It’s just after lunch on the day of a new art exhibition. Tonight a great artist will unveil her beautiful masterwork, her life’s work. You’ve come to take a sneak peek at the show. But something is terribly wrong.
Walking through the front door you stop dead in your tracks. Your brain scrambles to process the scene; your body has already registered that something is wrong, and the first thing you feel is your hairs stand on end. Then the floor. The floor is covered with broken ceramics, shattered beyond repair. Spray paint covers the walls in offensive slogans. Mangled artworks and junk pulled from garbage cans are spread through the rooms. Plumbing and light fittings hang from the walls.
There will be surely be no exhibition tonight. The works are beyond repair, the materials permanently stained and distorted. And in the midst of it all, with one hand on a sledgehammer, and one hand full of garbage, is a shadowy figure. The vandal.
They turn around and you meet their gaze. Your shock turns to confusion as you recognise their face: standing in the midst of the destruction – it’s the artist herself.
God, what are you doing?
You’ve arrived in the late afternoon to a perplexing sight. A moment of incomprehensible horror. Many of us experience moments like these in life, moments where it seems like God is complicit, even active, in destruction.
What makes it so hard to understand is that often we are seeing one freeze-frame in a long narrative. We’ve all entered this world mid way through the story.
As in our encounter with the artist, we need the back story.
Arriving at her gallery, very early on the day of her great exhibition, the great artist froze. The forced lock, the splintered wood – she had braced herself for a theft.
But as she peers into the darkness she sees something far more horrible: her life work, destroyed beyond repair. The materials twisted and stained beyond salvage. Spray paint covers the walls in offensive slogans. Mangled artworks and junk pulled from garbage cans are spread through the rooms.
Surely there can be no show tonight. To any impartial observer the remnants are so robbed of their value and integrity that the only option is to cancel the show and start her life work from scratch.
But to the artist that is not an option – to her the exhibition is personal. She is invested. She cannot say “No” to her creation, she will not to give up. The vandals will not have the final say.
What if she took the shattered remains and the garbage and the spray painted materials into her hands and assembled them into something new?
What if she committed herself to using the shattered remains of her creation as found objects in a new work. Not cleaning out and starting again, but working from within the mess, cutting back, reappropriating, sculpting the mess into something beautiful again. Can she do it? Can she resurrect it?
Hour later, as you walk in a little after lunch, what does it look like? At first it seems like the artist is herself complicit in the destruction – she is caught in an act of destruction. But as the pieces start to pull together something surprising begins to appear – something that is all the more beautiful because the artist is unwilling to let the pieces go. You came expecting to see great craftsmanship, now you see genius and love.
The great artist and the Easter story
To watch God at work in history, and in our own lives, is often to be confused at his complacency towards evil – and at times his complicity in it.
But what if God is a bit like the master artist, so committed to his creation that he will not let the vandals have the final word? What if God is working on new creation – not from scratch, but out of the found objects of his vandalised world?
We know that this is in fact the case, because we have seen the master artist’s master stroke: the resurrection. To those last remaining disciples of Jesus it must have seemed like a senseless act of destruction. What is God doing? Yet we know that through that horrific cross, God was creating something beautiful: he was reconciling the world to himself in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19).
There are still parts of the world which do not seem to fit. They are ugly. We struggle to imagine how these things will be included in the final glorious artwork. We have to trust the artist – because we have seen the resurrection, and we have seen that nothing is so ugly that he cannot make it beautiful.