by Robert Jacobs
The year, 1585. The place, London. In an open-air theater on the banks of the Thames river, a new play opened, a drama that would change the direction of pop culture for centuries to come. Its name: The Spanish Tragedy.
Aside from being famous for inspiring Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the play saw continual production for over fifty years. Even accounting for visitors to London, the fifty-year run indicates that Londoners would have repeatedly paid to see the production. In fact, one archival source includes a passage in which a woman on her death bed repeatedly asked her family to take her to see the play one more time. Why would anyone see the same play over and over, let alone want to see it in the last moments of their life?
The answer has to do with the complexity of art. When an artisan (poet, sculptor, painter, etc.) produces a work, they often agonize over it. Rather than a simple object, the work is an extension of the artist herself. As a result, the final product possesses a level of complexity on par with the artist. This means that when others interact with the art, they are confronted with a deep complexity. This is why people can view the same painting, watch the same play, or read the same book time and time again, yet walk away with a new insight each time.
The Bible is a masterful work of art that indeed possesses this complexity. Though I have read it in its entirety (some sections countless times), I still find something new every time I interact with scripture. One such occasion came three weeks ago as I reread Genesis 3 while writing the “Enslaved by God?” devotional (http://livehopedevos.blogspot.com/2018/03/enslaved-by-god.html).
Although I have read that chapter countless times and listened to many teachers explain the passage, I noticed for the first time that Genesis 3:14-16 is actually structured as a poem. If you look at the passage, you will see that the verses in which God describes the curse of sin and the eventual victory of Christ are set up in poetic verse, indented on the page like one of the psalms.
As I sat back and thought about why God would deliver that passage in poetic verse, I realized that God truly is an artisan, a poet of incomparable skill. From the foundation of the earth until the end of time, God has been and will continue to weave together a masterful poem, the story of His great love for His children.
Now, I know some of you are thinking, “Robert, my life has been anything other than a beautiful poem. In fact, my life looks less like a poem and more like a train wreck.” Having personally suffered through many messy times, I understand why some may feel that way. Yet even in those times, I put my hope in the promises of God. Ephesians 2:10 says, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The word “workmanship” is actually ποίημα (poiēma), or poem. In other words, Paul specifically says that we are God’s poem.
As anyone who has done any kind of extensive writing will tell you, there are many drafts that never make it to a final text. Although these versions look as if they are worthless, they are in fact a vital step to reaching the polished end product. Poems are living documents, with each draft a necessary component of its development. Likewise, we are living poems, traveling through many phases as we make our way to our end.
Whenever I think about the hard times in my past, I can now see how God used each one of those situations to make something beautiful in my life. Think about your own past. Can you see ways that God has done something similar with you? Do you see yourself as a beautiful poem in the making, crafted and shaped by the loving hands of the greatest poet in the universe? Because that is what you are. You are his poem, one stanza in a love story reaching back generations.