|Photo by mbboston 2009|
In the comedy movie Bean, Rowan Atkinson plays a bumbling security guard assigned to protect the portrait of Whistler's Mother, bought by a museum for $50 million. When Bean is alone with the masterpiece for a few moments, he accidentally sneezes on the painting and then wipes it with his handkerchief, not realizing that it is soaked in ink from a pen that broke in his pocket. Things go from bad to disastrous as the ink stains the portrait; Bean tries to remove the stain with lacquer thinner, which dissolves Whistler’s mother’s face; and Bean “restores” it by drawing a cartoon face on the canvas.
In reality, the skill of fine art restoration is a highly technical, painstaking and detailed process requiring expertise, knowledge, and artistry. Man’s attempts at restoring broken lives, relationships and situations can be as clumsy as those of Bean unless they are guided by the Holy Spirit. Only God is the master Restorer, or Potter (Jeremiah 18:4; Isaiah 64:8; 29:6; Romans 9:21) who can reassemble the broken shards of our lives into a unified whole, remove the stain of sin from the canvas of our soul, and fill the empty spaces with an even better design than the one that was lost.
As we saw previously, three key words for salvation are redeem, restore, and renew. Each of these is described in patterns of three in the Scripture, echoing God’s triune nature,
In the literal sense of the word, it may be necessary to restore physical property (Genesis 42:25,28; Leviticus 6:4,5; 25:27,28; Judges 11:13;17:3; etc.), animals (Exodus 22:1,4; Leviticus 24:21; Deuteronomy 22:1-2; 28:31; etc.), or persons (2 Kings 8:1,5; Isaiah 57:18; Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:5; 8:25, etc.) that are damaged, stolen or killed. Restoration may involve being repaired, replaced, or reunited with the rightful owner, spouse, or employer.
At God’s instruction, the pagan king Abimelech restored Sarah to Abraham as his wife and also gave him sheep, oxen and servants to make up for him desiring her, not knowing she was married to Abraham (Genesis 20:7,14).
When Joseph was imprisoned along with Pharaoh’s butler and baker (three prisoners), he correctly interpreted the butler’s dream of three budding branches on the vine, from which the butler plucked the grapes, pressed them into a cup, and gave the cup to Pharaoh (Genesis 40:11,12). Joseph accurately predicted that in three days, Pharaoh would restore the butler to his former position, as described in three verses using the word “restore” (Genesis 40:13, 21;41:13).
Joseph asked the butler to remember him when he was released, to be kind to him, and to mention him to Pharaoh so that Joseph would also be released (Genesis 40:14). Joseph also correctly interpreted the baker’s dream of three white baskets on his head filled with baked goods eaten up by birds to mean that in three days, Pharaoh would behead the baker, hang his body on a tree, and allow the birds to eat his flesh (Genesis 40:16-20). What a dark contrast to the butler’s dream foretelling restoration!
Moving from the physical to the spiritual realm, there are three main uses of the word "restore" as it applies to spiritual restoration: personal restoration of the believer by God; restoration of other believers by children of God led by the Holy Spirit; and restoration of God’s creation by Himself at the end of the age.
In the Shepherd’s Psalm (Psalm 23), David praises God for restoring his soul.in the midst of difficulties and trials, which involves God’s provision of green pastures (physical sustenance), still waters (spiritual peace), and paths of righteousness (deliverance from sin; v. 2,3). Despite the dangers of death, evil, and enemies (v. 4,5), David thanks God for preparing a feast for him, anointing his head with oil, and filling his cup to overflowing (v. 5). He looks forward to God’s ongoing blessings of goodness, mercy and eternal life (v.6)
In Psalm 51, David begs God to restore to him the joy of his salvation (v.:12) as he repents of sinning wickedly against God in adultery with Bathsheba, deceit in attempts to cover his sins, and ultimately murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11). This type of spiritual restoration involves God looking away from our sins, blotting out our sins (Psalm 51:9), and not rejecting us because of our sins (v. 11). Once this cleansingphase of restoration occurs, God can complete the process by creating a clean heart in us, renewing a right spirit within us (v.10), and upholding us with His spirit (v. 12).
The second type of spiritual restoration refers to born-again (John 3:3-8), mature believers restoring fellow Christians who have fallen into habitual sin, which is possible only through Holy Spirit guidance. This process has three goals: bearing one another's burdens, teaching one another from the Word, and doing good to everyone, but especially to fellow believers (Galatians 6:2,6.10).
However, Paul gives three warnings concerning this. Firstly, only spiritual Christians living for God, and not carnal Christians led primarily by their sin nature (Romans 7:15-25; 8:1-17), should attempt this process. Secondly, they must correct the fallen Christian in meekness and humility, not committing the sin of pride with a “holier-than-thou” attitude. Third, they must avoid temptation themselves, remembering the ever-present sin nature that may make it easier for a carnal Christian to pull a spiritual Christian into his own wayward lifestyle or habit than for the spiritual Christian to restore the backslider (Galatians 6:1,2).
Paul expands on these three warnings regarding restoration of other believers by counseling the one attempting the restoring not to think too highly of himself (v.3), not to sow to his own flesh (v.8), and not to get tired and give up on helping others (v.9). For those following Paul’s advice in restoring fellow believers, three rewards await: eternal life (v.8), spiritual harvest (v.9), and being a new creature glorying only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (v.15). They will be blessed with God’s peace, mercy (v.16) and grace (v.18).
The third type of restoration in the symbolic sense refers to God’s plan for His creation at the end of the age. May we trust God to restore us from sin and to joy in Him, enabling us to encourage and guide one another!