My Own Little Paradise in an Ocean of Ugliness

There are few things I love more than a good sunrise. There are few things I love more than waking up before dawn, driving to one of the parks or beaches along the shores of Lake Ontario, and watching the sun rise over the waters. Some of the richest and most beautiful displays of God’s artistry are painted across the sky in those few moments just before and just after the sun rises beyond the far horizon. It never fails to awe, never fails to delight, never fails to inspire.

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One of my favorite spots is on the edge of a conservation area a few minutes from my home. After cutting through some dark forest and walking along several boardwalks, I arrive at a rocky beach. Following the shore for some time, I come to the mouth of a small creek that empties into Lake Ontario. The lake is before me, swampy marshland behind me, this little creek beside me. I have only ever had the place to myself and have only ever seen the sun rise beautifully from this spot. I set up my tripod and camera. I sit and wait to see what God will do.

I have enjoyed some beautiful moments here. I have watched the mist rise as swans paddle their way between myself and the sun, their form perfectly silhouetted against the bright yellows and oranges of the dawn. I have had herons land just feet away and stand stock-still before me, little otters skitter past, diving birds splash into the water all around.

This little conservation area is one of the few truly beautiful spots in an area of bland, boring suburbia. It is an oasis of beauty in the midst of the endless sprawl of the Greater Toronto Area. It is my own little paradise in an ocean of ugliness.

And it strikes me as being a little parable for myself and every other Christian. Each of us is deeply and terribly flawed, each of us entering our spiritual lives utterly given over to sin. Over the course of our lives the Lord does remarkable things within us. By his Spirit he enables us to put sin to death and come alive to righteousness, to strip off the garments of the old man and to begin to don the garments of the new one. By his Spirit he increasingly and wonderfully conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ.

But while God truly does substantial things within us, we remain as close to the image of Christ as this little conservation area is to paradise. We genuinely do make progress, yet always know that many decades of struggle in this life will be but baby steps compared to the mighty leap we will experience when we are finally perfected in the moment of death. The best of us take great strides in perhaps one or two areas—in humility or sympathy, in patience or gentleness. But the best of us still have such great flaws, such tragic imperfections, and will take them with us to the grave. The best of us are like these few acres of natural beauty in the midst of a city chock-full of suburban sprawl and industrial ugliness.

But there is one who perfectly mastered the art of living a true, beautiful, and perfect life. There is one who lived free from flaws and imperfections. There is one to whom we look as an example for living now and as a promise of how we shall live when we are finally called home, finally perfected, finally enabled to be all we can be in Him. There is one who shows us what it will be to live in the coming paradise.