by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
About twenty-five years ago, I was watching a TV magazine show that I’ll never forget. A spectacular cathedral was being built to worthily give honor to God, and so, a reporter and his camera crew had come to do a story on all of it. Since there were a substantial number of remarkable statues and carved reliefs throughout the inside and outside of the cathedral, it wasn’t long before the reporter sharpened his focus upon the elderly, master-stone-carver who was in charge of creating all of these inspirational images.
The correspondent asked the sage-sculptor about his philosophy of carving. He was unexpectedly erudite and contemplative about his craft. And as the interview progressed…there in the background was a teenager, who looked like he could be no older than about 17, chipping away at a large piece of marble…tink, tink, tink. Yet, the old-master continued, undistracted, talking about line and space and the movement that’s been frozen within the stone, just waiting there all those years for him to release its energy. The old-sculptor continued expounding upon his careful process of working out his intentions for each piece of sculpture. Still, all that time in the background, there was this young boy, who kept chipping away at that formidable piece of marble…tink, tink, tink.
Finally, the distracted interviewer had to ask about the young boy in the background. The old-master said, “Oh, that’s just my young apprentice. I’m teaching him to become a sculptor. He’s helped with a good number of the images and decorative designs we’ve already installed here at the cathedral.” The interviewer remarked at how young and inexperienced the boy looked…and how demanding the old-sculptor would have to be with him in order for the statues to maintain such artistry. The old-master affirmed, “Yes, he’s quite young and inexperienced…and yes, I’m especially demanding of him.” The reporter then inquired, “Aren’t these pieces of marble expensive?” The elderly-sculptor affirmed once again, “Yes, they are. No expense was spared in building this magnificent cathedral.” The correspondent inquired further, “Well, how does such a young man know what to do? Isn’t there the possibility of him making a mistake?” The aged-master explained further that he gives the boy a pretty good set of instructions on what he wants done with each piece of stone…and yet it does happen occasionally where the young boy does make a rare mistake. “It’s to be expected for someone so inexperienced,” he chortled, rather indifferently.
That little piece of information just didn’t make sense to the interviewer. “But what if the apprentice is chipping away at the marble, and he slips, and he accidentally cuts off a nose or an ear of some masterpiece?” The master sculptor exclaimed with whimsical indifference, “It’s OK, we’ll turn it into some other decorative object to adorn this cathedral. It’s kind of like how God is with us, He’s hard to satisfy…and yet easy to please.”
Wow! That stuck. It was a statement that I’ve continued to remember all these years later. Why? Because people tend to think of God in only one or the other of those two characteristics. Some people think that God is exacting and hard to satisfy, pouring out His wrath on those who fail to follow His instructions to the letter of the law. Others think that God makes no demands on them at all…loving them according to whatever their definition of love is…so that everything they do pleases Him, no matter what they do. Yet, when one takes either of those scenarios and plays them out to their consequential end, they each fall far short of the God of the scriptures. God is actually both—hard to satisfy and easy to please—and we have to understand why both of those make so much sense alongside each other when we think of God. So if God is hard to satisfy…and easy to please, what’s that supposed to look like in your life?
What satisfies Him in us? What does God desire from each of us? Put another way we might ask, what’s God’s will for us? Saint Paul offers this piece of advice to help with such questions, “For this is God’s will for you, your sanctification (αγιασμός—your ever-becoming set-apart unto God—to fulfil His purposes).” 1 Thessalonians 4:3 The more we live in unity with God, to fulfil His purposes, the more sanctified we become. God created each of us in His image for this purpose—to grow in Christ’s likeness. So, in essence, we are to become like Jesus who said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34) God created us to grow in unity with Him…cooperating with Him in every bit of energy He applies toward His ministry of love. This is actually what it means to be fully human.
So, God, as the great Master Sculptor, intends and envisions us to be shaped into the likeness of His Son…the true measure of what it means to be human. Yet, God also gives us a shared place in His work of artistry, as His young apprentices (at least, young in this work compared to His own eternal experience). Saint Paul says that we are all “συνεργοί,” “coworkers,” “co-laborers,” or “cooperators” with God (1 Corinthians 3:9). That means there’s one operation and two operators—God and us—in this glorious work of building a temple worthy of Him. Yet, we discover that He’s very demanding in His expectations for us. And so, it’s mystifying and a bit disconcerting that God would invite ones so inexperienced as us to join with His eternal experience on the creation of this great masterpiece, helping Him to shape us according to His vision and plan, chipping everything away that’s not Christlike until His energy is wholly released in us.
How do apprentices like us, so young in this eternal work, know what to do? Well, we know what to do because, the Eternal Master gives us a pretty good set of instructions on what He wants done. Are you making time to learn His strategy for bringing about Christlikeness in your particular uniqueness? Are you putting forth the effort it takes to discover His plan for how you are to be shaped into unity with His will? Are you reading the bible? Are you coming weekly to the Wednesday night, “WHYs of Orthodoxy” classes. Are you engaging in the whole sacramental life of the Church, coming on time, weekly, to immerse yourself in the prayers and the readings and the sermon in Divine Liturgy? Are you coming weekly to participate in the Eucharist, partaking of His crucified Body & Blood—following God’s intent afterwards, that you should carry His Body & Blood into the world, in acts of self-sacrificial offering, to bear-forth an experience of Christ into the lives of your coworkers and friends and neighbors?
What about the possibility of us making mistakes? What if we make a mistake on the building of this spectacular cathedral? Well, the fact is, our Lord anticipates, as ones so inexperienced in this eternal work of creativity, that we will make mistakes along the way. Yet we have to realize, there’s no botched offering of love in this synergistic work with Him that He isn’t skilled enough and powerful enough to turn into something beautiful to adorn this temple. In your fallenness and your inexperience there’s not a single mistake you can make that’s too big for Him to fix. You’re just not that powerful! But, do you show your interest in following the Master’s plan by partaking of the sacrament of reconciliation—coming to confession regularly—to identify the specific ways you’ve gotten off course from Christlikeness, and in repentance, to realign with God’s plan to get back on track toward accomplishing the Master’s intended design in you? That’s an essential part of how we learn to be united with Him in His divine creative genius.
So, as you and God work together on this magnificent cathedral of your heart, adorning it with inspirational images so that it becomes a temple, worthy of the King of Glory, He definitely has very demanding expectations for you in accomplishing a very specific plan of beauty. But, just consider that, as you’re learning how to be His apprentice in this marvelous work, He actually anticipates your making mistakes along the way. It’s part of how you’ll learn. So, risk pouring yourself into this great work with Him. Because, God is hard to satisfy…and yet…He’s easy to please.