter of the Bible surges with swarming fish, teaming land animals, luscious vegetation, and a sky pregnant with stars.
And God turns to man and says, “It’s yours. Take it. Care for it. Love it.”
The opening of the Bible reveals a completely different God than any man has ever created. The opening of the Bible reveals God as an artist, seeing beauty, creating incomparable art, and giving it away. It is a radical image of God.
I long to live like that artist
Seeing God as the creator—not merely powerful but a creator of beauty—moved me. It makes me want to be more like him in a selfless giving of light, life, and joy. And then I read the next few verses.
God makes man in his own image. God revels (imagine a reveling God!) in this description of human design: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … God created man in his image … in his own image he made him” (Gen. 1:26-27).
It is almost as if God needed an editor to say, “Uh, God, you are being redundant.” But God wasn’t writing useless repetition. He was being emphatic. He wanted us to know—he needed us to know—that his image is the blueprint of our design.
God’s first act is to make us his masterpiece—his literal artistic crown of creation—and his second act is to make us artists as well. He animates his masterpiece, breathing into us a creative force to see beauty, create incomparable art, and give it away.
When he puts us in the Garden of Eden—asking us to dig the earth, rule creation, and name the animals—God is inviting us to join with him as creative comrades. He enters into partnership with us as we artistically cultivate and nurture this world.
What is the church meant to be?
When God gave his creation to mankind, he said, “Subdue it and have dominion.” But these words do not mean to invade earth like a conquering king—God spoke these words before the fall. They don’t mean subjection, they mean cultivation.
The church—God’s people on earth—are meant to be gardeners, maybe a guild of gardeners. We are here to create the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and nurture. To create an environment of peace and life, joy and light, and hope.
How do we cultivate each other? We begin to see the unseen. We learn to spot beauty in each other. We become gardening treasure hunters; recognizing the raw materials of gifts and passion in each other and speaking it into life: “I see this in you; it is beautiful.”
We are called to be an Army of Artists or Guerilla Gardeners. We win the world through the cultivation of a Garden. The church on earth is that collection of artistic gardeners who are cultivating the Garden of Eden, bringing light and beauty.
The Christian life is joy, light, and creation in comradeship with the creator of all.
Don’t confuse the Garden shed with the Garden
Religious groups can frustrate me. I get sick of the same weekly board (or perhaps bored) meeting, or the memo to write, or the program to manage. I say to myself (and sometimes to my wife), “This can’t be God’s plan for his people! There has to be more!”
This week I realized my problem: I’ve been confusing the garden shed with the garden.
God’s people—this guerilla band of gardeners—are here on earth to cultivate His garden. But I’ve been tripping over the spades, hoes, pickaxes, and rakes. They are just tools. They are used to create the garden, but they aren’t the garden.
If my primary experience of God’s people is frustration, it might be time to let go of a gardening tool—that spade of board membership or that pickaxe of the program I manage. All our programs, plans and meetings are simply tools to cultivate the garden.
Sometimes I feel we cannot see the garden for the shed. When the tools are creating blisters, it’s time to lay them down. It’s the garden we are creating, not a tool shed.
Creation and re-creation
When Christ came into the world, scripture says of him that “a bruised reed he will not break … [and yet] he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Is. 42:3).
Christ came to earth as the ultimate guerilla gardener; he brought justice not through violent invasion but through violent gardening, through aggressive art.
After the fall of man—after we rebelled against his creative design—God again hovered over the dark void of the earth and saw what we could be if brought back to life. By sending his son, he again proclaimed, “Let there be light,” and it was beautiful.
I long to live my life like that Artist.