Thursday, July 6, 2023 | Trey Comstock
Like many Americans, I have a garage with no cars parked in it. Fifty percent of the space has been given over to the madness – holiday decorations, dead furniture, sports equipment, camping gear, and three printers of uncertain origin and even less certain quality. The other half houses my woodshop. What started out as a small miter saw and a few power tools stored in a closet has blossomed into something resembling a real setup with work benches, table saw, miter saw, band saw, drill press, and decent assortment of clamps, tools, and chemicals. I get a lot of joy spending time in there. It takes me back to working at the William and Mary scene shop in college, and making things with my hands is one of my few nondigital hobbies. Fewer screens and more saw dust is probably a healthy balance.
Unfortunately, very little of what I make in there is any good. The shop gets used some for professional project supporting studios, streaming rigs, or event setups which need to function but not look good. Those, I can engineer fine. I repair and restore tech, tools, toys, and vintage finds with no issue. However, when I want to make something that needs to function and look good, I always disappoint myself. I see clearly in my mind what it should look like. I turn that vision into an amount of wood and a list of cuts, but, always, somewhere between cut list and final product, it inevitably goes awry. The cuts come out less than straight. Sanding the cuts only creates different issues downstream. The paint goes on uneven. The stained finish looks blotchy, probably due to the need for glue based interventions in the object’s construction. Or, the design had its amateurishness baked into from the beginning. When I make furniture for the house, my wife gamely goes along, but I know the truth. I am simply not capable with my hands of bringing into reality what I see in my mind. It all looks rather childish. Every project ends with me seeing clearly all the ways that I failed to execute on my intentions. I do get joy from woodworking, but I hesitate to call myself a woodworker because each object produced contains more than a touch of bittersweet regret.
These struggles are not unique to my sojourn in woodworking. Paul lays out humanity’s need for redemption in the same terms. I know what I should do. I want to do what I should do. I try to do what I should do. I end up doing what I know that I shouldn’t do anyways. “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:18-20 NRSV) Between our conscience and a knowledge of God’s law, we can surmise moral, right action. Every human has some connection to God, and, thus, some concept of the right thing to do. The challenge comes in the doing of it. Without that deeper connection to Christ’s saving work, we get stuck, like in me the woodshop, knowing what is right, desiring what is right, and unable to consistently execute on what is right.
This points to a proactive aspect of redemption – not just a retroactive one. We spend a lot of time singing about how we “washed all our guilty stain” away. To pull in John Wesley’s language, part of finding out way to Christ is that we become justified in spite of our previous inability to do right. We did wrong, even as we knew right, and that no longer gets held against us on a cosmic scale. Additionally, our life changes going forward. “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a NRSV) Christ opens to us a pathway by which we become capable of doing the right things that we’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t. This encounter with grace regenerates a part of us, makes us less fleshy and more Godly. Redemption means both envisioning and carrying out good in the world.
It's far muddier than simply saying, “And now I’ll do right all the time!” Our journey of sanctification starts with finally being able to do right, and only after a lifetime of two steps forward and one step back does it end with doing right all the time (AKA Christian Perfection). Still, the redemption of Christ redeems past, present, and future. It enables us to carry out the vision of a good life that’s been in us all along. It starts (or continues) by turning to Christ. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!