Today’s Rant is brought to you by: Mike Duran
The hidden things belong to Jehovah our God; but the revealed ones are ours and our children’s for ever, to do all the words of this law. – Deut. 29:29 Darby Transl.
A Peculiar Hurdle
It’s quite telling that Christian fiction is swamped with indictments of “contrived”, “didactic,” “sermonizing”, “proselytizing” and “propaganda”. There are plenty of reasons: sincerity (an over-rated virtue, IMO) overpowering skill, maturity, professionalism, and other common obstacles. Add in a cultural aversion to definite theology along with an inherent enmity toward Divine Authority, and you’ve multiplied intimidation factors. Daunting, but not the heart of the matter. After some consideration, I’ve come to believe the greatest hurdle peculiar to believers is really an old one: trust. Or Faith.
First of all, believers have a steady diet of preaching, teaching, systematic theology, bullet points, Power Points, three-point sermons and multi-step programs. We are conditioned to exposition. We clarify, catalog, footnote. We applaud concise explanations. Now add to that the very real dangers of deception and heresy, and you have cultivated a sneaking suspicion of anything remotely open to interpretation, or misinterpretation. Pile on Jesus’ Great Commission to “preach the Gospel”, and it’s little wonder people default to the safe, succinct, and obvious. Rightly so. To a point.
Now in religion, this affinity to orthodoxy can enable cut and dry legalism to trump the vagaries of grace and relationship. The Kingdom then bears an unhealthy resemblance to an Amway-like pyramid scheme with its definite hierarchy, pecking order and formulaic system of rewards and punishments. Mechanics replace Mystery because they can be diagrammed, and in that model the woman “caught in the act” is definitely “it” in a game of Brick Tag, while the Prodigal is allowed back in the house – maybe – as the Older Brother’s servant. Thank Christ that’s not how the story reads. When this tendency is channeled into creative expression however, things contort even more and both the Art and the Gospel get reduced to caricatures.
Yet most Christian creative types aren’t from the School of Cadaverous Piety, so they’re aware of the need to be appealing and insightful, but freighted with those evangelical mores, they generally stay near the shore. They’re in sight of friends and family, well in reach of the Lifeguard. Don’t go past the buoys. It’s deep. There are currents and sharks and other stuff. But when Life, Sin, and Redemption are confined to the shallows, God gets lobotomized and the Good News comes off as sweet, but ultimately irrelevant. The whole thing becomes so… Hallmark.
I said the crisis of quality was one of trust – faith – because I believe Christian artists need to trust God and their chosen medium enough to allow the possibility of being misunderstood.
Because that is precisely what God does.
Patches of Godlight vs Holy Post-it Notes
C.S. Lewis once wrote to a friend “… these pure and spontaneous pleasures are “patches of Godlight” in the woods of our experience.” He was referring to small, everyday witnesses to the reality, nature and intimate care of God. They come to every person, aware of Him or not. I’m further convinced the Spirit of God strives to convict, comfort, and convince every person on the planet in order to bring them to personal knowledge of the Creator. The Heavens do declare His glory, no doubt, and the Apostle’s comment in Romans 1 that God’s nature is clearly expressed in Creation is not preacher rhetoric.
10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’ – Luke 8:10
Yet God lets Life be what it is. I’ll say that again: God lets Life be what it is. Think for a minute and you realize He, Creation, and Redemption are constantly misunderstood, everyday, by tens of thousands of people every second. None of that diminishes His identity or His Glory. He doesn’t frantically rush to stick Post-it notes on items and events as back-up reminders, warnings, and clarifications in case we missed the Milky Way, or miracles of love, birth, and the wind in the trees.
In fact, God deliberately hides things. Deliberately. Hides. Things.
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. – Matt.11:25,26
Read the New Testament carefully and you notice Jesus is often baffled, at times disappointed, but never incredibly anxious over folks who don’t “get” His Person, teachings, and miracles. He didn’t go running after the Rich Young Ruler or explain parables to the Pharisees. In fact, the reason they were so upset was that they understood them all too well. I’ve always understood the Bible to be a closed book to a closed heart.
The scary thing about Free Will is we can choose to fail. We can use, abuse, ignore, slander, defile, squander, and depreciate all Life’s gems and cues and clues. We can be as alive and aware as we want, or we can be deaf and blind. God lets it be so. Why can’t we?
Art Imitating Life
I’m not talking about being obscure or lazy or callous, but in terms of creative expression, why do Christians feel the need to “footnote” their work with stereotypes, tropes, and thinly-veiled explanations? Why do we install rope lighting around our “Steps to Peace with God” in stories, movies, music, etc?
Perhaps it’s because we are trying too hard to stave off any stumbling and at the same time neatly define them for any seekers who might wander past our little neighborhood. Perhaps we so desperately want the audience to “get it” as we assure the heresy hunters we’re toeing the party line.
We don’t want to risk being misunderstood.
But the problem with that approach is obvious. Read Megan Basham’s Review of “Letters to God” for a great analysis. HERE (If I wasn’t married, I’d ask her out to dinner for the simple delight of talking with her for several hours.)
So the challenge: why not let your Art imitate Life? Why not risk being criticized, misunderstood, falsely accused, condemned, and, oh wait…
“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi
I believe it’s only when we duck under the ropes of our Comfort Zones and launch into the deep that we engage the full expression of identity and vocation. There are dangers, but there’s also destiny. And I’ll bet we’ll find God has been there all along.
Just remember, you can lead a horse to water…
but you’d better be pretty strong and determined if you’re gonna drown the damned thing.
4 Replies to “Hidden Things and Thirsty Horses”
You bring up some excellent and provocative points. Thanks for the well thought out post.
Thanks Bob. Appreciate you taking the time to stop by and wade through it.
There’s a lot to chew on here. I may answer in a blog post. I have never much liked that quote about preaching the gospel. The gospel requires words. The heavens declare the glory of God but they don’t declare the gospel. For that we must go to the word. We are people of the book. We hear God speak in words and preaching the gospel requires words. That said, fiction’s job is not to necessarily preach the gospel. Certainly not to preach the gospel, the whole gospel, an nothing but the gospel. The parables taught one point, often at the expense of another point…ah, but I’m getting a good idea for a blog post, so I’ll quit here.
Thanks for the thoughtful post and the provocation!
I agree about preaching being a definite, vocal declaration of God’s truth. It is the unique, mandatory, and critical component to salvation as well as establishing God’s kingdom in and among people. I think there isn’t enough of it in the world and the Western church. I also agree that while a novel should have substance, it isn’t a meant to be a sermon. Different context, different creatures, different consequences.
I do believe our character and conduct either reinforces the message or undermines it, and I think that’s what St Frank was touching on there.
Thanks for weighing in. I want to read your blog post now.