God has begun the gradual metallurgy of fall. Outside my window, down to the left, He’s refining one tree into pure gold. It quivers ever so slightly each day as it moves from one degree of gilded glory to the next. Just beyond the edge of the dark green forest, I can see touches of copper and bronze. But the furnace of change heats so gradually, I cannot perceive exactly how the vista has altered from the day before. Like most things God does, it’s subdued, unhurried, and steady.
Like the trees, we too are ever-changing. We somehow lull ourselves into believing things stay in a constant state. But it’s not true. Even when we’ve graduated from those years of swift childhood and adolescent growth, we’re still bit-by-bit morphing into different people.
I read in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, about a friend of Donald Miller’s who did his senior thesis on how humans physically mature. Over a year’s worth of time, he weighed his limbs, inspected his hands beneath microscopes, took pictures of himself, and discovered clear, but ever so slight, grades of maturation. A slide of his face from the beginning of the year and one from the end showed deepening lines. He concluded that we are not the same people we were even a season before.
When God molds our character, He usually does it in this way. It’s often as even and imperceptible as old skin cells dying and being replaced. I wonder sometimes, why He so often changes us like this, bit by bit. Over years He whittles away our selfishness as we learn to truly care for another person. Or across the decades He stretches the leathery skin of our pride until our hide becomes a different material altogether, softer, humbler, more wearable. I guess He knows that if we could see our progress, we’d be right back where we began again.
It scares me though, that sin often happens at the same slow beat. The Bible warns of this repeatedly. Romans 1:21 and following is a sad and steady dirge of decline. They knew God but didn’t glorify or give thanks to Him. They thought about things that didn’t matter, or hardly thought at all. And then their thoughts began to darken. And they exchanged the glory of God for worthless things. Finally, God handed them over to their sin and lust, to let them carry out their darkened intentions. It’s the most mournful song I know.
But I hear its tune echoing in the first chapter of James where desire conceives, gives birth to sin, and it has a lifetime of hours and minutes ticking away into days and months and years before it gives birth to death.
I wonder why sin so often runs the same ponderous course of gradual change. Perhaps, the chief reason is because of the patience of God. As Peter lovingly explains, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
For each life marked by the gradual petrifying of sin, is also a life of millions upon millions of smaller choices. It is a life of myriad crossroads with gracious paths leading to repentance. And generally, there is time, the gracious, slow unfolding of time.
This is perhaps one of God’s greatest kindnesses to us. Time for the discordant notes to shuffle half-step upon half-step in a different direction. Time for our songs to progress into a sweeter, yet still unhurried melody of change. This must by why God prefers adagio for souls. He transposes our lives, line after mesmerizing line, until we are altogether changed.
Listen here to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, the soundtrack of this month’s musing.