The Christian should be the person who is alive, whose imagination absolutely boils, which moves…because God made us to be creative. ~ Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent
I love writing stories. Ever since I was a little kid I would make up characters and play out a portion of their lives through pencil on paper. Even if I wasn’t writing stories, I would take my Legos and build different universes with different people and creatures and act out their stories within the jungle of the carpet. Still today I’ll write stories in my free time—a hobby, a way to de-stress, and a way to experience joy (though pencil and paper has become keyboard and screen).
It doesn’t have to be stories. My friend Tony paints. My dad and my sister write poems. People make movies. Others compose songs.
Art is a part of our nature in which we draw from the wells of imagination to create and bring a sense of wonder. Below are a few thoughts about Christians and the arts:
First, we create because we are in the image of God. Genesis 1 and 2 detail how God, beginning with a blank canvas, spoke a magnificent universe into being. For millennia people young and old stared at the stars without knowing what space above truly contained. Only recently, in the scale of history, have we realized just how big and amazing our universe is. We live on a tiny speck, circling a small star in a swirling galaxy that is only one of many stretching farther than we could imagine. There is a lot of empty space and a lot of beauty that we still have seen. There are nebulas where ancient stars have died and where others are born.
Most of the light we see on a dark night arrives from places that would take countless lifetimes for us to reach. Yet every flash of a pulsar, even unseen by human eyes, speaks to the glory and the beauty of the God who created it.
And then on this speck orbiting our star, we experience vast oceans, high mountains, rolling clouds, ants marching, dogs at play, platypuses being awesomely weird, and the faces of each person we meet. People, like us, day in and day out living as the pinnacle of God’s creation—the ones made in his image.
Yes, we have rebelled against the Maker. Yes, the image is marred. Yes, we can do great evils in the brokenness we caused. Yet, the image still persists. God possesses the greatest imagination and he created all of this because he wanted to and it gave him joy.
Tim Keller wrote, “The universe is an endless ocean of God’s joy and glory. We are caught temporarily in a little drop of sadness here on earth. But eventually it will be removed. Regardless of what happens immediately to believers, eventually it will be all right” (The Songs of Jesus). Dwelling as God’s image bearers in his endless ocean of joy and glory, we create because God has given us imaginations and a desire to make things new.
Second, we create because our stories point to the bigger Story. Art communicates. This is true of paintings, poems, and prose. The best art speaks of higher virtues and purposes; it shows heroes triumphing over villains. Again, we look to God, and we see One who is the highest of all virtues. Love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, joy, faithfulness, and self-control all flow from him and his Spirit.
And the Bible gives the details of God’s grand story. We find ourselves in the midst of an adventure-romance: the tale of a runaway bride who sold herself into bondage, thinking that the crafty dragon held the keys to a greater freedom. Lost and helpless on her own, the Hero pursues her in love and this King of kings goes to war against the dragon. It costs him his life, he must pay her price, but in the midst of that seeming darkness something amazing happens: The King kicks down the door of the grave, crushes the enemy underfoot, and rescues his bride, bringing her back to himself clean and pure forever.
The best art displays these themes of love, hope, and redemption.
Again, we can twist this. Again, we create much that is destructive and shows the darkness and villains winning. We do this out of our own foolishness. Even if such is stylistically enjoyable, it misses the greater truth: We are meant to enjoy and glorify God. So we write, paint, and create to give signposts to the bigger Story.
Third, we create because it produces joy. Think again to that Keller quote: the universe is an endless ocean of God’s joy. The fruit of the Spirit includes joy. Jesus came that we might have his joy manifested in us. God desires the joy of his people to ring out. Ultimately the fullness of joy comes from complete satisfaction in him, but God has given us various means to take enjoyment in him. Part of this is creating thought art.
As a painter paints or as a writer writes, there is a sense of enjoyment. Art is not utilitarian. Art is not innately necessary for survival. It transmits stories and ideas, but it does so with a purpose of enjoyment. God could have created a much smaller universe. He didn’t have to span creation across an imaginably unending distance. He did so to display his glory. He did so for his enjoyment and ours.
Psalm 147 says: “Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him…. He determines the number of stars and calls them each by name” (147:1, 4).
We cannot determine the number of stars. We cannot speak things into being from nothing. But we can create through art. And so we create for our enjoyment and that of others.
As Schaeffer said in the quote to introduce this piece: We who are alive in Christ should have imaginations that soar, made to be creative by the creating God. So we, Jesus-followers, should be on the forefront of writing songs and stories, of making paintings and sculptures, of creating art in various forms to add beauty to the world desperately in need of a better story, God’s story.