Recently I read this article about how a security guard in an art museum got bored and doodled on one of the paintings on display there. This, combined with unrelated musings, inspired an analogy for God’s creation in my mind:
Imagine God’s creation as a masterpiece painting. God created the world and gave humanity dominion over it. God gave humanity the role of being stewards and guardians of His painting.
Sin defaces that painting. As our world decays, the painting builds up scratches and scuffs and stains. Satan tries night and day to deface, tear, and destroy the painting. (It has been his work from the beginning to contradict what God creates, to try to undo what God does, to lie against what God speaks into existence.)
We are born into a stained, torn, and vandalized world. We ourselves are part of the painting, and we ourselves are born stained.
Everyone sees that the painting that we call our world has stains and other marks on it. But different people have different responses to those stains. A person who struggles with sexual identity knows that there is something broken about how they fit into this world. They might, for instance, feel so much shame and brokenness from their biological identity that they want to commit suicide. That feeling is the feeling that there is a stain, even a gaping rip, on their part of the painting — something is seriously wrong with the way things are in the world for them. They might find that they can quell that feeling of shame and make that stain on the painting seem to go away if they label themselves as the opposite gender and by doing whatever they can to look the part. They might, in theory, even live out the rest of their earthly life feeling relatively peaceful in soul because of this “transitioning.” Why would a Christian say this is a bad thing? How could a Christian refuse to celebrate this and affirm their chosen pronouns?
Faithful Christians also see the stain in the painting. We also mourn the pain and shame that comes with it. We ourselves also feel similar pains in various ways. We also want to fix them. But we know the difference between covering a stain by trying to restore the painting and covering it by drawing a smiley face over it.
The security guard in the article I mentioned drew on the painting he was charged with protecting. He might in theory have said that he drew on the painting in order to cover up a stain. But everyone who came to the museum and saw the big picture would see that, even if an amateur-drawn smiley face obscured the one stain, the smiley just doesn’t fit with the rest of the design. In the process of trying to obscure one stain, the smiley face further distorts and defaces what the painting is supposed to look like. It even defaces nearby parts of the painting that hadn’t been that stained before. Anything covered by the smiley face is cut off from being seen in the context of the rest of the true painting.
The only proper way to fix the painting in a way that doesn’t cause more problems is to carefully restore it toward the original design. That requires appreciating what the painting was originally supposed to look like. That requires honoring the original Painter’s creative work and what He says about what His work is supposed to look like.
Ultimately, Satan is trying to erase each and every one of us from God’s painting. He wants us written out of God’s kingdom, just as he wants to corrupt and vandalize everything God made in His masterpiece. We all have stains, and as this fallen world spins on and Satan does his work we do get more stains. And they hurt. Wars get started. Friends and relatives die. Anxiety smothers our closest loved ones and ourselves. We are worn out.
In our Christians lives, we strive to conform to the image of Christ, the one perfect man who had no stains in God’s creation. We strive to restore our part of God’s painting to what He wants it to be, because we are still stewards of His creation. We love Him, and we love each other as other people whom God created.
But if we, creatures whom God painted, try to paint our own pictures over God’s work, or paint over our own stains in such a way that we remove ourselves from God’s design with vandal smiley faces, then by our own work we have no place left in God’s painting. We become absorbed into the vandalism, and we ourselves are the vandals. That won’t be good for us when Christ returns to restore the Painting, burn the vandalism away, and remove the vandals.
For the person struggling with sexual identity, we see that you’re in pain and we want it to go away, but we also see what the painting is supposed to look like in God’s original design. God has told us how men and women are supposed to be, even if this world is currently broken: created in His image, male and female, a model of Christ and His bride, precious enough to die for. These are not mere social constructs, they are God’s constructs. We don’t get to repaint them from our own imagination. And we know that Christ is coming to restore all things and remove the vandals. We want our fellow painted brothers and sisters to be with us in the restored painting. Therefore we cannot celebrate a smiley face that obscures a painful stain for a little while when we know that it means that the ones who are thereby undoing God’s painting are writing themselves out of his true painting and out of hope for the coming true restoration.
In the meantime, before the true restoration, any restoration work that we do here to ease the pain of this fallen world is often slow, and it is hard. Properly patching a rip or fixing a stain on a complex painting really is hard. It might not be as quick and easy as drawing a smiley face. (We wish it were!) We aren’t even skilled or perfect enough ourselves to do justice to the true painting when we attempt to combat the stain of sin. But we know that our Painter’s true painting is worth infinitely more than anything we could paint ourselves.
Our hope is in our King who is coming to properly restore all things. He is our Painter, and faith in Him means we honor Him and cling to His design for the painting. And we trust and love Him: He came to our vandalized world and poured out His own blood to cover our stains. We still struggle against sin in this life until the final restoration comes, but we have no shame anymore because Christ has covered us the right way.
His blood was shed for everyone, no matter how bad the stain, and no matter how badly vandalized you may have made yourself. Receive Him and His design, and He will restore you in the end.