My wife and I recently flew from Denver to Seattle on a clear day where the Rocky Mountains were revealed in all their High Definition glory. We’ve made that flight many times before but never with the air this clear, the scenery so sharply detailed below us. As we followed along with the flight tracker on our iPads, we named rivers, towns, and mountains from 38,000 ft. above sea level, 24,000ft above the higher peaks. I pointed out mountains that had blown out, leaving a bowl shaped caldera now filled with snow and debris. We saw the tracks of great ice flows, ancient rivers, debris fields and primeval earthquakes that broke the land and twisted the surface, redirecting water and wind, both of which, in their turn, shaped the land even more.
It was a scene of indescribable beauty but that beauty could be deceptive; much of it had been created through violence, calamity, and force. A great deal of the shaping had been done more gently, one gust of wind at a time, one drop of rain at a time but it would be foolish to ignore the rifts in great rock seams and the displacement of millions of metric tons of earth. I was reminded that much of the land that once made up modern Arizona can be found in Nevada and California where it was carried along by an ancient sea that became a mighty river that has since disappeared, leaving only its tracks and a debris field the size of some European countries. Whether one believes this was all accomplished during the Flood of Noah or through a countless number of floods through the millennia – it was dramatic and violent and it left tracks.
Our youth sing “Lord, change my life” and I have heard the plea of the Psalmist to “Search me and know me” uttered as if it were a platitude instead of an invitation to reinvention. Let me be plain: I am not one of those who laugh and say “If you ask God for something, watch out! He might give it to you!” I don’t think God plays games with us like Thor or Loki or Zeus. He is God, righteous and holy and true, self-defined as the personification of love. Still, God has the right to shape us and form us into someone He can and will work with, bending us on His potter’s wheel. Sometimes, that shaping will be gentle; allowing us to turn as He barely touches us. At other times, He will have to grab us; squash us, slap us down on the wheel, and start again. Perhaps you’ve experienced that.
A divorce that came out of nowhere and left you staggering, lost, a metaphysical “D” on your forehead that you believed would mark you forever as a failure. A job loss, a betrayal by a friend, the death of a child, the death of a dream…most of us have been there. Most of us have had the top of our lives suddenly explode leaving us with a caldera in our heart. I would submit that most of those events were sourced, not in God, but in our decisions of the decisions of others around us but others came out of nowhere – a virus, cancer, a stroke. God was there to literally pick up the pieces, but we were changed. As another popular song says “[We] will never be the same again.”
But most of the shaping in our lives has not been violent. Most of it has been through the gentle action of God in our lives and in the world around us. We’ve been shaped by the gifts of God, by our family, by the community of faith and by the day to day pull of the Spirit. Like a drop of rain that displaces a grain of sand and moves it just a millimeter further down the mountain, we are being changed from who and what we are into…something else, something that has not yet been made clear. We are being translated. We are being transformed, not in a “Ta-dah!” moment but a single idea at a time, a single cell, a single action. And so I pray daily, “Lord, help me to be a little better today. Help me to be a little bit less like me and a little bit more like you.” And sometimes I add “But move slowly. Be gentle. I bruise easily and fear that I could break.”
As we flew over the mountains, I told my wife “It is beautiful, but if those were people and not mountains, we would treat it as a crime scene; we would say there were signs of violence below us.” It is through faith that we believe that all of those pressures and events that blew us up, displaced us, broke us into pieces, threw upheaval into the middle of our placid lives, and shifted us further down a road whose end we cannot see are safe in the hands of a God who loves us. Whether He sent the volcanoes in our lives or whether they were placed there by the world, the flesh, and the devil is beside the point right now. What IS the point is that even these signs of violence in our lives can become things of beauty when we invite the Master to put His hands into our lives and shape us to His purpose. “Lord, change my life…”
Yesterday, I drove my truck up to an elevation of 10,000 feet in the mountains behind Pikes Peak to the towns of Winter Park and Florrisant. Geologists from all over the world come here to dig up fossils in the incredibly rich beds found in this high country. The animals that left their bones here long ago lived in a swampy, fetid, humid climate when the top of this mountain was down below sea level. They are all gone now. Fact is, from the bones we’ve found worldwide it is estimated that more than 90% of all species that ever lived are now extinct. Their habitats are gone and so are they. It seems that if you crave safety and security, you were born into the wrong universe.
But if you believe in a God who is greater than our lives, greater than this planet, and greater than anything you can imagine you will also believe that His imagination can and will shape you – through or in spite of tragedies, suddenly or a molecule at a time – into who you should be if you invite His hands into your life. Just as He did to the Rockies, He can take whatever happens and turn it into something that is so beautiful it will take your breath away.
Some people see the face of Jesus in a piece of burned toast. I pray that God – and the world – will be able to look at my scars and see, not tragedy, but beauty – the hand of God.