The Art of God

Much of our Christian endeavour is spent trying to understand the nature of God and conduct our lives in the light of it.

But if we don't have a realistic understanding of the nature of human being, then we are likely to completely miss the point of God. In short, we could fail to factor our own biases into the equation. So half of the six million dollar question has to be "what is a human"?

My friend has a 'Gin and Tonic' analogy which I've swallowed (but only metaphorically). It goes like this… if God is the true spirit and human nature is the tonic, then we only ever get to experience God as in the Gin and Tonic. You can't separate the two; they're mixed, irretrievably mixed this side of the grave. This is the Gospel, God made flesh, and although it's good news for our souls, it's sometimes bad news for the intellect that wishes to understand it all! The problem is that we have always to factor in the human aspect to any experience, theory or revelation concerning God.

And the human aspect means both personal and cultural. There's always a need for a hermeneutic… an understanding of the context and the effect of the context, when we come to think about God.

So the question remains then, what are human beings really like and what do we learn when we attempt that difficult differential equation demanded by honest theological searching??

Here's my first point. That there's no single basic "law" that can delimit our nature and God's nature - no reducible first principle. This is because most of our decisions occupy locations along a scale. At one end of the line on this scale is one viable position, and at the other end of the continuum is another often equally viable position in another situation. For example… a flippant but sometimes tasking question, "how should I dress for church?". At one end of the line is "dress up, you'd wear you best clothes for the Queen, and well, God's the King isn't he??" at the other, "dress down, the Kingdom of God is for the poor and any display of conspicuous wealth would betray that…" So on this continuum I might have to make the decision where I place myself: dress up, dress down, dress middle... Different cultures will place themselves very differently on this scale. Many black-led churches place a high price on the dignity that comes from wearing smart clothes to a dignified event like church, for example.

And so our decisions are not clear cut. We are left to find our place in society and culture as befits the circumstance and where we'd put ourselves on the sliding scale of cultural decision making.

I suggest that most of life's decisions involve these dialectics; seemingly opposing positions which are in tension with each other but whose extremes are seldom warranted in their entirety. Other examples.. the freedom of the individual versus the obligation to the collective... "I am normal" ~ "I am special"

Fundamentalist belief of any type usually thrives on adopting a position at one end of the continuum. There is security in adopting the black or the white position, but it's my belief that behaving like this is against human and God-nature. Life, and spirituality, is about finding the breadth of the options alive within yourself and choosing to participate in one of them with conviction and joy.

Here's my big assertion then. That one of the most basic dialectics relating to human and God-nature is a continuum which has at one end "Logos" and at the other end "Eros" (my choice of words purloined from many famous thinkers so it's not just plucked out of the air.. honest). So I need to explain what they are:

"Logos", coming from the Greek for "word" is the element of all things which can be measured, described, defined, trapped in time and communicated to others. So a fish, for example, would have a whole pile of aspects which could be measured etc which might help us define its fishness scientifically. Similarly there is much about God which Christians would describe as the knowable-ness of God. Jesus is described as God's Logos in the new testament because he comes to make God known. Much of theology (as an "ology") has to be about that which we can know about God.

"Eros", from which we get the word "erotic" does not, in my usage, mean "sexual", but means the unmeasurable, indescribable, undefinable, unable-to-be-frozen-in-time aspect of our experience and nature. Eros things need metaphors in order to be able to communicate something of their being. Because they cannot be measured or communicated makes them no less "real", they are real and enormously powerful. They are half of our humanity and half of God's Godness. Eros is everywhere but most acutely in the mystery of God, the intuitive and gut felt components of art and in our sexuality. A high Eros moment would be the point of orgasm where we can't control the moment, can't describe where we went to emotionally, can't describe it except in metaphor… but it definitely happened!

So I'm saying that good theology understands the need for a "knowing" and an "unknowing". That is Biblically sound and has been a universally and intuitively known aspect of being human, until the enlightenment elevated "science" and "progress" into their own idols.

