Thursday, January 26, 2012

Writing and the Imago Dei

 Today's guest post was written by Eric Burk, a journalism major at Patrick Henry College who  spends his free time reading and discussing literature with his friends.

“First there was nothing...then there was Calvin! Calvin, the mighty god, creates the universe with pure will! From utter nothingness comes swirling form! Life begins where once was void!”

In the dark and brilliant colors of his comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, artist Bill Watterson portrays the malignant imagination of Calvin, a little boy whose parents struggle to keep him under control. The comic is a masterpiece of storytelling and art partly because of the fascinating images Watterson draws, but also partly due to what the strip shows us about ourselves. Calvin may be a violent little boy with a vivid imagination, but the pleasure he takes in creation is common to all mankind. Part of what makes humans human is the creative urge, expressed in everything from politics to writing. Just as Calvin does, we all create, imitating in our own flawed way the work of the great Creator. It is important to think of writing in terms of creation, since flawed writing can often be traced back to a flawed understanding of who God is and the place humans occupy in His creation.

Christians should recognize who man is as a creator. In the beginning of God's instruction manual for humans and life on earth (the Bible), God tells how He created the universe. He also gives insight into what He intended man to be. In Genesis 1:26-27 He records,
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
The meaning of that phrase, image of God or imago Dei, has been debated often. Clearly, it’s a massive idea that is beyond our ability to completely grasp. However, we can grasp bits and pieces of it. In chapter two of her book The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers highlights one of the elements of the image of God. She argues that the image of God is clearly not referring to the false classical idea of God as “a hirsute old gentleman in flowing robes seated on a bank of cloud.” Instead, the image of God refers to something more fundamental that is in part reflected in man’s ability to create.

In Genesis 1:26-27, God commands that man exercise dominion over the rest of creation. The concept of dominion is closely tied to another characteristic of man: his creativity. It is not a coincidence that man is a creator; he was created in the image of the greatest Creator. Obviously, people do not create from nothing using only the spoken word, as God did. Instead, they are completely reliant upon God for materials, ability to will, and power to create, making the human creator a minor creator. I think of a little boy working with his father in the garage. While his father crafts a fine cabinet for the kitchen, the boy watches in the corner and pounds a scrap of wood with a hammer and some nails, all given to him by his father. The boy is thus a minor carpenter in the image of his father. Creativity is man’s most noble calling, a display of the image of God.

However, there is a dark side to man's potential. Calvin, though a creator of sorts, failed to create in the perfect image of God, instead creating in mankind’s twisted, distorted nature. Genesis 3 warns that man is fallen, wicked, twisted, and distorted. C.S. Lewis says that man is bent. Mankind can still reach some of his original potential. However, instead of creating things that beautify and establish order, man can create evil and destructive things, a direct contradiction of man's original purpose. Man, once perfect in the image of God, now feebly tries to oppose God by destroying in small pieces what God spoke into being.

Sayers creates an analogy between the Persons of the Holy Trinity and mankind’s creative power, presenting a creative idea, a creative will, and creative power as corresponding to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit respectively. Distortions in man’s creation are thus related to heresies of the Trinity. In order to create properly, man must not only understand himself, but must correctly perceive God. Thus, creators are in danger of a sort of unintentional heresy and blasphemy when they ignore the One who enables them to create.

When people create, they can only work with what God gives them. Thus, sometimes the act of creation is merely a rearranging and partial destruction and reconstruction of matter. However, artists such as writers, painters, and musicians have an extra power. In chapter three of The Mind of the Maker, Sayers states, “It is the artist who, more than other men, is able to create something out of nothing. A whole artistic work is immeasurably more than the sum of its parts.” In that knowledge, go; write. But do not underestimate what you do. You are an imitative creator in the image of God; rely on Him and create art for the glory of God.

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