Our previous article considered how Christ, as the image of God, reveals God to us and embodies His glory. This is great news for us as our idolatrous tendency is to exchange the glory of God for created things. But how does Christ redeem us from our slavery to idolatry as creatives?
The Gospel is the cure for all of our idolatry - as sinners in general, and as creatives. As we increase in our understanding of God and His Word (theology) it will also help us to grow in our understanding of what it means to be a Christian creative. There are many implications we could get into, but here are just 3 ways the Gospel offers hope for creatives.
1. The Gospel and our Greater Adam
In our hyper-individualized societies, sometimes we can balk at the thought of a group of people being represented by another. However, it is not as strange to us as we may think. In fact, it is the basis of the system of government we enjoy in most Western Democratic Societies. It is a system of Representative Government, where elected officials represent the interests of a group of their constituents, so that what they do and decide affects all of those under their ‘headship’ (so to speak).
Adam was our federal head - the representative for all of humanity so that when Adam fell, we all fell in him. Jesus Christ is the Second Adam (see Romans 5:12-19 & 1 Corinthians 15:45-49) - the federal head or representative of all who put their faith in him. Jesus conquers sin’s grasp on us by being the Second Adam who doesn’t succumb to temptation so that all who are in him, are united to his conquering of sin and death.
A Three-fold Temptation
In Matthew 4 and Luke 4 we find the account of Satan’s temptation of Jesus before he formally starts his earthly ministry. In it, we find 3 temptations as Satan tries to lure Jesus’s aim away from the reference point of God’s Triadic glory:
TRUTH - Firstly, Satan tries to tempt Jesus to turn stones into bread. This corresponds to the “good for food” with which he tempted Eve in Genesis 3:6. Satan defies the truth that "man lives by God’s word" (verse 4). It is God who defines truth.
POWER - Secondly, Satan offers Jesus autonomous power - corresponding to Eve’s temptation seeing the fruit for gaining wisdom to define good and evil for herself. He tempts Jesus to throw himself from the temple to demonstrate his power and even twists scripture to proof text it. Jesus's reply is simply not to be put the Lord to the test (verses 5-7).
BEAUTY - Lastly, he entices Jesus with the nations’ glory - corresponding with Satan’s temptation of Eve with the fruit that was ‘pleasing to the eye’ - the aesthetic aspect (verses 8-10). Here is the temptation to disordered worship which Jesus refutes by reaffirming that we shall worship and serrve the Lord alone.
Jesus, the Second Adam standing in place for us, succeeds where Adam and Eve failed - he doesn't exchange God’s Triadic glory of truth, beauty, and power for a lie. In this instance and many more throughout his lifetime, he shows us what it truly means to image God perfectly because he is the exact image of God (Col. 1:15). His continued obedience to God throughout his life in order to accomplish our redemption eventually leads Jesus to the Cross - where our ultimate redemption is secured.
In the first garden, we find Adam in defiance to God under a tree, throws humanity into the curse of sin and death.
In the second garden, Gethsemane, we find Christ the Second Adam goes in obedience to God upon a Tree (Cross) to free humanity from the curse of sin and death.
2. The Gospel as Creative Redemption
In John 3:14 - 15, Jesus makes the connection of what he would do on the Cross to accomplish our redemption with the story of Moses and the rebellious Israelites being bitten by serpents in the wilderness. This story might seem odd and out of place if we don't understand the context and what it points toward. The Israelites had rebelled again against God, and as judgment on their sin, poisonous serpents were sent to bite them (see Numbers 21:4-9). In their anguish and repentance, they cried out to Moses for some salvation. And how does that salvation come?
God gives Moses and arts and crafts project! Moses’ “art” brings Israel face to face with the image of the judgment of their sin. He tells him to fashion a bronze snake and put it on a pole so that by looking to this visual symbol of the judgement of their sins lifted up, they would be saved. Now, I am not implying that our own art has saving or redemptive power in itself. Even the bronze serpent did not have saving power in itself, but it rather pointed to the truth that does.
So, don’t miss this important point in this story- God saves His people through looking at a symbol that represents to them His judgement of their sin. Christ on the Cross brings us face to face with the judgment of our sin also. Christ on the Cross bears the judgment of God for us. The Judge becomes the judged. The sinless becomes our sin. Christ takes our poison by drinking it to the dregs and we too are saved by looking to him. This is what Moses's craft project points forward to. This is why John 3:16 starts by stating why Christ would go to the Cross: it is to demonstrate the love of God to the world by giving His precious Son so that the ones who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.
