Why are make-overs so compelling? Why do we love the Before and After photos of people whose looks have been brought out by clever clothing and make-up artists. Real make-overs – people who have dropped 300 pounds or exercised themselves into abs – fascinate us. We love shows about renovations of houses, not just people. Even time lapse photography can hold this kind of allure: we can watch a flower unfurl from a seed. We can watch a caterpillar liquify until it flies off as a butterfly. We love to watch a progression of photographs of people who have changed over time, such as the transformation of the shy retiring Lady Diana Spenser into the glamorous beautiful Princess Diana. The key ingredient in all of these media representations is the speed. In the photographs, and the time lapse photography, change happens in a heartbeat.
We find this evidence of transformation so satisfying, I think, because every human longs to be transformed into something supernatural. We want to have the beauty, power and majesty of a superhero, or a fairytale princess, or an angel. We sense we are capable of greatness. We feel beauty touch us at moments, and we long for that kind of beauty to be present in our lives all the time.
But beauty is elusive. Contentment lingers, and then leaves. We can lose ourselves in a good book, or an autumn stroll, or holding hands on a moonlit beach, only to find ourselves all over again in a traffic jam, a child’s bad grade, or the phone call that never comes.
So why do we want a supernatural transformation if it’s not possible? Did God make us to be perpetually unhappy? Are the deepest longings of our hearts just some cosmic joke?
Or is there a kind, true and good God, who loves us, and made us for a transformative relationship with Him? And if so, are all these stories and sayings we read in Mark 9 part of the clue to solving the mystery of how we perfect this relationship?
The chapter opens as Peter, James and John see Jesus transformed on a high mountain. Jesus’ appearance is “transformed” and his clothes become “dazzling white.” The transformation for Christ seems to be instantaneous. What did Jesus look like before the transfiguration? The New Testament never tells us. But Isaiah prophesied about Jesus: “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance nothing to attract us to him.” Isaiah 53:2. I’ve always loved this. Jesus had no beauty to attract us – and yet people flocked to Him. For once, it seems, people could see past the exterior. And on that mountain, those three disciples seem to have been given a glimpse of what it would look like if one’s exterior matched your interior. In Jesus’ case, his interior is dazzlingly perfect, and so his exterior, momentarily, became similarly dazzling.
Right now, I’m not sure any of us would want our exterior to match our interiors. We would be like the portrait of Dorian Gray. I don’t mean we’d look like Dorian Gray the man, but like the portrait Oscar Wilde imagined him hiding in the attic – the one that becomes deformed and damaged by every crime the man commits.
To a certain extent, our poor choices do reveal themselves in our appearance. Bitterness deforms our faces. Worry creases our brows (and even Botox can’t hide a creased brow completely). Hatred curls our smiles into sneers. Drink turns our skin sallow. Drugs make our eyes … well, there’s lots of things it does to our eyes, depending on how recently we’ve taken them. Sunburns harden our hides. I could go on. But what about our other poor choices? Does every sin show right up on our face, like horrible little zits, popping up the moment we commit a dastardly deed? Luckily, no. Not yet, anyway. God in His kindness doesn’t make them show as completely as He could. But while our poor choices don’t ravage our exterior as mightily as they could, they destroy our interior.
So how do we become transformed, as Jesus did? How can we be cleansed inwardly and shine outwardly, so that we achieve that glory for which we know, deep down, we are made?
The answer, as usual with the Bible, is multi-faceted and yet simple; demanding and yet liberating; rigorous and yet so easy, as the mattress ad goes, even a child can do it.
God gives the answer right here in Mark 9: “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” God wants us to listen to Jesus. So what does Jesus say? He says here that He had to suffer greatly and be treated with abuse in order to save us. He says there are evil powers afoot that want to silence us. v. 17. They want to kill us. v. 22. But Jesus, through prayer, can cast out the evil. He wants to spend time with us and teach us, just as he did the disciples. v. 31.
If we are willing to give up everything to which we cling, we can be free of the tyranny of the desire to be the greatest. v. 34. This kind of love for God is hard, because it requires ignoring the desires of our hands, feet or eyes. But this kind of love for God is easy, because it requires the trust of a child.
If we let go and let God; if we stop clinging to our evil ways, and throw ourselves onto the simplicity of God’s way, we will be cleansed. Our insides will be cleansed by the cross. We all walk around carrying burdens God never meant for us to shoulder – burdens like guilt and shame. God shouldered those burdens for us on the cross. Believing that cleanses us. Trusting God completely liberates us. This transformation happens in a twinkling of an eye. The lightning bolt change we long for does indeed happen in a nanosecond – the moment we decide to trust Jesus, we are cleansed from our sin. The instant we give up being our own bosses, and admit we need a savior, our guilt is taken away. Boom. Before – we were dead. After – we are alive. The change is that dramatic. It’s that intense. It’s that real.
But there is another sense in which the transformation takes a lifetime and beyond. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean becoming perfect. It means accepting we need to be “covered” by Christ’s perfection. But if this acceptance is real and true and good (to paraphrase Hemingwayesque adjectives), then the rest of us gets transformed as well.
When we allow God to cleanse us on the inside, something fascinating happens to our outside. We become people who cannot speak evil of Jesus. We become people who find ourselves welcoming little children. We become people who bring other people a cup of water. We don’t give to earn anything. We give because we have received so abundantly, that the transforming love just flows out of us, naturally. We feel beautiful on the inside because of our relationship with God, and that sense of completion makes us beautiful on the outside.
And then we run dry, and the process starts all over again. We cry out, along with the father here: ”I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief.” v. 24. And God does. For when Jesus says here: “How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you?” I think he says it fondly. v. 19. For He already knows that He will be putting up with us forever.
He has to. He loves us.
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on December 10, 2011