This mystery of God in all things has been broadly lost in the post-enlightenment West. It is floundering in the wings of evangelical Christianity but flying in the rafters of the high church. Like most poles on any given dialectic, it is the source of division for those who can't contain and celebrate the breadth of our being. Those who want temporal security will run to one end and discredit the other.

And this is why, I believe, evangelical Christianity is frequently death to the creative spirit. An artist will usually want to explore more of their internal world in order to externalise their experience in their craft. They are frequently more restless and thus they often threaten those whose internal worlds are a source of discomfort or who are happy to accept emotional restrictions in order to confident about their own "logos". The cultures which surround many types of Christianity have emotional parameters which feel like conformity to creative artists.

What's missing is the Eros stuff.

The Eros stuff is threatening to church leaders because Western rationalism has infused our theological expectations and so church leaders are expected to "know" all the time. Moments of not knowing are not too welcome because they may look like failure. Or upset people.

So here's two examples from me of the destructiveness of a Logos-driven theology on the creative spirit.

A couple sit on the cliff top and stare out to sea. They are overwhelmed by the beauty of the creator's design and simply sit within the moment, allowing it to speak to their spirit's in humility. They are transformed by the experience. They have greater internal harmony and they leave praising the creator for the stunning work of art that is that landscape.

The same couple stand before a work of art by another, human creator. They look at it for a minute and ask each other "what's he trying to say?". "I don't know, typical modern art eh, says nothing".

Funny, they didn't ask the first Creator what he was trying to say. They knew the moment was en Eros one.

A second: "God has a plan for your life…"

This phrase has been the source of so much serious psychological disturbance to many people I know. It's not really Biblical as far as I can tell, and definitely not in the way it's taken up.

This is how I think it's often heard.. God is the great designer who sat making the blueprint for the big everything He was about to make. The blueprint is the way it should go & there's lots of mini- blueprints he's pegged up for each individual person that was to be born. Once redeemed the believer has then to get into living out the blueprint…

The problem is the metaphor is a "Logos" one.

Here's an "Eros" option.

God is an improvising musician. In Her mind she can hear this fantastic bit of music… a kind of half finished symphony which will eventually come good when all the orchestra contribute their voicings and hear how it should be themselves. So God says to each of us, "you start playing and I'll join in". So you start playing and there's a bit of music which comes back to you which makes you sound a lot better than you've ever sounded. You gain in confidence. The music suggests to you where else you might go in your playing and enlivens your desire to make the music. You play some more and God keeps the duet going and bringing new melodic possibilities to your hearing. As time goes on you're much more likely to be moving towards the far-off tune that God's hearing in her head. You're inspired… you start playing with more people who can hear the tune and the harmony keeps growing. Slowly, over months, years, centuries the tune begins to be more and more like the one God could hear. The plan is happening. The plan was to make the most beautiful music ever, but to use all the players to make it. I was needed to play and to listen, play and listen.

Now this I can work with!

I'm drawn to love and want God more by this Eros metaphor than the Logos one I started with.

And I'll continually find myself needing to live to my Logos and my Eros.. and find all stations in between! To know that I can't know and that I can know. And I need both to keep my breadth of being going.

And if my "art" is drawing on my "Eros" at times when others can't see what the Eros is saying, then it doesn't mean it's saying any less. It might just be saying it to another part of my listener.

And if Christian Mission is about communicating God to others, then we can't allow it to be all "Logos" because although Jesus Christ is God made known, He, as recounted in the Bible, is not all that there is to God. He was clear about that. He was the image, not the totality. He came to bring us to the totality. The totality, as any "primitive" grouping knows, is Logos and Eros living in creative tension.

I believe that Christian Artists are part of God's mission to allow our full humanity come alive in Christ. That there is no obligation on artists to have their imagination be limited by a "Logos" defined mission context, but that our art must be lived in the context of a soul in submission to God, in service of the poor and in harmony with our faith family. Sometimes we'll have to be militant to establish that the "Eros" is as valuable as the "Logos" and in so doing we will liberate our sisters and brothers in the church and beyond.

Andy Thornton 26th Sept 1997