Bishop Paul’s letter
Rev Paul Smith
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand
God is busily involved in the messiness of our lives! This is celebrated most wonderfully in Psalm 139, where we are taught to pray, ‘O Lord … it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb’.
Modern scientific discovery has taught us much about the journey of a little child in the mother’s womb. The womb is a place of fluids, nutrients, of warmth and blood flow. The image of God’s hands at work, gently ‘knitting’ us together in our mother’s womb is a beautiful description of the loving gracious care of God for us, from our very beginnings, in that interesting and somewhat messy place.
The psalmist then proclaims, ‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well’. God does a great job in creating us. We are each unique and each beautifully created.
We live in a world obsessed with unobtainable ideals of physical perfection. We are told to lighten our skin colour if it is too dark or to darken our skin if it is too light. Our noses are too long or too short. Legs. Hips. The ‘body corrections’ that are posted in images on social media are a testimony to just how endless is the world’s list of ‘body parts that need correcting’. This is an ever-increasing terrible burden for young people. A 2021 study by City University of London discovered that 90 per cent of women surveyed reported using a filter or editing their photos before posting them online.
But from that beautifully ‘messy’ place of our mother’s womb, we are declared to be fearfully and wonderfully made with all our unique, unusual peculiarities. Lutheran songwriter Robin Mann wrote his song ‘Complaint in C’ to celebrate this message. It takes the form of a prayer of a struggling person who keeps asking God to fix all the things that the world says ‘are wrong with me’ rather than to celebrate what it is to be fearfully and wonderfully made by the gracious loving hand of God.
Learning Martin Luther’s Catechism teaches Christian people to celebrate God’s past and present creative handiwork in our individual lives. In explaining the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, he writes:
‘I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property – along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life’ (Kolb-Wengert edition).
‘God daily and abundantly provides …’. This generosity of God is at the heart of our Christian thanksgiving. God is still at work in our world, creating and preserving abundantly and so we give thanks by faith for all that we have received, including our physical selves. Sometimes, it can be hard to accept this, so we ask for eyes to help us to see God’s loving and creative hand at work, including in the way we are physically created.
This is also our Christian conviction regarding the way we view our neighbours. Each person is a beloved creation of our gracious Creator. God provides for them in the way that God provides for us. Sometimes, we are called to be the means through which God provides for our neighbours.
The incarnation of Christ Jesus in the womb of his mother Mary reveals for all time that we are of the one same humanity. Christ our Redeemer became human in the way that we are all human. He is born from the same somewhat messy place where we are all formed: our mother’s womb. Though without sin, our Lord Jesus was fully human with the same physical uniqueness that we experience.
So, we pray with the psalmist, ‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’.
‘Lord Jesus, we belong to you,
you live in us, we live in you;
we live and work for you –
because we bear your name’