When I first started photography, a lot of people mentioned “shooting raw images.”
I had no idea what they meant. I just went around taking pictures of everything that moved and a lot of things that didn’t, and then I saved the .jpeg files and went on my merry way. After a while, though, I looked it up and learned something.
Without getting too technical, when you shoot “raw” images you’re retaining all the data from the camera’s sensor. When you shoot in another format (like .jpeg), the camera does some of the “processing” work for you, and as a result some of the data is lost.
The nitty-gritty of it is this: shooting raw images is a very forgiving process because, once you’ve taken the picture, you can go back and edit anything. Shoddy lighting? You can fix that! Over- or under-exposed? You can fix that! Sharpness, clarity, or color issues? You can fix that! Not so with a .jpeg image, where some of what has been photographed is already processed and therefore “fixed” and unable to be altered.
Recently, while on my morning walk, I took a photo of a deer. It was foggy and dark, I wasn’t quite sure how to set up my camera for the light, and the resulting photograph was horrible: the deer was indistinguishable, the lighting a mess. The image had been taken raw, and so I went home, popped open my photo-editing program, and got to work. Twenty minutes later, I had an image where you could clearly see a doe in mid-step, lingering at the edge of the woods in soft morning light. I had ruined the picture, but editing helped me restore the raw photograph to how it was supposed to be.
As Christians, as humans, we tend to view some parts of ourselves as “fixed” and unchangeable regardless of the work that God has done in our lives. There are certain habits we think we’ll just always struggle with. Certain sins that, though we’ve overcome them, have left their mark on our identities and on what people think of us. Certain stubborn character traits and flaws that, no matter what, always seem to resurface in the end.
But God is interested in working with raw materials. He can, quite literally, change anything. And yes, the work might take a lifetime. But for Him there is nothing beyond correction or love. There is nothing so fixed, ingrained, or habitual that he cannot change it and transform it.
Moreover – and I suspect this realization eludes most believers – I think God enjoys the work.
I’ve edited photographs myself. And there’s something deeply engaging about transforming a picture into what you know it is supposed to look like. Ah, you think, the lighting shouldn’t be so dark. You fix it, and the subject comes into view. And yes, that’s not supposed to be blurry, so let me just sharpen it. All of a sudden, clean lines appear where only hazy smudges existed before.
And here is what all this means for you: no matter how bad the photograph is, it doesn’t get thrown away. There is no raw material so far gone that God cannot tinker with it and make it into something beautiful.
In Randy Alcorn’s Heaven, he offers a quote from Albert Wolters’ Creation Regained that hammers the point home:
[God] hangs on to his fallen creation and salvages it. He refuses to abandon the work of his hands–in fact, he sacrifices his own Son to save his original project. Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ…”
Whatever parts of you seem beyond God’s reach aren’t. The things that frustrate you, irritate you, and bother you can be changed. Moreover, the good things that are already present are going to keep getting better, and better, and better.
God loves working with raw material. And that final image, when He’s done, is going to be something to see.