When we understand the Gospel and its use of creativity to communicate the true story of redemption, then we can start to consider how our creative pursuits might likewise point people to the ultimate source of redemption from their sins. The Gospel, for creatives, is one of the most powerful sources of inspiration and transformation for us as individuals and communities.
The Unexpected Beauty of the Gospel
The Gospel is God’s story of redemption, so beautiful and unexpected that it captivates our heart’s gaze and desire to see glory. Who in their right mind would dare to dream up such a storyline - that the infinite and eternal, all-powerful God of the Universe would become a man, take on our debt of sin, die in our place, be raised in power and offer eternal life based on no merit of our own but rather as a free gift of grace through faith? What a scandal! But what else can truly stir our souls to right response?
Throughout the Bible, God uses many creative metaphors and stories to illustrate the Gospel. This is because the Gospel is not to be seen only as a plain list of facts to believe, but rather as a thing of unbelievable beauty to be beheld by which we are transformed. It requires not just intellectual assent, but must captivate our passions as well. The Gospel is about God redeeming us - all of us. We’re helpless and in need - and this is true for all of us as creatives. You can’t redeem your own creativity any more than you could earn your salvation.
Thomas Terry and Ryan Lister help drive the point home:
“This means that the point of glorifying God through your creativity isn't that you make great art for Him. Rather, it's that He uses the gifts He has given you to make you into one of His masterpieces. In the end, you are His artwork that brings Him glory. Your imagination and creativity are a part of this harmony that is your life of praise. They are just a few of the colors God uses to paint your canvas. It's just a few pieces of clay the Potter uses to make you a vessel of His glory. We can rejoice in this: God is the artist who is making us worthy to stand in the gallery of His new creation, to point to Him as our Creator and Redeemer with our life, worship, and, yes, still our creativity.” (Terry & Lister, Images & Idols, 139)
3. The Gospel and our Future Creative Restoration
The Gospel also gives creatives hope for the future. Note that in the world to come, Hebrews 11:10 says that the New Jerusalem - God’s city center of the New Creation - has God himself as its ‘designer and builder’.
C.S. Lewis in his famous essay, The Weight of Glory, said that all of humanity has the memory of paradise lost (Eden) etched on their souls. When we see beauty, it stirs the memory of our lost past. They are good images of what we really desire. But if we mistake them for the thing itself, they become idols. Instead, we must see ‘through’ them to what they point to. They are meant to point us to the true Object of satisfaction and forward to our hope of the restoration of Eden - paradise regained, and even better!
Again, Terry and Lister are helpful here:
“This is why the new creation is so important. God's future promises teach us that the hope of the world is not our art. It is God dwelling with humanity in the new heaven and new earth, where tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain shall be no more (Rev. 21:1-4)... it means your creativity doesn't have to hold up the world. God already does. You can rest in that now and hope in that eternally. Rest defines our experience in the new creation. Not just quick-nap-on-Sunday type of rest but deep, anxiety-destroying, peace-inducing rest. And this new creation rest has broken into this world in many ways. There is great peace knowing that your next creative piece does not determine the trajectory of the world. It never could, and you wouldn't want it to. Which, in God's grace, gives us not just contentment but also the space we need for our creativity to flourish.” (Terry & Lister, Images & Idols, 133-134)
So, create like you’re in the new creation. Use your creativity to help the light of the better world that we hope for break into the darkness of today’s world. This is why your creativity matters and how it can last forever. Creatives have the ability to give wings to the imagination of the life we all hope for and desire. If your heart is aimed at God’s glory - it can direct your creativity to reflect His glory in a myriad of ways without turning it into an idol that becomes your salvation but rather a tool that points to your salvation.
This concludes our CHRIST section in our Gospel-shaped theology of creativity. We’ve looked at how God is the original Creative and gives us the objective standard for beauty which is based on His Triadic Glory. We’ve seen how sin has marred our imaging of God so that we no longer glorify Him as we ought, but idolatrously exchange His glory for created things. We also saw how Christ is the embodied exegesis of God’s glory and has provided for our total redemption (including our creativity) in the Gospel.
In our last article in this series, we’ll look at our RESPONSE. How should we now live in light of all this glorious truth as Christians and creatives?
Stay tuned for the last article coming out on Thursday, and if you've benefitted from these articles, please consider liking, commenting, sharing and/or following Theotivity on social media. Thanks!
Articles in this series:
CHRIST (Part 2) - Redeemed Creativity