An Artist, Not a Magician

This past Sunday, we began our New Year’s teaching series on the Book of Genesis, specifically looking at the creation story in the first chapter. As we worked through the text, I was intrigued that the heavens and earth that God created were described in verse 2 as “formless and empty.” Why would an all-powerful God create a “chaotic mess?”

Over the weekend, this phrase kept coming into my mind: “God is an Artist, not a Magician.” Think of this: He could have easily waved his hand and created the heavens and earth, plants, animals and people into existence in an instant. However, it seems that he first made a form of divine “modelling clay,” because he wanted his creation to be a work of art, not a magical show. To use the scientific term, He first made “matter,” the substance out of which he formed earth, water, and sky. 
According to geology, he took his time, skillfully forming the heavens, earth, and oceans, and then filling them with stars, and trees, animals, and sea life, saving his most skillful work for his highest creation: humanity.  The exclamations of “this is good” throughout Genesis 1 indicate that God was having a good time. He found a great amount of enjoyment in applying himself to his artwork of creation. Indeed, perhaps to underline the point, the literature “genre,” of Genesis 1 is poetic – an artistic description of the creation story, told with symmetry and beauty.  
This past Sunday, Kathleen and I had prepared for an intergenerational service but with January 1st falling on Friday, it made for a long weekend and Sunday was also the last day of the Christmas break. So, a lot of folks were still away, and we had two children instead of our usual crowd. It was the kind of Sunday where I used to feel like resigning after it was over, but I've learned how that kind of shallowness causes me to miss the special surprises that God loves to do.  

This dolphin was a hit. Way to go, Christine!
Our daughter, Dee, and her husband, Markus, who had already returned to Calgary, had donated some modelling clay to VEV prior to their departure. We planned on using this for a craft activity for the children during the teaching. With so many children away, Kathleen quickly adjusted her plan. In addition to including our two children present, Saoirse and Amy, she invited adults to practice their creativity on the modelling clay during the half hour that I preached on the Creation story. The images you see came from the creativity of children and adults during those few moments. Enjoy!

What are the implications of God being an Artist, not a Magician? It means that God is active and engaged in our lives, but he does not operate like a candy machine, or reduce himself to formulas, easy fixes, and pat answers as we walk in relationship with him. He wants to meet all our needs, but he will not be controlled and manipulated. Art is relational  Magic is utilitarian and manipulative.

We see this in the life of Jesus. The nature of his temptation in the wilderness was to practice magic.  The devil’s rasping voice hissed at him, “If you’re the Son of God, jump down from the temple! Turn this stone into bread. Impress people! Dazzle them!” Not only is our culture addicted to this approach, it is a constant temptation for those in Christian ministry too. While Jesus had the power to do these things, he refused to relate to his Father as a source of magical power. He also refused to allow people to relate to him that way. Note the variety of ways that he engaged people and responded to their needs. He made mud out of spit and dirt and applied it to a blind man’s eyes. He touched the leper when no one else would. He bantered in conversation with a Gentile woman about “dogs getting the crumbs.” He told a quadriplegic that his biggest need was forgiveness, and then healed him. With a pressing deadline, He stopped in the middle of a large crowd for a woman who reached out in faith to touch the fringe of his robe. He refused to simply be "used," and to move on until he had interacted with her relationally. He told Nathanael that he saw him under the fig tree. He told Peter the fisherman that he would be a “fisher of people.”

Jesus does not approach us with “one-size-fits-all” solutions because as humans created in the image of God, each of us are unique and he accords us that respect because he wants a relationship with us. He does not see us as a source of income that he cane "use," or as a means to further his agenda. He sees us as cherished, loved and as "works of art,” created in his own image.

It also tells us of the value of beauty. In the creation narrative, when God “saw that it was good,” the word includes a sense of beauty. He invites us as humans, created in his image, to create with him and to live our lives as art, and to make the world a more beautiful place. We do so by simply giving back to him what he has given us - nothing more or less. 

If you’re reading this, and you happen to be a magician by trade or hobby, my apologies if I have offended you, but all is not lost. Some magic can be redeemed if it is approached as art and has not bought into manipulation of power or people. Sleight of hand that is “faster than the eye” can provide healthy entertainment value and joy to a party, and as such, can be an art in its own rite. 

Anyway, enjoy the pics and "catch up" on the first sermon in the series by doing so if you missed it. Some of the work was so detailed, I’m not sure the “artists” heard the sermon, but they got the point! Last but not least, it seems God was also having fun and sent a sign. This giant eagle was perched on the cross during the sermon and watched over us as we departed.