Consider a paintbrush.
Just a wooden handle with bristles at one end. It is, however, an extraordinary thing. This humble paintbrush is able to produce the most beautiful works of art.
It’s simple. It transfers paint from palette to canvas. Yet, in doing so, the paintbrush builds a window. We don’t just see the paint. We see beyond it, and into it. And through it, we can gaze and catch a glimpse of a world much like our own, a vista which thrills the heart, a pair of wings on which our imaginations are lifted that we might see the view – mere paint on canvas commanding our attention, and ultimately, our response…
“Wow… that’s beautiful.”
We can see beauty by the work of the paintbrush.
There’s something missing here, though.
It’s not the paintbrush that does the work. It’s the painter, of course. Only in the artist’s hand do we see art revealed as the paintbrush is moved over the canvas. The artist is the one who provides the creative spirit and the vision needed to actually produce a beautiful painting. Without the artist, the paintbrush is nothing. Yet, in the hands of the artist, we see magic happen.
The moment the paintbrush is in the artist’s hands is the moment where it is truly a paintbrush. It is being what a paintbrush should be. It is doing what a paintbrush should do. It has attained the most paintbrush-esque state a paintbrush can attain. And beauty abounds.
Okay. Let’s imagine for a moment that paintbrushes could talk.
“Actually, I’m sick of this artist guy. I want to express myself and be who I truly am.”
“Well, if that’s what you want… so be it.”
A momentous occasion. We celebrate! Independence! The paintbrush is finally free – free from control, and from slavery, and from relying on other things and peoples – and it can finally be itself, and express itself, and be who it truly is and achieve the things that it was really made for and …
… And it lies neglected, on the storeroom shelf. It dries up, and it gathers dust. And it wasn’t like old times. Nowadays, it doesn’t produce any beautiful paintings.
Yes… In this moment of independence, the paintbrush isn’t really fulfilling the mandate and purpose and proper place of a paintbrush. In fact, it’s much less of a paintbrush on the storeroom shelf than when it is in the artist’s hands. Apart from the artist, the paintbrush isn’t really a paintbrush.
So… “When is a paintbrush most like a paintbrush?”
“Why the paintbrush story?”
Consider God. A being who is self-sufficient in and of himself. He is the source of all things, and furthermore, all good things. When God creates, whether it be the plants, or the animals, or the world, or human beings, their existence and goodness are derived from God.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31
Where else would their existence come from? There are only three things – things which exist because they are God, things which exist because God gives it existence, and things which don’t exist.
Where else would their goodness come from? There are only three things – things which are good because they are God, things which are good because God gives it goodness, and things which are not good.
Human beings only exist, and are only good, because of God. Furthermore, it would make sense to be in relationship with God – because he is the source of all good things. If you try and get away from Him, if you try and sever the link, if you try and cut off the relationship between you and God – it might seem like a good idea – but the only thing you’re doing is severing yourself from the source of all good things. The right and proper state of man – his purpose and his function – is to enjoy and exist in relationship with God, because in doing so, he is in relationship with the source of all good, and this is the greatest possible good you can be without being God himself.
Apart from God, man is nothing. He is like a paintbrush on the shelf. Yet, in relationship with his creator, like the paintbrush in the hands of the artist, he flourishes. Beauty abounds.
Human beings find their true self when in relationship with the creator.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5