Graven Images


In some sense, every word written about the Lord is a graven image, a golden calf forged to contain and tame the infinite. A word, a sentence, is by its nature limiting and can never project the true image of God the author intends it to. There are 757,439 words in the ESV version of the Bible. 757,439 words chosen by God to describe His thoughts and emotions, character, plans, salvation and creation. 757,439 words, and I still have questions.

Norman Maclean was haunted by waters; I am haunted by words. They are a spotlight, a fun house mirror that distorts the part it reflects — my sin, His holiness, His grace, His wrath, His love. They bulge and warp from attention. What to do with all these mirror-darkly words, these shadow sentences?

My ideas about God are not the same thing as God. How could I ever be a better writer or teacher than the Holy Spirit? What more could any of us need than Him in order to see Christ? Books, sermons, articles do not speak life into existence, do not call me friend or form me in my mother’s womb, do not give me a spirit of power, love and discipline. But it is easier to read a book on how to follow God and know Him than to actually follow Him, know Him, love Him, depend on Him. Obey Him. Do the word and not just hear it, not just write it, not just discuss it, not just nod in agreement as it is declared. Fruit-bearing depends on God. I want it to depend on me. I work hard. I till the soil. I memorize the verses. I do the studies. I wash the feet. But praying is harder. I don’t want to be the branch. I want to be the vine. I refuse to live out of my need and helplessness. I distrust the supernatural. I don’t trust God to be God.

Fullness—the fullness of God. That I, we, would be filled with it and not satisfied with just pretty words about our Lord. The words should lay a path that leads to the throne where the One who dwells in unapproachable light is waiting.

How can I — a mere fluff of dandelion, a vapor, a mist, a clay pot, a pile of dust — presume to capture the essence of my eternal Savior by whom, for whom, and through whom all things were made? Even for God, words were inadequate. He sent His very Son to flesh out that skeleton frame, those misunderstandings indwelling the human heart despite His careful sentences and pillars of clouds. The Word made flesh. That is holy work — supernatural, divine. I cannot do that. I cannot bring words to life, birth them into inflating lungs and bulging veins and sprinting legs. But because He made me in His image, I, too, am a lover of words, a creator — a creator of pain, chaos, disappointment, laughter, memories, children, gardens, popsicles, and novels. I long to create bad collages and worse poetry, to freeze time and see the truth and pin it there to the page — to see beauty and marvel and scatter it. There is immortality in the beauty of a moment, holiness in apprehending His glory as He passes by.

Even with the perfect image of Christ to behold, we struggle not to dissect, to keep the Trinity One, to prevent our own fingerprints from dirtying the picture of our Lord we hold so desperately in our shaking hands. We try not to cling only to the aspects of our God that look the most like us. Do I desecrate your holiness, my Lord, when I describe You? Do I offend? I remove my filthy shoes. I carefully choose my words, but they are not life-giving; they do not resurrect like Yours. They are so very small. You know my frame. You remember that I am but dust. And yet I was worth all this fuss and bother, all this pain, all this grime and misery and betrayal and tiredness and separation — because You are most You and most beautiful when You are saving, when You are doing love and not just saying it. We see You on the cross, and we see how ignorant and sinful and helpless we are and how lifted-up and marvelously good You are. We see how much You hate sin. We see how different from us You are. We see how much we need You and secretly, really, in those parts of our souls that ache and reach out and search for solid footing, have always wanted You, even when we called You by other names that were not Your name: love, sex, a Ph.D., drugs, meditation, friendships, pornography, promotions, marriage, acclaim, respect, acceptance, the Universe, praise, money. Fumbling and maiming each other in our sin, we hated You and those who loved You because we wanted to wear the crown, because, frankly, the very idea of You was embarrassing to our modern sensibilities. But there You are on the cross, wearing a crown of thorns, naked — the second person of the Trinity bleeding and dying and being cut off from the love of the Father for those who still mock You. You are repulsive and anachronistic until You are suddenly glorious and foundational, until You are everything — our anchor, our home. We were seeking You all along.

You do not exist to make sense of my life and my insatiable heart. You Are. Yes, You Are the beginning and the end, but You are also before and behind me. You support this frame You created and into which You breathed all life — first and new. The story You are writing through me is about You and is a beacon lighting the way to bottomless, rich waters. But You love and cherish the clay pot You are shining through, and the dirtiness of the cracked shards does not deter You. You clean and painstakingly restore Your masterpiece little by little. You make me useful, able to once more hold water and be poured out. And You keep being so beautifully bright. This, perhaps, is the greatest mystery of all.

I so often do not care about the things You care about. I build and protect my kingdom, my ant hill, not Yours. I refuse to let you melt my idols in the fire and tantrum around the flame. But Your kingdom comes — breaking bones, razing dreams, forging new life, new hopes. You have made me and bought me with priceless blood. I am Yours, the mute daughter of The King. The Good Shepherd, the God Who Sees, the Lord Almighty — The Lord of Hosts, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Worthy. Worthy. Worthy. Holy. Holy. Holy.

And yet You are not far off. You are so near as to have joined Your spirit with mine. When I pray, I pray through You and to You. You carry my prayers before the Father and intercede on my behalf. You are with me always. Father. Father. Heavenly Father. Good Father. Holy Daddy. Truth-telling and unchanging Father, my Lord and my God. Forever as close — no, closer — than this pen in my hand and coffee in my cup. Could You bow any lower, my Lord, my Father? So lofty and so low. You do not stay Lord only — You adopt me and call me Beloved. Daughter. I am to know You and come to You like this. Father, the holder-togetherer of all things, the great keeper of secrets and longings. The hardy bread. The abundant life. The satiating drink.

Woe is me, for I am lost. A woman of unclean lips and idolatrous words. I have seen the King.

Laura ZieselComment