The Bigger Reason You Should Be Worked Up About Beauty and the Beast

I heard all the hoopla leading up to its release. Segments of conservative Christianity were crying, “BOYCOTT!” because of the inclusion of a gay character. I’ve never been one for blindly joining anti-cultural bandwagons, so naturally I concluded I would need to see for myself. “What’s the big scuttle? Is there actually reason to be worked up?”

I went curious but prepared for some level of humdrum. I anticipated saying to myself, “They took the oh-so-familiar story and dressed it with ultra-realistic techno wizardry. Okay. That was kind of cool. And oh yea, they pushed the gay agenda.” I expected to be underwhelmed.

Instead, as our family settled in for the late-afternoon show, I found myself marvelously entertained, enthralled by the amazing cinematography. I was thoroughly captivated by characters, color, musical score, and brilliant pacing. Yes, a character was portrayed as ever-so-subtly gay, but I found myself wondering, “Would I really pick up on that if I wasn’t looking for him?” In actuality, this 2017 version seemed less sultry in male-female interaction than the old cartoon. I thought, “Wow! Less cleavage and sexual innuendo—why weren’t Christians applauding this cleaned up rendition?”

But there’s actually a bigger issue that deeply disturbed me. I’m stunned no one has yet cried out about such a pressing, flagrantly obvious theme.

All across this “tale as old as time,” the castle’s one-time-workers—now cursed household furniture, décor, and dishware—have been actively serving to orchestrate true love, attempting to reverse the curse, both for the Beast and their own existence. Toward the climax, the final rose petal has dropped, the Beast has been shot, and the great castle’s curse is culminating. Very soon, all will be permanently immobile and forever lifeless. The scenes are heavy, dark, and sad with regret. Love has not been found. The characters will be trapped, frozen in place, and lost forever.

With just moments remaining, Cogsworth the Clock and Lumiere the Candlestick realize the end is near. All along, they have been gradually losing their humanity, becoming harder, less functional and life-like. As they are about to lose all mobility and their ability to speak, Lumiere proclaims, “It’s been an honor to serve with you, Cogsworth.” In the next beats, every character stands still. All faces and motion vanish. The Beast has died, and his entire household is now still as stone.

Must confess, I was gushing tears in the theater’s darkness. (Yes, I can be a sentimental schmuck if a story deeply grabs me.) Truth be told, my soul was ambushed by the parallels, having said goodbye to several close family and friends in recent years. Such depiction of the solemnity of the curse caught me off guard. Suddenly, I was crying all over again about losing Dad, losing Grandma, as well as just recently saying farewell to Sherilyn and Bob in our church family. And I was also deeply soul-moved—extremely worked up by something bigger. I knew what was coming.

So do you. As Belle weeps over the Beast and confesses her true love, Agathe the Enchantress revives the rose. Love wins, blowing the mighty winds of change. The Beast rises and is marvelously transformed into the Prince once again. Then one by one, every character including Cogsworth and Lumiere come back to glorious life, now fully human once again. People who had been estranged for many years are reunited, now fully alive and joyfully dancing.

In the theater’s darkness, I was bawling once again. As tears gushed, I felt my chair shaking. These were tears of triumph, born of oft-forgotten, albeit vitally important workplace theology. Truth be told, this scene marvelously portrays a dusty concept known as transformatio mundi. It’s Latin for the eschatological belief that with the end-times arrival of New Heavens and New Earth, all will be cleansed, fully transformed. All of “the house” will be renewed, gloriously redeemed—all of Creation, including the servants, believers in Christ Jesus along with their grace-motivated, God-glorifying work (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 8). Very closely related is the marvelous concept of resurrection. Christ rose in his new, physical body, fully alive. His own work of gracious salvation and bodily resurrection supply the first taste and the precious promise of such bodily resurrection for every human who by faith trusts in Him (1 Corinthians 15).*

Gracious, selfless love. The curse reversed, resurrection, and powerful transformation. Please tell me again why conservative Christians cried, “Boycott!” Hours after seeing the movie, I’m still gloriously disturbed. Instead of sporting a grumpy outlook over a possible gay character, I wish we would be worked up by the resurrection message so marvelously portrayed by such a movie. We could be motivated to persevere in our daily good work in God’s kingdom. After all, we know what’s coming. The house and servants will not stay cursed. It’s Gospel. Gracious love wins. There’s glorious transformation yet to come.

