Sunday, January 03, 2010

Mourning Has Broken! (Jeremiah 31:7-14)

What a promise this is from the man whose name we now use to describe long rants against everything that's going wrong. If someone gets up and talks about how things used to be great and how not great they are today, then that's a "jeremiad," and it's named after the prophet himself.

Jeremiah lived in the last days of the kingdom of Judah and saw things getting worse and worse all around him, so we can imagine why he'd have a burr or two under his saddle. But if his prophecies were ever delivered as public speeches, then I bet this one made people ask whether the prophet had found himself an extra wineskin or two. "He said the Lord would turn mourning into what? Jeremiah? Are you sure?"

When I was considering this uncharacteristic passage, I ran across something J.R.R. Tolkien said about the new creation Christians expect after the return of Christ. In it, he said, things like sadness and tears would be "un-made." That phrase kind of resonated with the most poetic part of Jeremiah's vision, the transformation of sadness into joy and God consoling his weeping people.

Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic and he found the idea of God creating things fascinating. He held that one way human beings bear the image of God is in our ability to mimic that creativity. We obviously can't create something from nothing like God did (unless we are Barry Sanders turning a backfield tackle into a touchdown run), but we do create works of art and even spiritual and emotional environments with our talents, words and actions. He called it "sub-creation."

Obviously, talented artists, writers and musicians create works with their abilities. So do chefs, woodworkers, stonemasons and others. But even those of us who think we have no talent can create an environment of peace and tranquility if we help calm someone who's tense for some reason. Or we can create it in ourselves so that we find some communion with God.

Along with this creative ability we carry in God's image goes our free will. We can align that image of God within us to God's vision of the world and create things that uplift, or cause people to think about things, or maybe just amuse them and bring them laughter. We can align our ability to affect people's moods and ways of thinking with a belief that they are God's children and seek to bring them closer to God.

Or, of course, we can freely choose to do the opposite. Talented artists can, instead of aiming high, aim low. Gifted movie directors can use their skills to play in the garbage instead -- I'll call every Saw movie, and all of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie's work as my witnesses. Someone with an ear for tunes or rhythm can glorify selfishness or violence or killing.

And the same voices that can create uplift in people can also create sadness and anger. The Grinch created a Santa Claus suit, transformed his dog into a reindeer and used his stealth and slyness to try to steal Christmas from the Whos. He failed, of course, because he couldn't un-make what Christmas really was.

At the end of days -- whatever form that takes -- Christians say God will transform this fallen world into a new world that's in full and perfect communion with him. In doing so, God will un-make some of the things our fallen creativity and selfishness have produced, like sadness.

It won't just vanish or fade away into memory. We won't just say, "Wow, we're happy now when we used to be sad." The very idea of sorrow itself will be un-made. Instead of having the spiritual equivalent of an abandoned building that no one uses anymore, God's new creation will demolish the old and rebuild it as it was always supposed to be to start with.

That may be a tough concept to wrap our heads around, but it's what God is doing with us in our relationships with him. He is un-making the person we've turned ourselves into and making the person he had in mind for us to be.

And we in turn create with God instead of against him -- with his work of un-making the world as it has become so that he can make the world as he designed it to be. We are being re-made, and that is good news for us. And because we are being re-made we have good news for our world.

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