Last week, my colleagues and I joined our students off-campus for our yearly spiritual retreat at a nearby church. In the morning, we met together in the chapel for worship. One of the choruses we sang was the following:
You make beautiful things; you make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things; you make beautiful things out of us. You make me new; you are making me new.
We sang it in a round, our words overlapping and interweaving, our voices blending and harmonizing. It was a marvelous and moving moment.
Newness, I thought to myself later, when we had some time to meditate. We believe in it. We need it. We sing of it. But do we experience it?
At the end of any given day, toward eight in the evening (if not sooner!), my mind and body begin winding down. My wife and I sometimes joke about increasing decrepitude: how tired we are; what hurts; what no longer works the way it should. We’re often the old fogeys that leave the party early to get to bed on time. (My wife objected that we’ve got too many years left to be “old” fogeys now; I suggested “medium” fogeys as a compromise.)
So–what is newness when our daily experience is more like oldness?
Then I talk to my students, who are generally much younger than I, but frequently seem just as worn out at the end of the day. They’re trying to manage the multiple demands of graduate school, trying to find room not only for their studies, but for friendship, family, and–dare we say it?–God.
Newness. What does it mean when routines and responsibilities seem to grind us down?
“You are making me new.” The song seems to draw on this well-known verse from Paul:
So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! (2 Cor 5:17, CEB)
Paul’s words, literally, are “if anyone in Christ, new creation/creature.” Older translations, like the original NIV, opt for a personal interpretation: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The updated NIV, however, opts for a broader meaning: “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.”
Which interpretation one chooses is a matter of emphasis. As believers, we ourselves are being renewed. But that renewal is also a reminder, a sign, of a much greater work. Through it, we see past today’s trouble to tomorrow’s glory:
But even if our bodies are breaking down on the outside, the person that we are on the inside is being renewed every day. Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18, CEB)
“Temporary minor problems”? The letter begins with a description of trials that sound anything but minor:
Brothers and sisters, we don’t want you to be unaware of the troubles that we went through in Asia. We were weighed down with a load of suffering that was so far beyond our strength that we were afraid we might not survive. (2 Cor 1:8, CEB)
Yeah. Just another tough day at the office.
Newness. It’s more than the rejuvenation we might finally get from a good night’s sleep or two. (Or three.) It’s the hope that derives from being thrust into situations in which we must depend upon God. Paul continues:
It certainly seemed to us as if we had gotten the death penalty. This was so that we would have confidence in God, who raises the dead, instead of ourselves. God rescued us from a terrible death, and he will rescue us. We have set our hope on him that he will rescue us again, since you are helping with your prayer for us. (2 Cor 1:9-11, CEB)
Newness. It’s less rejuvenation than regeneration, less a restoration of spent energy than a reorientation of spirit and imagination. Our confidence is not in ourselves, but in God: not in the results of our efforts, but in the evidence of God’s work in and through us.
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. May we learn to see ourselves and others as God sees. For God has already made his children beautiful in Christ, and we are destined for greater beauty still.