“But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Though I’ve not seen it myself, I’m told that on the tombstone marking the modest memorial to a remarkable woman who was, given the public prominence of her preacher husband, inevitably known simply as “Billy Graham’s wife,” read the words: “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.” Ruth Bell Graham chose them herself years before her death. They come from a road construction sign she once saw greeting travelers with the good news that the long wait and faithful patience was now being rewarded. She reputedly commented: “What a marvelous image for the Christian life – a work under construction until we go to be with God. That’s what I want as my epitaph.” And so it is.
I love that. The sanctification process was a life long construction project for Ruth Graham. And what a humble final epithet for a woman of fame and influence. We all need each other’s patience because the truth is that none of us is a finished work. “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The scripture uses the present tense “are being transformed” when we wish it said “have been transformed.” I find it frustrating sometimes that I still have so many rough edges. On top of it all, I’m often critical of other people’s warts and blemishes. My patience lacks for both myself and them. What strikes me about Mrs. Graham’s epitaph is not just the modest, self-effacing candor that was so typical of Ruth Graham’s life, but its appropriateness as a metaphor for the Christian life – a work under construction. There is a popular doctrine of salvation that sees salvation as purely event without any sense of a process, journey, “work under construction” at all. Our language betrays it: “So-and-so got saved last night.” Finished, complete, end of story. And sadly, for many it is! The day they give their “hearts” to Jesus is about as “Christian” as they’ll ever be. Armed with the knowledge that they’re now “saved,” their “ticket is punched,” they return to life and to “business as usual.” No Christian growth, no discipleship, no “work under construction.” And then we wonder why there are so many “undiscipled disciples” in the Church.
To be sure, salvation begins with an event, a decision, a moment, but it does not end there, not if it’s really “salvation.” To save us, God must change us, and that takes a lifetime, as Ruth Graham knew. It is transformation, formation, and it is both event and journey. C.S. Lewis once wrote: “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” What he meant was that God loves us just as we are, but because He loves us, He cannot leave us as we are; He must form us in the image of His Son Who is both our Source and our Destiny. That is why He is so infinitely patient with us; He has a lifetime (ours) to finish the construction.
Construction zones are not smooth highways and easy rides. Lots of bumps and “lane shifts” and starts and stops can be expected. Anybody who tells you otherwise has never been “in the zone.” Think about it! Patience and persistence are required.