Forgetting Faith in Formulas

DSC00364A couple of years ago I was making a guitar with zebrawood for the back and sides. Zebrawood is an African hardwood with bold tan and brown stripes, and it was my first time working with it.

The guitar was a cutaway, which is tricky because it requires the wood to be bent into some pretty severe curves.

My first attempt at bending the cutaway on the Zebrawood was a complete failure. The wood cracked and split along both bends. In analyzing what I might have done wrong, I realized that I was a little timid about the heat. Since Zebrawood is a lighter color overall than the rosewood I was used to using, I feared that it might scorch. Instead of bending at 350 degrees, I did it at 300.

Guitar sides come in matching pairs, so I had another side that was essentially scrap, so I tested my theory out and it bent perfectly.

I called my supplier to order another set of sides, emailing them a picture of the back so that they could better match the new sides to it. A little later in the day I called the sales rep, Dan, to make sure he got the picture. Since it’s a small operation and you get a lot of personal attention, Dan and I talked about bending Zebrawood. Here’s how part of the conversation went:

Dan: “Yeah, we find that zebrawood can be a little funny when bending. What we find works is to bend slow, use little or no water, and low heat.”

Me: “Did you say low heat?”

Dan: “Yeah, and no water. And bend slowly.”

Me: “Really? That’s funny, because I did just the opposite when I bent the other side, and it came out perfectly. I used a liberal amount of distilled water, high heat, and bent rather quickly. In fact, it cracked when I used low heat and bent slowly.”

Dan: “Really? That just goes to show you.”

Me: “Yep.”

I knew what he meant: wood is from a living organism, and life does what it wants to do. Each piece of wood is different, even from the same species, sometimes from the same tree. You can’t treat each piece of wood the same. You have to respect its unique characteristics and learn to listen to what it’s saying.

Life resists formulas. What works with one person, or one people group, doesn’t necessarily work with another person or people group. That’s why faith reduced to a formula, while attractive, can be deceiving.

It’s attractive because we like things simple. It’d be nice if we could reduce salvation down to four or five simple statements that, if accepted, get you good with God.

Or five simple steps to effective prayer.

Here’s a clue: if is sounds like something you’d read on the front of a magazine, something very profound has been reduced to something fairly pedestrian.

Life isn’t simple. People aren’t simple. All life, even single-celled organisms, are amazingly and wonderfully complex. People, as we all well know, are amazingly and wonderfully complex.

As are all things related to our faith. When you remove the complexity, you’ve reduced it to what really isn’t real. The simplest statements of our faith—”Jesus died for all,” for example—while simple at the surface, actually point to something wonderful and mystical and ultimately incomprehensible.

God’s grace toward all of his creation can’t truly be amazing if it can be reduced to a formula.

Life in the eternal kingdom is richly complex, intricate, and enchanting. Rather than trying to reduce it to something simple, lets just accept and enjoy the mystery.

And leave the formulas to the magazines.

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