Created in the Image of a Creator

A lawyer, scientist and engineer sit talking about God. “I’m telling you, God’s a scientist–he cloned Eve from Adam,” says the scientist. “No, he’s an engineer–he constructed the heavens and the earth before he made humans,” says the engineer. Both of them look at the lawyer, who seems stumped. Then the lawyer speaks up, “No, you’re both wrong. Before the heavens and the earth were created there was chaos–now just who do you think created that?” Well, at any rate, God is a creator. My question today: what does it mean to be created in the image of a creator?

It’s not exactly commonplace to say God is an artist. The person on the street might agree God is artistic, but an artist? They can picture him with a long beard, but not a goatee. An engineer, a scientist, or even a lawyer, but not … Jackson Pollock. Well, I say, consider the lilies of the field. Although scientists suggest their beauty is not unnecessary, it sure seems that way to me–I see an artist at work as they neither toil nor spin, standing beautifully arrayed, like Solomon in all his glory. Likewise, when Jesus tells a parable, I’m impressed with his verbal skill, his wit, his imagination. He likens prayer to the pesky man who wakes his neighbor up in the middle of the night knocking on the door asking for bread, and the man gives him some bread just to get rid of him. It’s a bit of hyperbole, a little tongue-in-cheek, but warm, memorable, realized, creative. I give it two thumbs up. Artistic acts are a part of divinity.

The urge to create is universal, an inherited trait from God. I find creating art often approaches worship, perhaps a prayer, a hymn, a sacrament. It’s akin to discipleship. I feel closer to God when I write, like I’m following my creator. And this is bigger than a piece of paper or a canvas. Our very surroundings, our words, our deeds can all become works of art, our relationships a ballet, our world a stage. “There is beauty all around, when there’s love at home.” Maudlin, yes, but still true.

Of course, evil can be creative too. I’m reminded of a scene from Schindler’s List when a Nazi soldier skillfully plays Mozart, I believe, on a piano while his comrades butcher the family who owned it.

When you try to explain how art makes you closer to God, do you ever feel short changed? Ever feel, at best, your efforts are viewed as a nice hobby, at worst, an extravagant luxury, time wasted. What do you think? Could they be right? Is art a mere luxury, ultimately a waste? Something impractical? I’ll finish with this episode from Matthew 26: 6-13, a story of a wasteful act that is remembered merely for its beauty.

6: Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,

7: a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table.

8: But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?

9: For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.”

10: But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.

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13: Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Comments

  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    “merely for its beauty”

    No, it is remembered because the act of anointing communicates her knowledge that he was a King (i.e., it is a royal anointing) and also that he would die (i.e., it was a burial anointing).

    I’m not sure which translation you are using here, but the Greek word translated as ‘beautiful’ is kalos, which can sustain the translation ‘beautiful’ but could also be rendered as ‘good’, ‘praiseworthy,’ ‘honorable,’ etc. Given the rich OT background for an act of anointing, however, mere beauty would not have been how an ancient audience would have understood her act.

    This isn’t performance art; it is a religious ritual.

  2. Julie M. Smith says:

    (I just realized that you omited v12. Had you included that, the fact that this is a burial anointing and not ‘mere beauty’ would have been more apparent.)

  3. Ed Snow says:

    Julie, how about … a beautiful religious ritual. “Mere” was perhaps too dramatic–point conceded. This translation is from the RSV.

    Incidentally, I’m not a fan of performance art, but I do believe we are creative in how we interact with each other, and what happened in this incident is just that. And the echo of the annointing you point out makes this creative act of kindness even more beautiful to me.

  4. hmmm…Julie, perhaps in your lengthy and rigorous study of this scene (especially the Mark account) you forget that it simply is beautiful. I don’t know how many Christians understand that these acts show Christ as King and destined for the grave. I don’t know how many Mormons understand that these acts are the ultimate in Mormon liturgy (at least according to those who framed it) and are much, much more than a simple anointing for burial. But many Mormons and general Christians remember the scene for the beauty of its poetry. This is why I weep when I read it.

  5. Oh Julie, bah humbug! (Said with much British civility.) I say it was beautiful, both as religious ritual but also as an expression, a performance of love. Note that the oil was “very expensive”: this was performance art painted with rich oils, not some junk from Bethany Bill the Street Vendor. Anyway, I’m sure we can agree that many of the great religious rituals are art in some form (certainly the Temple Endowment has visual flourishes which some would say (not me) are not entirely intrinsic to the ordinance itself).

    Ed, great post. As Judaism considers Torah to be God’s greatest gift to man, though, maybe the good Lord is a lawyer after all.

  6. “Ever feel, at best, your efforts are viewed as a nice hobby, at worst, an extravagant luxury, time wasted.”

    I’m no artist but wonder about this even from the point of view of appreciating art. Surely it’s not time wasted (either art or the appreciation of it), but then if there were no question, we wouldn’t be having this conversation…

  7. Here are the snipped verses just so everyone can see them:

    11: For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.

    12: In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial.

    I was trying to avoid (i) making this too long, and (ii) a discussion of the poor. Wasn’t focused on the annointing as a religious act, just an act of kindness.

    The NIV also has beautiful here too.

    I read a similar adaptation of this story by a Christian artist a couple of years ago and it stuck with me–can’t remember where it’s from. In fact, another version of this story (either the same or similar story) is found in John and, as I recall, Mary is the “artist” and Judas is the “art critic” since it is he who criticizes the act as a waste. Of course, you can carry this analogy too far, although Judas as art critic–may not be too far off?

  8. Ronan, good point about the temple–I had forgotten about something Nibley had written years ago that poetry, music, dance and other arts originated in/from the temple. I’ll have to find the reference.

    Nibley also said, however, that opera is where all of the arts come together … and clash.

  9. Nicely said.

  10. greenfrog says:

    What transforms action, intention, and cognition into art? What prevents them from becoming art?

  11. Ed,
    Wonderful post. I like to think of art as something more than a painting on a wall. I’m just wondering when the first appearance of “art” (the word art in quotations) will appear on this thread :)

  12. Greenfrog–deep thoughts. My two cents: art results from (i) the intent of the actor or (ii) the intent of the beholders.

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