Monday, July 30, 2012

Problems, Solutions...Or Something New?

Early this summer I picked up a book that I'd seen recommended a number of times: The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy L. Sayers. I'm an old fan of Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels, but I hadn't forged past those to read her other writings, many that highlight her insights into living for Christ. The Mind of the Maker seemed a good place to start, and when a blog friend of mine started an online discussion of the book within weeks of my venture, it proved to be the perfect summer read. Not to mention, having a group discussion helped me pace it and push on through the heavier bits.

And what a journey it has been! I can definitely say that I loved Sayers' writing as much in this book as I always have in her novels. I wish I could think like her; she lays ideas out, elaborates, focuses in, and zings with her final points. She's a master of logical arguments. Kraig could probably keep pace with her, but for me it's a slow process. But her work is as beautiful as a perfect geometry theorem (and from a non-math-person like me, that's a huge complement). My favorite part of the book was chapter seven, "Maker of All Things--Maker of Ill Things," in which Sayers lays out an argument for why evil exists and the part God plays in it. I won't even attempt to detail it here because I would completely botch her argument, so you'll just have to go read it yourself. There is this point with which she concludes the chapter, though, that goes with what I'm getting to:
"The Fall had taken place and Evil had been called into active existence; the only way to transmute Evil into Good was to redeem it by creation. But, the Evil having been experienced, it could be redeemed only within the medium of experience--that is, by an incarnation in which experience was fully and freely in accordance with the Idea [God]." (p. 107)
So the Creator God gave us Christ, and through Christ, we (and all of His creation) can be redeemed, bought back, rescued.

In the final chapter, Chapter 11, "Problem Picture," Sayers fleshes out this concept of redemption. She targets a cultural tendency that thinks of everything in terms of problems and solutions. Think of how we approach everything: Here is the problem (e.g. "I am sick") and here is the solution ("I will follow such-and-such procedure and I will be cured."). Unfortunately, reality is not that cut and dry. We don't have neat little problems, Sayers points out, like a detective novel that can be solved with all the pieces tied up.

For many people, the fact that the problems of life can't be neatly solved is horrible. What kind of God would make a world that can't be fixed? But the whole point is, that isn't how God works! He doesn't "solve" the "problem" by what we think of as "fixing it". If that were the case, when Adam and Eve admitted to eating the fruit, He would have simply restored Eden to its innocence, knocked Satan out of the picture forever, and that would have been that. Nice idea, but within the construct of His creation it doesn't work. Innocence was lost, Evil was active, and the knowledge of good and evil had entered into the human soul. The only true solution was redemption. A price had to be paid in order to buy us back. All things could only be made new through Christ's sacrifice.

Sayers takes this concept of making things new into our human realm, for her theory is that as God is the Creator, his creation reflects Him; therefore, humans have a desire to create--we have the mind of a maker :) . Humans desire to make something new out of what we have. Obviously we reflect God dimly, particularly because of sin, but the image is there and now and then shines out (more so as we let Christ live through us). So with that perspective, how do we deal with the problems of life? We don't try to "solve" them and restore things to what they were before the problem existed; that's impossible. The person who successfully fights off cancer will never be restored to the same state of health he was in previous to the illness. He will never be that same person mentally or spiritually, either. He has been made new. His life is now a new creation.
"If, therefore, we are to deal with our 'problems' in 'a creative way,' we must deal with them along the artist's lines: not expecting to 'solve' them by a detective trick, but to 'make something of them,' even when they are, strictly speaking, insoluble." (p. 193)
 I realized that this has been how I've looked at problems for a long time. When Keren died, what put my feelings into words for me was Steve Saint's article, "God's Purpose In Our Suffering." I believed God was in control and that Keren's death wasn't some pointless tragedy. But when I read how this man came to see that God had purposed a tragedy in his family's life to bring others to Christ and bring God glory I saw hope. Keren's life and death was not in vain. Even our grief in losing her wasn't pointless. There was no need to try to "solve" our "problem" of grief. God could take it all, would take it all, and make it something more beautiful than I could ever imagine. And in the past three-and-a-half years I've seen flashes of that truth, and I have no doubt I will continue to see it. Kraig and I are still figuring out what all this means for our future.

Our pastor recently started a series on Nehemiah, and has been focusing on how the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem is similar to ways our church is trying to rebuild after a number of years of upheaval. Sunday he spoke on chapter four and "Dealing with the Inevitable." In other words, when you are in the midst of doing something big for God, it is inevitable that obstacles will arise. It is easy to get discouraged and sidetracked: "It will never be the way it was! There are too many problems, we can't fix them!" The truth is that of course things won't be the way they were, and that there are problems. But that's not the whole truth. God's truth is that He can use us, and work through us to create something new and mighty and beautiful, and that we will be strengthened through the problems we face, and the world will see His glory.

It hit me this morning that another area where this applies for me is with our mom's group at church, REAL moms, of which I'm the coordinator. In the past number of years we have watched our numbers and resources shrink considerably. There are many factors as to why this is, but I've often fought discouragement concerning this. After all, we were such a great outreach program for the church, and we still have many amazing resources for moms of young kids. Why can't we still be that? What can we do to go back to that? Thankfully I've had a mentor and a team who have encouraged me to see what God is doing now in a new way. Last year, though our group was small, it became a place where women could come and share things that were going on in their lives, things they may not have been comfortable to share in a bigger group. Our team saw that our role was one of equipping and challenging each mom to go out into her own community and live Christ daily. It became a place of discipleship more than evangelism, which is awesome, particularly if each person is then becoming a light in her own neighborhood. I'm excited to see how God will continue to use each of us in the group.

I realized that I've got to act on this perspective of making things "new creations". I'm not going to look for simple 1-2-3 solutions to restore things to how they were. I won't expect to see things wrapped up in a nice little package with a bow on top. No, I will look to see how God is making things new, and I will strive to work in God's creation to make something of what He has given me. And to Him be the glory, forever!


  1. Thanks for sharing your insights, Loren. There is such profound truth here. I, too, have enjoyed her Lord Peter Whimsey novels, and have often read quotes from her books. Will need to seek out and read this one. See if I can 'keep up'. Hugs from PA!

    1. Find someone who will read it along side of you, Jo. It really helps with the motivation to get through it. It's not that it's boring (at all!), it's just dense. Our group did about two chapters a week and that was a good pace for me. And I got my own copy because I wanted to underline so much!

  2. Just checking back for any new posts you may have written.
    I’ve been a follower on your blog for a while now and would like to invite you to visit and perhaps follow me back. Sorry I took so long for the invitation.