Biblical Creation and the Humanities
Dorothy L. Sayers, in a remarkable work first published in Great Britain in 1941, The Mind of the Maker, addresses the matter of man's creative self expression, or participation in the humanities. Proceeding from a defense of the Biblical account of the Godhead Who is three Persons in One (the Trinity), and the nature of the universe created by this God as factual descriptions of true reality, she writes:
In the beginning God created. He made this and He made that and He saw that it was good. And He created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him: male and female created He them. The expression "in His own image" has occasioned a good deal of controversy . . . The "image . . . is something shared by male and female alike .
When we turn back to see what (the writer of Genesis) says about the original upon which the "image" of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, "God created."
It is the artist who, more than other men, is able to create something out of nothing . . The "creation" is not a product of the matter, and is not simply a rearrangement of the matter . . . The poet is not obliged, as it were, to destroy the material of a Hamlet in order to create a Falstaff, as a carpenter must destroy a tree-form to create a table-form. The components . . . of the world of imagination increase by a continuous and irreversible process, without any destruction or rearrangement of what went before. This represents the nearest approach we experience to creation out of nothing," and we conceive of the act of absolute creation of being an act analogous to that of the creative artist.1
Man's creative art is an aspect of God's image in us.
I believe we must agree with Sayers nay, with the Genesis account of man as created by God in His own image - that man's creativity is part and parcel , of God's own image in man. Yet many earnest believers, as stated before, would muzzle or altogether silence man's creativity. Lorella Rouster refers to this anomaly in her thought-provoking paper, "Father and Son: The Tragedy of Edmund Gosse" as follows:
(Gosse's parents) loved and respected the Word of God. . But. . . One might call the family credo anti-intellectual and ascetic, for it appears entirely wrapped up in itself, with insufficient concern for understanding and addressing the philosophy and spirit of the age. . . . (To Gosse's parents) literature and science alike were useful only to keep the student "out of the world," and provide employment. They felt it was wrong to find pleasure in literature, science, or any pursuit other than reading and discussing the Word of God.
Gosse's mother believed that . .to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, or to read such "lies" was sin.2
"The tragedy," Rouster continues, "is that because his son's early life was so deprived of wonder, imagination, and what he calls 'humanity) Edmund Gosse turned from his father's firm adherence to the Scriptures and the creationist explanation "?
Let the Christian be wary
Let us list here certain plausible and weighty reasons for this wary attitude toward the humanities on the part of Christian believers. One such reason is cited by C.S. Lewis:
Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.4 This, of course, is idolatry: worship of the work of man's own hands, or of his own image of that which was originally made by and inspired by God and belongs to Him.
Sayers writes to this all-important issue as follows.
The Jews, keenly alive to the perils of pictorial metaphor, forbade the representation of the Person of God in graven images. Nevertheless, human nature and the nature of human language defeated them, No legislation could prevent the making of verbal pictures' God walks in the garden, He stretches out His arm, His voice shakes the cedars, His eyelids try the children of men. To forbid the making of pictures about God would be to forbid thinking about God at all, for man is so made that he has no way to think except in pictures. But continually, throughout the history of the Jewish-Christian Church, the voice of warning has been raised against the power of the picture-makers "God is a spirit," (John 4.24) "without body, parts or passions;" (Church of England, Thirty-Nine Articles, I) He is pure being, "I AM THAT I AM." (Exodus 3:1 4Y
The first sentence in the foregoing passage is singularly unfortunate, because it insinuates that "the Jews" forbade the representation of the Person of God in graven images. Sayers was a Bible-believing Christian, indeed a "formidable Christian apologist"6 and must have been aware that it was not "the jews" but rather God Himself Who forbade such representation of Himself in the Second Commandment. She also muddles the issue by identifying "verbal pictures" or any kind of pictures with "graven images." That this is an error must be clear from the fact that our Lord Christ Himself used "verbal pictures" of God the Father and of the kingdom of God, for instance in His kingdom of heaven parables of Matthew 13. Yet in spite of her muddles her point about the use of verbal pictures in the Bible is clear and so is her word of caution about "the power of the picture-makers," echoing the caution of the Church at large. Still and all, the "picture-makers", including our Lord Christ Himself knowingly and deliberately risked the misleading of their audiences through falsely understood verbal pictures (compare Matthew 13:10-15). Whoever among us speaks of our Lord and His kingdom to unbelievers takes the same risk.
