I've been doing a fair amount of baking lately, and even more cooking. To the novice, those seem like the same things - preparing food - but anyone who does these things knows they couldn't be more different. Baking is a science. If you don't measure everything out precisely, you're not going to get the right result. It's a formula, and you have to follow it to a T or your breads don't rise, your cakes fall, and your cookies bake flat. Cooking, on the other hand, is an art. You can sort of make it up as you go along, putting in a dash of this flavor and a pinch of that one and correcting for over- or under-seasoning, working the flavor out as you cook and giving the dish some time, and some grace, to come together.
I like cooking, of course. Though baking has its merits (mainly, the fresh-out-of-the-oven warm sugar cookie kind). But to each their own. Some people are bakers. Some people are cooks. Some people are nukers (which is neither an art nor a science but a shortcut to someone else's art or science). And still others are taker-outers.
The same is fairly true of our relationship with Christ, isn't it? There are so many of us who want Christ to be a science. We want Him to be a formula, a painstaking measuring out of this commandment and that service. We think there has to be a way to put this Christian thing together to get the right result. The problem is that we seem to consistently fail at getting our measurements right. We don't get our ingredients all proportioned together, then we're defeated when we don't rise, instead we fall, and everything comes out flat.
There are those for whom Christ is a shortcut. They want the quick, easy Jesus without a lot of time to invest in the actual making of a relationship. They call on Him in times of trouble, cry His name at death's door, and try to enjoy the fruits of His sacrifice without having to figure out anything that really goes into it. That's a shame. Nothing nuked ever tastes quite as good. (This coming from a girl who has shortcutted a grilled cheese on numerous occasion by toasting bread and melting cheese on it in the microwave.) Something is always lacking.
There are those for whom Christ is take-out. They rely on the faith of others to pull them through. They rely on their friends and family, who have relationships with the Messiah, to be enough of a faith to keep Jesus in their sights though He offers nothing really satisfying for their souls. It's kind of the same old thing day after day and after awhile, when that's all the Jesus you can get, it doesn't even sound good any more.
And then there are those of us for whom Christ is an art. We don't really know how the day is going to go, but we're pulling it together as we go along. We have the basics for a good dish - sacrifice, service, faith, hope, love, joy, peace - but we're not really sure about the flavors until we get there. We spend our lives adding a pinch of this, a dash of that, stirring and simmering and kind of giving things the grace to come together. We make it up as we go along. There's a certain beauty in that.
As I think about this, stopping to pull chocolate-chocolate-chip muffins out of the oven for my niece and nephew, who are visiting with me this week (I can't have chocolate, but they seem to like it), I think about what happens when the fire goes out. You pull this desert, this treat out of the oven, this baked deliciousness, this act of science and it's delicious. But nobody's ever eaten a cake or a muffin or a cookie and eased back in their chair with a satisfied sigh, declaring, "That was fulfilling." Rather, they say, "I shouldn't have." I think the same is true for those of us who wish religion was a science. One day, we will sit back, having digested the work of our science, our formula for getting Christ "right," and we'll say, "We shouldn't have."
Cooking, on the other hand, and the art of just sort of bringing things together and figuring them out, is deliciously satisfying. You eat a good meal that's come together just right, with the right flavor of this spice and the right hint of that one and the aroma of something that's simmered just right (an aroma pleasing), and you're just satisfied. You sit back in your chair, let out a sigh, and declare "That was good." And that's how I think it's going to be for those of us who know that relationship with Christ is an art. One day, we will sit back, having breathed in the pleasing aroma of a life coming together, having filled ourselves with a beautiful mix of a little bit of this and a little bit of that, having corrected along the way for the bland or the spicy parts, and we will smile a satisfied smile and simply declare, "That was good."
Are you living a life that's good? It's an art, not a science.
Time to go serve up those muffins while they're still warm...