In the beginning the world was a blank canvas. Then God flipped on the studio lights, stepped up to the easel and threw God’s self headlong into creation.
For days, even ages, God worked without rest, lost in an artist’s reverie. But the work wasn’t labor. It was joy; it was breath. The canvas exploded with texture and color, breathtakingly simple complexities. And God chortled, “It’s good! Oh, it’s so very good!” Everything that is was formed of sheer divine delight.
God has created a masterwork, every stroke placed with intention. Work completed, the Artist turns to give his first instruction to those entrusted with the curation of this masterpiece. What will God say? What will the mandate be?
I myself am no artist, but I recently reorganized a kitchen. The Tupperware cupboard, in my humble opinion, was next door to a Monet — every size, shape and color in proper position. I opened the door again and again to marvel at perfection. I had only one thing to say to the occupants of the house: “Don’t. Touch. Anything.”
There’s a reason museums are full of signs emblazed with three words: “Do Not Touch.” No one sane approaches Van Gogh with a brush, saying, “I think I can improve this.” Every change is a debasement. Time, contact, exposure — these can only detract.
It would make perfect sense if God’s first words to humans were, “It is good. So now, don’t screw it up. Don’t go stomping on my luscious lawn. Don’t stick your dirty fingers in my clean blue waves. Don’t touch that apple you’ll only bruise. Don’t mess with perfection.”
But instead God says this: “Be fruitful and multiply. Put your hands and feet all over every part of this masterpiece. Act as if you were authorized to be in charge of this creation” (Gen. 1:28). God’s masterpiece, according to Genesis, is incomplete while there are no people to participate in its shaping (Gen. 2:5).
Humanity is commissioned for the vocation of farming — for stirring up and flipping over soil, disrupting creation’s clean lines for the sake of future growth (Gen. 2:15).
Religion often functions as if its core mandate were maintenance. We imagine the world in an endless spiral away from past perfection. We suppose that the highest call of the church is to prevent the spread of corruption, to preserve the good that was.
But the vision of Genesis is vastly more expansive. Nothing must be broken for things to be made new. God delights in the process of creation, and the first mandate of humanity, made in God’s image, is that of nurturing emergence.
While in our fallen form we tend to sow chaos and destruction, the salvation of Jesus brings us back to our first call — making beauty and sowing life.
This is why, in the Book of Revelation, when the world is finally recreated, it appears not as a garden but a garden city. The future Scripture teaches us to expect is not the untouched, embalmed masterwork of a single Artist but a canvas shaped by layered strokes from a billion different hands.
Too often the church’s preservation-impulse is fueled by fear of things coming apart. We spend all our energy looking for ways to hold the remnants together.
But the redeemed are given a more joyful mandate: genuine creation. Disciples making disciples. Life giving birth to life. Art and song and color constantly changing form. Not because the old was bad. Not because the present is necessarily broken. But because God is a Creator, and creative emergence is our work.
Imagine if the church were known not as a museum but as an artist’s studio, a place where beauty is formed in a thousand new and different shades. Maybe this is what it means to be a people of the new creation.
Meghan Larissa Good is teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz., and author of The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today, coming in October from Herald Press.