A few months ago I wrote, “…harmony of the physical and spiritual is a theme that keeps confronting me at every turn these days.” Well, I am still stumbling across that theme and trying to learn how to embrace the totality of what it means to be a physical and spiritual being. I came across a beautiful illustration of this in a lecture called “The Work of Iron” by John Ruskin, and I will never look at a rusty nail the same way again!
Ruskin made the point that pure metal, with no oxygen in it at all, is useless. Only when it begins to rust or oxidize is it actually contributing to life on earth — by enriching our soil for growing crops, and by creating beautiful and colourful venation in rocks, marble, slate, mountainsides, and sand on the seashore. Believe it or not, our world would be rather drab without iron. Even the lifeblood within us needs the work of iron and its amazing ability to “breathe oxygen.”
Ruskin said, “The main service of this metal…to us, is not in making knives, and scissors, and pokers, and pans, but in making the ground we feed from.” Metals that rust — “metals with breath put into them” — are life-giving. They say,
“I am not earth — I am earth and air in one; part of that blue heaven which you love, and long for, is already in me…without it I should be nothing, and able for nothing; I could not minister to you, nor nourish you — I should be a cruel and helpless thing; but, because there is, according to my need and place in creation, a kind of soul in me, I have become capable of good, and helpful in the circle of vitality.”from “The Work of Iron” by John Ruskin
I see such a picture here of how we are created to function both of Earth and Heaven, of the physical creation and of the spirit. Until God’s Spirit breathes His life into us and we are “born again” we are, in a way, lifeless and able for nothing, “a cruel and helpless thing.” I have to admit I have often seen rust as a bad thing. It ruins our tools. It’s a sign of decay. But it’s also a demonstration of an amazing life-giving power that iron has been endowed with by God, and as Ruskin pointed out, “…[iron] would be capable of no service or beauty whatever without it.”
Sometimes people don’t see much value in “rusty” Christians either, but only by living and breathing in the Holy Spirit are we really of any use in this world. Without the breath of God’s Spirit, we would be like a useless, pure metal — utterly of the earth and utterly dead. Every speck of rust I see is now a challenge to walk by the Spirit and love my neighbour sacrificially. When my thoughts get going on iron and rusty nails and lifeblood and the way iron “gives itself away” for us, I can’t help but think of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. In Jesus, we see the ultimate blending of Heaven and Earth. We see Heaven come to Earth and give itself away for it. We see God so loving the world! And in Jesus, I see the reason why I want to so love God and give myself for Him and what He loves! I’d rather be a rusty piece of iron my Lord can use in this world than be like the pure, useless gold He paves His streets with!
And just like that, an old FFH song “One of These Days” is playing in my brain…and likely will be all day now!
One of these days Gonna see the hand That took the nails for me One of these days Gonna hold the key to The mansion built for me One of these days Gonna walk the streets of Gold that were paved for me One of these days I'm gonna see my Saviour face to face One of these days