Sabbath Evenings – Glorious Ruins
My Grandfather’s barn was the most magnificent within the 600 square miles of Adair County in Oklahoma. Inside that barn, there were two floors. On the top floor—the hayloft–hundreds of hay bales were carefully stacked up to the rafters. Good for climbing. There were two monstrous doors at each end for loading and unloading the straw parcels. I would lay on my tummy and peer through the spaces between the floorboard watching my Grandpa do his work. After a while I rolled over onto my back. Sunshine streamed through barn wood cracks. I felt at once dwarfed by the upper limits of this cathedral-like room.
On the bottom floor, Grandpa had fifteen stalls that he could round up his dairy cows for milking. In my favorite room, the Feed Room, Grandpa prepared a sumptuous meal for “the girls” called Silage. In a giant heated kettle, he would shovel in the recipe’s ingredients of corn, sorghum molasses, oats and alfalfa. I was always allowed a taste. My Grandpa could do anything in that barn – even cook!
The outside appearance of the barn was equally impressive. From my four-feet tall [more or less] perspective, it looked enormous. I shaded my eyes to see the top of the aluminum roof where two shiny lightning rods were attached. They were positioned like guardians protecting the barn from a lightning strike that would surely bring it down in disastrous flames. The barn, framed with tall wooden planks was painted red—and trimmed in white. The colors were splendid and striking against the blue skies of an Oklahoma summer.
Grandpa’s barn —there was no other place I would rather traipse off to, and he knew it. Each afternoon, he would take a coffee break before the final milking of the day. Standing next to him I pleaded to return with him to the barn. Most days he said a firm “No” – especially when Grandma had my hair up in pink foam rollers – something about “scaring the cows.” But on the days Grandpa said “Yes,” the thrill of going to the barn was like journeying to the grandest place on the planet. The barn was perfect in every way.
Many years have passed now. My Grandfather is with Jesus. The portion of the ranch that he cared for has long since been abandoned and neglected, including the barn. I made a pilgrimage to Adair County a few years ago. I was shocked and saddened by what I saw. The barn was nested in briers and undergrowth. Grasses, out of control, banked against the exterior. Vines wrapped around fence poles. Surprisingly the barn looked like it had been recently painted and a new roof installed. This gave me hope.
Despite a “Keep Out” sign, I climbed through a fence so I could take a look inside. Mud Daubers had taken up residence alongside birds, and other creatures. The Feed Room was caked with dust. The large kettle was gone. Likewise the milking room had deteriorated. Feed troughs were splintered and broken. The hayloft showed a similar story of neglect. One of the doors was missing, ripped away by wind or a maybe a vandal. Small pieces of floor board had weakened making them risky for walking. Strands of straw littered the dirty surface.
Even though I recognized the barn as my Grandfather’s, it had radically changed. Not so magnificent now, more like a hollow shell. The barn I had loved as a child was now a glorious ruin. Once upon a time it was glorious in all its pristine beauty under the immaculate care of my Grandfather. Now, it sat as a ruin, only a remnant of a complete and perfect structure. Marred by the effects of weather, vandals, and neglect – the barn was only a hint of what it had once been even in its deteriorated state. It still inspired and awed me.
Dr. Francis Schaeffer has described the condition of human beings as “glorious ruins.”
We are glorious because we were created by God for the noble purpose of being His image bearers; yet we are ruins because sin has marred the divine image we were designed to display, at times seemingly beyond recognition.
Dan Allender writes this:
To be like Jesus means that we must enter the complexity of both dignity and depravity. We are made in the image of God – glorious. We have taken on Adam and Eve’s hiding and blaming – ruin. We are glorious ruins, bent glory. And it shows up in every moment of our existence until we one day see Jesus as he is and become pure as he is pure.
Human beings have dignity, worth and value because we are made in the image of God. People have the capacity to think, feel, love, choose, create and have relationships just as God does. But, many times we turn away from the face of another noticing only flaws and failings dismissing their unique dignity. This dismissing of others dignity points to our own ruin and corruption.
John Stott speaks candidly and with raw honesty:
I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity, because I was created in God’s image and depravity, because I am fallen and rebellious. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image of God and slave of the Devil . . . We must be fearless in affirming all that we are by creation and ruthless in disowning all that we are by the Fall.
Here then is the paradox of our humanness. We are capable of both the loftiest nobility and of the basest cruelty. One moment we can behave like God, in whose image we were made, and the next like the beasts over whom we were meant to be distinct. Human beings are the inventors of hospitals for the care of the sick, universities for the acquisition of wisdom, parliaments for the rule of the people and churches for the worship of God. But they are also the inventors of torture chambers, concentration camps, nuclear arsenals. Strange, bewildering paradox – noble and ignoble, rational and irrational, moral and immoral, Godlike and bestial. (Quoted by Dr. Richard Winter in Perfecting Ourselves To Death)
Seeing my Grandfather’s barn repainted and with a new roof gave me hope that someday another person would come along and restore the barn to its original glory. Our dignity, worth and value were redeemed at a high price through Jesus (John 3.16; Rom. 5.6-8; I Pe. 2.9-10). God is restoring us and we do not lose heart “though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” ( 2 Cor. 4,16) Our God, through Jesus sees you and me as something worth loving and worth fighting for.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace! He intends to come in and live in it Himself. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. (2 Corinthians 3.18, NLT)