But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

*For further reading on these provocative concepts, grab a copy of Darrell Cosden’s The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work.

 

 

How Can Earthquakes and “Zombies” Motivate Our Daily Work?

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It’s a plaguing question that haunts us all.

Does my daily work actually have any lasting, eternal value? (Let’s keep it real. We all ask this from time to time.)

And let me complicate the issue with one further annoying question: Might the Easter season hold clues or help us in any way answer this question of our daily work’s meaning and motivation?

First, let’s be clear. We are including the everyday, down-to-earth stuff like landscaping, making cereal, spreading manure, and running repetitive, tedious lab tests. Yes, the messy, sometimes bloody, dirty stuff. Most of us are quick to assign some greater, lasting value to arenas like teaching children, caring for patients, preaching sermons, creating works of art, or leading a not-for-profit. But what about changing diapers, changing oil at the garage, changing hair color in the salon, or changing light bulbs in a warehouse? ‘Just want to be clear. The question is pertinent for every task, especially and including this often mind-numbing, mundane stuff.

Next, it’s important to grasp work’s original ideal. Work was originally portrayed in God’s grand story as very earthy, dirty, creative, tactile, and marvelously full of worship. Genesis 1 presents God as the original earth-worker. The first man was formed from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7). The LORD called and commissioned humans to “rule and reign” in his image (Gen 1:26-28). In Genesis 2:15, he assigned Adam “to work” and “take care” of the garden. This same word for work, when surveyed across the broader scope of Scripture, conveys rich ideas of working in various fields, serving in a full mix of arenas, and even worshiping.

Thus, work and work’s outcomes were blessed and beautiful. However, humanity’s rebellion and the resulting curse sent everything topsy-turvy, horrifically including human work (Gen 3:17-19). Here is at least part of why we now find work tedious, exhausting and sweaty, extra-conflicted by relational stress, and all-too-often perplexing. Yes, we readily encounter daily work as unfulfilling.

SO, what in the world does Easter have to do with our quest for greater motivation and meaning? Tucked in Matthew’s account are two potentially puzzling, curious events. Matthew 27:51b-53 recounts

“The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.”

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Why do earthquakes and zombie-like people appear as Jesus is dying? Consider this. Jesus’ gruesome, glorious death evokes an immediate response for the previously cursed creation. Earth quakes. Rocks split. Tombs break open as dusty bodies with brittle bones rejoin (compare Ezekiel 37). New spirit enters long-dead heroes of the Hebrew faith. Eventually, once Christ is raised, these holy “walking dead” come into the holy city, Jerusalem, and appear to many people. This had to feel stunningly apocalyptic.

If your head is spinning with curiosity, ponder the potentially divine reason. God was seriously showing off, displaying a preview, early signs of what is yet to come. Dodson and Watson explain: “Tied to the bodily resurrection is also the idea that the world will be renewed and restored to its state of wholeness as a garden paradise . . . it involves the renewal of what has been destroyed—cities, the land, and all of creation (Isaiah 60; Ezekiel 36) . . . The end of the world would bring about a resurrected creation.”[1] What breaks open at Christ’s death and resurrection is like a movie preview supplying glimpses into scenes that will fully flood the screen at the culmination of history in Christ’s final victory (1 Corinthians 15).

Darrell Cosden posits: “That this salvation of the natural world includes our work follows logically. Work, which has further shaped nature, is now just as much a part of nature as what God made originally . . . we must conclude from this biblical material that our work experiences salvation along with us.”[2] Thus, Cosden links such consummation of Christ’s resurrection, our human resurrections, and the subsequent redemption of Creation (Romans 8) with eventual redemption of our work and work’s outcomes.

As present-day workers, we can find far-reaching hope! Even our most mundane, treacherous tasks—like plowing endless expanses of field, making the umpteenth sales call, or engaging in one more boring board meeting—might actually hold eternal value. When done to serve the Lord Christ, for the good of others, such rough and tumble, everyday, earthy jobs can actually bring him great glory and end up emerging as work that’s included in the shocking, death-defying, restored New Creation at Christ’s triumphant return. No wonder the Apostle Paul closed 1 Corinthians 15 by saying: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”

With such earthshaking potential for holy renewal, let’s get motivated in today’s work—with greater enthusiasm—and all for his glory!

