Heaven is a Kentucky kind of place.
It’s said that a frontier preacher made this assertion while Kentucky was being settled, while it was still the West. And I agree. I love the rolling hills of northern Madison County. LOVE. THEM. Especially the ones along my road. There is a certain stretch where there are no trees or houses on either side, and you can see all the way across the round, green pastures to the woods that surround the railroad tracks and the creek, to the taller hills above. I have trouble focusing on the road because I get so distracted by the beauty around me.
Then there are the hills behind my house. Beautiful (see above picture and the Known & Renowned header image) You can see where the same creek and railroad tracks go on through more woods, more pastures, more glorious, rolling hills. A farm used to grace that hallowed land. We’d hear our neighbor honk the horn of his red pickup to herd the cattle into the barn, we’d feed the horses dry cornstalks from our garden in the Fall, and we’d watch their foals grow in the Spring. Every now and then, a cow got out of the fence and Dad would go help the neighbor get it back in. Our dog, Jesse, would go cool off in the small pond, then come back and shake the water all over us.
Several years ago, the neighbors grew too old to take care of the farm and moved away. The cattle and horses were gone. The pond got filled in. Jesse died. And back in the valley below the hills on which our house and a few others sit, the city built a water treatment plant.
That’s right. I prefer to call it a poo plant– it’s a place where they send the waste from the city. And we aren’t even on city water! The people who work at the plant are nice enough. They even let us come walk on their nicely paved driveway. And it doesn’t smell. So there’s that to be thankful for.
But I still know it’s there. I still know what it is. And I still can’t believe that they would desecrate my beautiful hills– which were once so full of life– with that stuff. Sure, we traded cow manure for the human equivalent, but I don’t see any people milling about and making cute noises or running in a pack to the barn when they hear a truck horn.
There is still beauty in my hills, but it’s tainted now. There is still life in the woods and in the creek, but it’s harder to see. They’ve covered up the ugliness well, even somehow kept away the smell. But that doesn’t change what’s down there.
Sometimes I think that’s what happens to us. We’ve covered up our ugliness, even gotten rid of the stench of our sin. We pretend like it’s hidden, like no one really knows it’s there. But it is. We know. And God knows. And I think it’s worse when we try to hide it from him– we try to clean it up on our own. I think he’d rather us just leave it out in the open– like cow manure. At least then we’re owning up to our mess, our stench. At least then God has made a way for it to– over time– become part of the soil and actually nourish it. To learn from our mistakes. To bring life again.
I know this is a crude analogy, but it’s true, isn’t it? The Bible doesn’t shy away from being crude once in a while, so why should we, if it helps us understand the depth and the grossness of our sin? And it is gross. It is like sewage in the middle of beautiful, rolling hills.
God made us to be brilliant visions of beauty that are so mesmerizing they make people lose focus on the road. He made us to be full of life and natural wonder. And we messed ourselves up. We took the perfect acres of our lives and wreaked havoc on them– built poo plants, condos, shopping centers, sometimes moving dirt around just for the heck of it. And we try to pretend like we’re just as good as we were before– better, in fact. We try to hide our screw-ups, to Frebeze away the rank smells of our sin. And we fool ourselves and others pretty easily. We give into the lie that this is who we are– this is who we were made to be: these well-built, white-washed waste factories.
But God isn’t fooled. He sees us for who we are. But not just that– he sees us for who we can be. When he looks at us, he doesn’t just imagine the beauty of the days gone by– the beauty we ruined. When he looks at us, he imagines the beauty of the days ahead– the beauty he will recreate us to be, a beauty we can never ruin.
For those of us who create waste, ugliness, and destruction wherever we go, that’s an amazing promise. He will make us new. He’ll eradicate our filth, sin, waste, debris. It will be gone forever. And he’ll make the world new. There will be a physical re-creation as well as a spiritual one. As angry as I get about people screwing up my hills, I believe that one day, there will be hills more beautiful even than these.
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