A magnet hangs on my refrigerator amid the jumble of graduation pictures, dentist appointment reminders and other magnets from places I’ve visited. I bought this when my son and I visited the Sistine Chapel a few years ago. It shows the part of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling masterpiece, the Creation of Adam, when God’s hand is reaching out to meet Adam’s finger. A small gap rests between the two fingers as the most important moment in human history is about to happen – God making contact with the first person.
I’ve been reading a book called by Tom Berlin, and he uses this iconic image as the starting place to explain how God meets us in the mess of life we have created. Berlin theorizes that we live in that gap between those two fingers meeting – so close, but not quite making contact with the Supreme Being. He says:
“What is represented in that gap? It is the almost of life – what we would have, and could be, if only we would reach toward God as energetically as God reaches toward us. That gap is the distance between the life we have and the life we want. It is the empty space in the relationship with God that we feel even as we long for the communion with the one who created us.” (P. 16)
That line “That gap is the distance between the life we have and the life we want” – has been rolling around my brain this week. As I’ve looked at that magnet each day I’ve thought about how far I feel from God at times. Yet I know that God is close, right there, but I can’t quite reach Him. What can I do to bridge that gap?
If we pan out from the small section of the two hands meeting and take in the scene with Adam and God, we see that God is straining with all His might to reach Adam. He has the help of the angels who are supporting Him In the air and He is intent on making contact. Adam on the other hand, seems unconcerned and weak, leaning away from his Maker and holding out a limp hand. One art commentator noticed that all Adam has to do to touch God’s Holy finger is simply lift up his own finger just a little – but the action seems almost too much for him.
How often are we like Adam in the painting – too lazy or weak to make the contact with God, who is straining toward us?
On one hand, being a Christian is the easiest thing in the world – simply accept the free gift God gives us. But there is also some effort involved. Paul writes about this to the Philippians, in a passage that fascinates me:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2:12-13)
Paul tells us to work out our own salvation. Does this mean that we have to work for our salvation? No, salvation is God’s gift to us – For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 3:8-9). And it doesn’t mean that God loves us because of how good we are – He loves us unconditionally. But in order to reap all that He wants to give us – “to fulfill His good purpose” – we have to do our part.
If someone gave me a gift of an expensive treadmill and I set it up in my bedroom and then never ran on it, but used it as a place to hang my clothes or to store the paper towels from Costco – would I be getting the benefit of the gift? I would still have it, no one has stolen it, but would it be doing me any good?
That’s how I am with my gift from God. Sometimes I feel like Adam in Michelangelo’s painting – that I’m not extending my finger to meet God’s. I don’t want to make the effort. We have so many things to drag our attention away from spending time with God – the TV, the internet, Face book, not to mention our jobs, families, friends and church. These are not bad things, but we just have so many distractions that take up our energy. Meanwhile, God is straining toward us with so many good things to give us, and we are watching cat videos!
So I’m back to the balance that I wrote about previously – sometimes I am studying hard and working to understand what God is saying, and other times I’m resting and letting His love and peace wash over me. It is a constant back and forth, like the waves coming into the shore and leaving again. When the rhythm gets out of whack, then I run into problems and I have to find it again.
My magnet has more meaning for me now, and I look at it each day and look forward to the times when God’s hand makes contact and touches me!