The Curse of Sin Upon Man's Art
A second and related weighty reason for the wariness of Christian believers about man's creative self-expression in the humanities is the falsification or misrepresentation of that which is of God. Such falsification is unavoidable in our sin-perverted world. There is no such thing as wholly godly human creative self-expression as any godly writer or artist will instantly admit: our artistic works are flawed by artistic imperfections and errors, and worse, by corruption. C.S. Lewis is at pains to warn his readers against taking his fantasy for reality:
And if ye come to tell of what ye have seen, make it plain that it was but a dream. See ye make it very plain. Give no poor fool the pretext to think ye are claiming knowledge of what no mortal knows. . . (God) has forbidden it.7
Third, is "man's creative self-expression" consistent with the use of man's time, possessions and talents in a manner most glorifying God? Is it right for me to compose music (as I do), when I might be doing other work, volunteer or paid, in His service? What kind of music ought I to compose? Put differently, should a Christian approve of his fellow Christian Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's Elijah oratorio, but reject his Songs without Words since the latter are not explicitly "Christian" or "Biblical?" Put yet another way, is there a special "Christian" art or fiction, and a "worldly" art or fiction?
Christian vs. Worldly Art?
We are tempted to answer this last question in the affirmative, comparing, for instance, our fellow Christian Bach's St. Matthew Passion with the "rock musical" Hair, our fellow Christian Rembrandt's paintings of our Lord with his Saskia (already on a different and more difficult level than the first example), or our fellow Christian Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamozov (containing the parable of the Grand Inquisitor, one of the most powerful expressions of our faith in the world of literature) with Shakespeare's Macbeth or Hamlet I have led up to Shakespeare because it is impossible to gather from his works whether he was, or was not, a Christian yet we would hesitate, on that ground alone, to affirm that his work is a total waste. The answer to the "Christian worldly" question is, it seems to me, that the question itself is inappropriate as a vantage point from which to evaluate works of art, literature or music. We are trying to separate the tares from the wheat, prematurely and ignorant of final things, and worse, thinking that we can know in advance where tares are most likely to be found, and hence overlooking the tact that tares also grow in our own, supposedly "non-worldly" and supposedly bona tide "Christian" art, literature or music.
This is the risk God Himself took when He created the Garden of Eden complete with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and accessible to Satan through the serpent, and when He created man in His own image, not as a robot. He created man for fellowship with Himself, risking man's rejection, man's quest for the mirage of independence from his Creator. He even makes His sun shine and His rain fall over the unjust (Matt. 5:45) Christ holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17). He died, descended into hell, rose from the dead, and ascended on nigh, having led captivity captive. and having received gifts for men, "yes, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them" (Psalm 68:18, Ephesians 4:8). And in all this he is not grudging, bitter and joyless. His light He Himself the Light of the world simply shines forth, whether the darkness be there or not, whether the darkness oppose itself or not, His heel bruises the head of the serpent, and He rises from the grave "because it was not possible that he should beholden of it" (Acts 2:24). If we would reflect to Him His own image of triumphant joy. risking loss as He did when He in His Triune Council created the world out of nothing, then we cannot, we must not, be wicked and slothful servants, burying our talents of creative self-expression in the ground (Matthew 25:18, 24-30, Luke 19 20-23). For the talents the creative gifts are His, and He will demand His own "with usury." (It was Luke 19:20 which prompted me to launch out composing music in earnest. (What we have called "self-expression" is of necessity at least in part the expression the flowering of that which is His True, it is also in part the expression of our present sin-corrupted, perverted nature. But this is not meant to stop us from bringing forth fruit out of His gifts: our fear to offend must not overshadow and render unfruitful our love of Him desiring to magnify and glorify Him with "all that is within us" (Ps. 103:1).
We must not bury our talents !