[1]Jonathan K. Dodson and Brad Watson. Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014, p. 24.

[2]Darrell Cosden, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work. UK: Paternoster, 2006, p. 71.

Resurrection @ Work—the Surprising Significance

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I bet you wonder. Whether you wait tables each day, help patients at the hospital, fix cars, or juggle kids plus your in-home office—whatever you do—I bet you wonder. Does anything I do in my daily work have lasting, eternal significance? The answer to this question is surprisingly, inextricably linked to Jesus’ bodily resurrection.

People readily anticipate that Michelangelo’s marvelous Sistine ceiling might last into Christ’s final kingdom. I was first introduced to the concept of future redemption for creative works in my fine arts course in college. I shrugged. I am no Michelangelo. In recent years, more scholars have posited that redemption’s reach might not be exclusively for the artists. What if your own daily work could have lasting significance, even a literal lasting, based on Creation’s “groaning for glory” and the cosmic redemption foretold in God’s grand story (Romans 8)?

Revelation 21-22 paints amazing frescoes of the eternal kingdom. Sin, death, pain, disease, tears, and all that perpetuated the curse are wiped away so all things become new. The thorns and thistles, germs and disease, ravages of war and violence, less-than-stellar work outcomes, what was done for selfish, greedy, and idolatrous reasons instead of aiming to bring him glory—all of it will be wiped clean, making way for the transformed, new creation. The prophetic prequel in Isaiah 65:17-25 also speaks of very tangible, ongoing work. Houses will be built; vineyards will flourish; financial portfolios will show great gains. There will be very earthy, ordinary stuff in this new, eternal kingdom.

Resurrection’s Long-term Significance for Your Work

You’re probably still wondering: Really? And what in the world does this have to do with the Resurrection? Consider this: Jesus’ resurrection presents a foretaste, a sneak peek at what is yet to come. After Christ was raised, he had a glorified body—a fully redeemed physical body. Scenes from Luke’s account note that it was still very tangible. His followers recognized him; he ate broiled fish; he showed scars; he could be touched; he worked to teach and enlighten, producing changed insight in others; he built a fire and cooked breakfast on the beach (John 21)—all very typical, earthy expressions. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul argues that Christ is the first in the lineup of resurrection and redemption, and we will someday follow in that same train of redemptive resurrection. Our bodies will be raised up and redeemed.

So, a number of heavy-hitter scholars have said, “If we will have glorified bodies, AND if all of Creation will be redeemed as Paul declares in Romans 8 (after so long groaning for glory), doesn’t it make sense this must include certain outcomes of our work?” Perhaps this is why Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 15 with this passionate injunction: “Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” (Explore further insights in Darrell Cosden’s, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, Paternoster Press, 2006.)

So What If?

People have postulated that musical scores such as Handel’s Messiah, hymns like Amazing Grace, and some colossal architecture that stands the test of time—like the Winchester Cathedral—might pass through the cleansing fire (2 Peter 3) and thus hold redeemed significance, to the glory of God.

But WHAT IF the house you constructed with solid craftsmanship, or the real estate deal you worked with amazing care and energy—to serve both God and that family that needed to move into a safer home—what if the tangible results of those labors might also last, to be marvelously redeemed? Or what about the financial planning Dale has helped our family do for the past twenty years? Or what if the life-skills counsel you supplied for that troubled teen finally came to beautiful fruition in her life, OR what if . . .

Some of you are saying, “Wow, that’s out there. I don’t know, Pletch.” OK, I invite you to simply contemplate and dare to ask, what if Creation’s redemption might truly reach that far? Remember that God’s kingdom work is humongous, and I can’t help but imagine that he has some amazing surprises in store for us. New heavens and earth, complete with the Garden-City, appear to have dimensions that already exceed our normal comprehension of distance and capacity (Revelation 21-22). What if the eventual kingdom is actually more down-to-earth than our all-too-common, Star Wars-like fantasies, where everyone is dressed in white, zooming around in heavenly outer space? What if it includes more lasting, physical work outcomes than we have ever imagined?

Perhaps as we contemplate, we can gain perspective by reflecting and joining Moses’ heart cry:

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

Psalm 90:16-17 (ESV)