Last week I moved a lot of sand.
We laid a patio out the back of our dining room and dug out and concreted the path down the side of our house. I hit a lot of things with a mattock—which I like telling people because I like the way the word ‘mattock’ sounds in my mouth. There’s also something that sounds impressive about hard labour with a tool most of my urbanite knowledge-worker friends are only loosely aware of.
It was hard work, though hardly unusual for anyone who lived pre-industrial revolution. Maybe that’s an odd reflection, but I think it’s helpful to remember sometimes how strange our lives are, and how briefly humanity has lived like we do.
Our soil is clay, so as you cut into it with the mattock’s blade you hit a rich red seam just under the topsoil. It’s much harder to shift, and you could if you were so inclined throw a pot with it. Once we dug a flat area to place the flagstones in, we filled it with a layer of sand.
Which got me thinking about sand as I was shovelling it into a wheelbarrow to move it from the builders’ bag we’d had delivered to the driveway to where we needed it. It’s made of everything the sea destroys: rocks and shells and any other flotsam and jetsam that roll around the roiling deep are smashed against each other continually by the current and the surf until they’re reduced to the size of a grain of sand. Sand is stuff destroyed by the sea.
This probably sounds like one of those loose segues that writers use to move onto the thing they wanted to talk about. And it is. But I call attention to because I stopped moving sand to tell my wife about it, it was genuinely what I was thinking about. My wife has gotten very bored of me stopping normal activities to comment on the theological significance of an activity. Pray for her.
Sand is stuff destroyed by the sea
Think symbolically with me for a minute. The sea is primordial chaos. It’s where the chaos dragons live. It’s the place that demons come from—the abyss below. Sand is the by-product of chaos reigning. It’s what chaos leaves in its wake. It’s as close to something that stands in for ‘anti-matter’ as I can think of in the material world we know.
It’s also the base product for most of our building materials. That same couple of weekends I mixed concrete and mortar. Both are made from different quantities of sand and cement, with the addition of some aggregate for concrete. Most bonding compounds I’ve mixed up are based on sand and water.
To think symbolically again then, we build with chaos. We make order out of chaos. Especially for the hard exterior work on our homes, to join bricks together, to hold stones in place, or to flatten the earth, we take the elements of chaos and we master them.
Which is exactly what God does.
Make order from chaos
God’s making is not like our making. He speaks and the chaos orders itself. We bash at it with our tools until it’s the shape we want. But, when we build something, we are acting like God. While being in the image of God is more about our priestly, ambassadorial role than how we are ‘like’ Yahweh, there is something notable in the way our activity mirrors the Lord’s.
We make after his making. All our activity should have this goal, even when it’s much less on the nose than this example. In our six days we make chaos out of order, whether by reconciling financial accounts; forming children in the way of the Father; physically making products to sell; helping people buy the right thing to adorn their lives with use and beauty; or taking the raw products of the earth, cutting them, frying them, seasoning them, and setting it before friends around a table.
It helps us to see our lives like this too. Making order out of chaos. Sometimes the chaos wins, but we know that it will not in the end. This is part of what it means to be human.
Does it matter if you don’t notice that your house is made of chaos transformed? On the face of it, not really. After all, what does it change to notice such a thing?
Well, it does change one thing. To notice the way the world is richly ordered and symbolically layered for our instruction and our good is to breathe life into the grey sails of modernity. To embrace wonder—the poetry of the world around us—is to push back on the dull story that we tell ourselves: that we’re modern people who have put away childish things and matured away from magic and the world being suffused with subtle light.
To that friends, please join me in saying, “no”. Instead take out the childlike things and see every mote of sunlight as there to point beyond itself to a King on a throne in the heavens above.
If my making is enough to take chaos and order it, how much more will his new making, his new creation, push back the chaos to allow us to live unhindered by the degradation of life? So much so that the sea will be still as glass (Revelation 15). No more chaos. No more evil. No more injustice, or pain, or weeping. And in its place, rightly ordered joy.
Next time you look at the pointing on your house to see if it needs repairing, or see someone on your road having an extension, think to yourself, “How much more will his house be than this?” And in so doing invite yourself to wonder.
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