Three further points need to be made. First, since man is in fact created in God the Creator's image, ne does in fact show forth that image (even though marred by sin), whether he will or not, whether he be regenerate in Christ or not. Consider Adam's "creative self-expression" when adapting fig leaves for the use of clothing. (Creativity has been defined as viewing objects and ideas in new, that is, not previously imagined or conceptualized connections (I shall never forget Russian women slave laborers in Germany during World War II who were moved into bleak barracks. What was the first thing they did? They found a stack of old newspapers. They folded them into small accordion-liKe folds and then cut or tore snips out of these folds. This resulted in lace-like perforated sheets, which they then fastened to the barrack windows to give the semblance of curtains and a touch of "home." Those among us Christians most deeply opposed to a Christian's participation in the humanities - the fine arts, drama, poetry, music yet cannot ourselves escape the expression of human creativity. We reflect God the Creator's image when we decorate our homes, sew clothes, plant flowers, write letters, sing (with or without instruments); "a city on the hill cannot be hid" (Matt 514).
The Fear of the Lord Yields to Joy Unspeakable
Second, the Christian performing the high risk task of reflecting God the Creator in his or her own literary or artistic creativity is by no means released from "working out his own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Just because this Christian is aware that through the gift of a talent in the humanities "God works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2~13), he/she dare not be fruitful and multiply in the exercise of the gift except with utmost dedication to, and reverent attention to the Giver and ultimate Originator. Beware lest you miss the slightest touch, the lowest whisper of Him whose image you seek to reflect. Each word in your novel, poem or drama each slightest shade of color, each tiniest stroke of pencil or brush in your drawing or painting each note, beat, stress and pause in your composition each maybe your basket covering His light, or your candlestick raising it up high so it may give light to all that are in the house (Matthew 5:15). You are not sufficient for these things. You can do nothing except in Christ. Yet your sufficiency is of God, and you can do all things in Christ Who strengthens you. In yourself you despair. In Him you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory to bear the fruit of creative expression of the Creator. I also testify that bearing this fruit requires travail as of a woman in labor. The fruit borne must be begotten by the Word; this means that the Christian writer, artist, musician depends upon the Scriptures daily, yea, constantly, lest tares find root on the soil of our creative personality. We must also he faithful in the least, namely, plain craftsmanship and integral coherence of our work as artists.
This brings us at last to the third point how to tell the tares from the wheat in human creativity We saw that the "Christian versus worldly" distinction will not do. Returning to Shakespeare once again, and supposing for the moment that he is a "worldly" poet, can we yet prove his works and hold in them fast that which is good, namely, in conformity with God's Person and Word (I Thessalonians 5:21)? This is our task as our Lord's stewards to whom He gave dominion over the works of His hands at the very time of creating man (Genesis 1:26), in the very same breath, so to speak, in which in His Triune Council He determined to create man in His image and likeness. We who are Christ's have His mind, and judge/discern all things II Corinthians 2,10-16).
"Do you not know that the saints judge the world?" II Corinthians 6.21 "Are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?" (I Corinthians 6:2)11 is our task, and we are able in Christ, "We are enriched in Christ in everything, in alI utterance, and in all knowledge." (l Corinthians 1:5)
Not "Christian vs Worldly," but "hold fast that which is good" in all art.
Does Shakespeare portray greedy Macbeth. driven by his wicked, ambitious wife, in truth, that is, as they really are in the light of God's Person and Word fallen beings whose corruption from God's own image is their ruin and damnation, but who yet show traces of God-like manhood through hesitation or agony over their sin /corruption? I think we answer in the affirmative, and thus "hold fast that which is good" in Macbeth, though Macbeth contains neither Scripture nor preaching Ask the same question about Hamlet or Songs Without Words. or Saskiat or yes, Hair' are the artistic, verbal or musical images conformed to their true aspects shown by God in His Word? They may be so implicitly, and whether the author is or is not a Christian.
We are told in God's Word that Abel "being dead yet speaketh" (Hebrews 11:24). We are told he does so by his "more excellent sacrifice." Whether he ever preached in explicit words (perhaps he did so when Cain talked to him -Genesis 428), we are not told. Even so man's creative self-expression in the humanities may be the "sacrifice" of Cain which is really the worship of the work of our own hands and idolatry; but it may be it is commanded to be - the "more excellent sacrifice" offered in humility through our High Priest Christ, acceptable to our Creator and Redeemer, and hence to be approved of, and offered as we are able by all of us who name the name of Christ.