All flesh is grass

By

11 Sep 2022

Our time on earth is miniscule compared to the world’s natural history but the incarnation reverses any feelings of insignificance.

In a recent conversation, a friend and I were compelled to consider our nothingness within the enormity of the whole of creation. We are but a speck, a tiny grain of sand and here for such a short amount of time.

When considering geological evidence about the natural history of our world we talk in millions of years, and we are here on earth for such a short time. Our own insignificance could lead us into rather despairing thoughts and cause us to feel meaningless and without value. Or we could be drawn into a fear of being easily annihilated and leaving no legacy.

These kinds of ruminations are not ours alone as our scriptures give evidence of similar feelings. In Psalm 102 we hear the afflicted one pleading with God:

My heart is stricken and withered like grass;
I am too wasted to eat my bread

– Ps 102:4

The feeling of helplessness is profound and yet, other utterances bring hope to the fore. In Psalm 8, the divine majesty of God is linked to human dignity.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

– Ps 8:3-4

The incarnation reverses the feelings of insignificance because God became flesh and blood, became human.

DESIGN OF CREATION

In ‘The Garden as a New Creation in John’, The Bible Today, Professor Mary Coloe PBVM emphasises the link between Genesis 1, the creation of the world, and the prologue of John’s Gospel where both alert the reader to God’s design of creation with the pinnacle of creation being when the ‘Word became flesh and lived among us’ (1:14).

Coloe prefers to use the word ‘tabernacled’ meaning that God dwells with us. This changes the whole focus of creation. Everything in the created world is now waiting to be brought to fulfilment through the glory of Christ.

As Paul tells us, ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now’ (Rom 8:22). When the work of God is finished, when the whole of creation has been returned through the glory of Christ, we shall all be one in God. What is required is to wait in hope (Rom 8:25).

In the First Letter of Peter, we hear his response to persecution, that is either current or threatened, and encouragement is given to persevere because the Word has been given to us. 1 Peter 1:24 quotes from Deutero-Isaiah: ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass’. All of it withers in time but the hope is in the statement that ‘the word of the Lord endures forever’ (1Pet 1:25).

The readers of this epistle knew that it referred to Isaiah 40:6 where the people who have been returned from captivity in Babylon, one of the great metamorphoses of our faith history, have become a newly created people. It also references another of the great metamorphoses in the Exodus from Egypt. Hope is present because of God’s promises and God’s work among us and within us.

RETURNED TO GOD

This idea of recreation is deeply relevant to us on a personal level as well as being part of our faith history and of the hope for our fullness of return through Christ to be part of the perfection of God. All of creation will be returned to God, no more decay, no more imperfection.

A recent artwork by Robert Gear, a finalist in Australia’s most significant thematic Christian art award, the Mandorla Art Award 2022, images these ideas in a rich way (pictured).

Our own unique perspective is symbolised in the foreground with a domestic garden setting. The hint of a vegetable garden, a fruit tree and a fence all point to our domestication within creation. But like the psalmist says, it will wither. In his own description of his work, Gear refers to the ‘transitory nature of all human life. The natural world has existed in a continual state of flux, evolving and transforming since the beginning of time. Our presence mirrors the natural world’. 

The title of Gear’s work, ‘All Flesh is Grass’ echoes Isaiah 40:6 and 1 Peter 1:24 and in the background points to the hope that is expressed in both of those scriptural passages.

Gear has painted the landscape in a clear, representational way and he offers a view of hope through the light on the horizon that shows promise and clarity.

In the presence of the artwork one is drawn into both the smallness of ourselves in the foreground image compared to the greater picture but also the focus on the horizon. Compared to the age of the hills, we are here but a short moment of time, but it is still valuable.

The horizon in this work is dominated by flat topped very ancient landscapes that are found in Western Australia. Some of the oldest surface areas in the world are exposed in the Gasgoyne and Pilbara land forms.

In a painting, the artist can give a clear focus in more than one area and Gear has succeeded in focusing on the background and the foreground at the same time.

While we are constantly in a state of recreation in both the long-term geological perspective and in the immediacy of our presence in the ‘now’, we need to be hopeful and generous with the true understanding that God is present in everything and will bring everything together in the fullness of time.

Image: Robert Gear, ‘All flesh is grass’, Oil on linen, 122x122cm.mandorlaart.com/2022-madorla-art-award/. This article first appeared in Madonna magazine Spring 2022 edition. For more articles and daily reflections on the lectionary readings for the day, subscribe to Madonna magazine.

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