Tag Archives: thinking

Reflections on “the problem of evil”

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I have been reflecting on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it has made me think about “the problem of evil.” In fact, at the end of the book Tom himself, one of the spiritual heroes of the book, is wrestling with the problem himself. In the book, there are all sorts of terrible realities that represent actual events. Injustice after injustice happen to the people in the story, and again, these stories are based on actual real life events.

One could try to do away with these sad and confused thoughts by just saying that slavery ended long ago. However, this does not solve the problem. Evil continues, injustice continues, ramifications continue. Further, there is still slavery. There is still abuse. Some live life as a mere dash in-between agony and futility. That is all they know, tossed on an endless wave of seemingly nothingness. So one does not escape the question by saying things are now good, or at least not so bad. What then is the answer to the pain, the suffering, the injustice?! Why do people, millions of people, live painful lives, just to die in greater pain?

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Not all “facts” are created equal (and other proverbs for today)

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A few important and relevant things I’ve found to be true through my short tenure on earth:

1. Statistics can be skewed (in all sorts of ways).

2. Money talks, and sometimes money makes people talk about facts that don’t actually exist.

3. “Sound bits” don’t equal sound knowledge.

4. Video doesn’t always equal validation.

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“Whatever’s right for you”

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What is right? What is wrong? Is there right and wrong? Or is everything relative to the situation or the individual? Can we answer these questions?

These are complex, important, and very relevant questions. Especially because “Americans are both concerned about the nation’s moral condition and confused about morality itself.”[1] Actually, “A majority of American adults across age, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and political ideology expresses concern about the nation’s moral condition—eight in 10 overall (80%).”[2] Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 5)

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Nietzsche’s Ideal Implodes
Salaquarda points out that “Historical criticism remained Nietzsche’s most important argument against religion up to the beginning of the 1880s.”[1] However, there are many persuasive arguments that have been made that support, for instance, the resurrection of the Jesus.[2] So, in my opinion, a convincing case can be made for why we can and should believe in the resurrection of Jesus and for the reliability of the Old and New Testaments. Thus, the bedrock of Nietzsche’s criticism is unfounded. In the end, it is his foundation that is shaky (Nietzsche does not even believe in true truth!). Nietzsche also claimed that God was dead and told people that they should live in light of that reality. However, good arguments can be made that conclude that God is alive and well.[3] Truly, even as we look at the world we live in it seems apparent that it is the fool that says there is no God (Ps. 14:1; 53:1).

Nietzsche said, “atheism and a sort of second innocence belong together.”[4] If God is dead there is not only no morality, there is innocence. No one is guilty. No one should feel guilty. Each person can freely do what they see as right in their own eyes. However, human experience tells us otherwise. Nietzsche seems to paint hell as heaven. If we apply his logic he seems to hold up the carnage of Auschwitz as a return to Eden.[5] As William Lane Craig has said, “If God does not exist, then in a sense, our world is Auschwitz: there is no right and wrong; all things are permitted.”[6]

The world will eventually burn up in the death of the sun. There is no meaning. We are decaying matter that will soon be planted. If we are merely matter in motion then we have no morals. We cannot say man descended from apes and thus has no final importance and also say that we must love one another. That reasoning does not follow. Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 3)​

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Nietzsche’s Critique: Christianity is Nihilistic
Nihilism,[1] for Nietzsche, is something that happens when “slave morality”[2] is followed. It seems like Nietzsche is saying that when you follow the Christian teaching then you no longer care about yourself, you put your hope in “pie in the sky,” and you become nothing. Ironically, as we will see, Nietzsche’s philosophy is the ultimate view that leads to nothingness. In his system, there is no ultimate reason for meaning or morality. Thus, what he criticized Christians for is most fully realized in his own position.

Nietzsche is not intending to promote nihilism but sees himself as fighting against it.[3] Nietzsche clearly sees Christianity as nihilistic. He promotes the animal instinct of the will to life, of fighting tooth and nail to exploit whatever can be exploited. In reading Nietzsche, it seems like the ideal world for him would be one in which we live like animals. Nietzsche’s ideal world seems to be a rough and wild animal kingdom where the powerful rule.[4]

Nietzsche concludes that Christianity is nihilistic and believes that the Übermensch who is anti-nihilistic will one day come to save the world.[5] He over and over again, bemoans weak and wicked, guilt ridden, Christianity.[6] He awaits the dawn of the superior man of the future that will deliver the world from its nauseating and nonsensical fascination with compassion and grace.[7]

In On the Genealogy of Morality,[8] Nietzsche says that large birds of prey do nothing wrong in eating and attacking lambs, they are only doing what comes natural to them. The lambs might say that the birds of prey are bad and that whoever is least like them, like a lamb, is good. However, it seems like Nietzsche is saying that that reasoning does not make sense. The lambs are not any better, any more “good,” than the birds of prey. Their criterion of “good” is subjective and they are merely trying to protect themselves by defining “good” as they themselves already are.[9] Within the paragraph Nietzsche says, “a good person is anyone who does not rape, does not harm anyone, who does not attack, does not retaliate, who leaves the taking of revenge to God,… avoids all evil and asks little from life in general.”

It seems like for Nietzsche the “good person,”[10] who does not do bad things, corresponds to the lamb; and the “bad person,” who does bad things like rape and attack, corresponds to the bird of prey. Therefore, Nietzsche seems to be making the point that the “bird of prey,” the so-called “bad person” that rapes, harms, and attacks is really not evil because “evil” after all is something that the “lamb,” the so-called “good person,” made up. Therefore, we see that in a world where God is dead and morality is subjective[11] then there is nothing ultimately wrong with raping, harming, and attacking others.[12] Actually, Nietzsche basically says that the “lambs,” i.e. the early Christians and Jews, made up their morality to get back at the “birds of prey,” the masters that treated them badly.[13]

Plantinga concurs with my observation. He says,

Nietzsche’s… complaint: that religion originates in slave morality, in the ressentment [sic] of the oppressed. As Nietzsche sees it, Christianity both fosters and arises from a sort of sniveling, cowardly, servile, evasive, duplicitous, and all-around contemptible sort of character, which is at the same time envious, self-righteous, and full of hate disguised as charitable kindness. (Not a pretty picture).[14]

Nietzsche said, “I expressly want to place on record that at the time when mankind felt no shame towards its cruelty, life on earth was more cheerful than it is today,… The heavens darkened over man in direct proportion to the increase in his feeling shame at being man.[15] He is saying that man should not feel shame at “being man,” that is, following his animal instincts (perhaps to rape, harm, and attack like the “bird of prey”). For Nietzsche, it was sermonizing that led the animal “man” to feel ashamed of his instincts.[16]

For Nietzsche, “life functions essentially in an injurious, violent, exploitative and destructive manner, or at least these are its fundamental processes and it cannot be thought of without these characteristics.”[17] Thus, he seems to reason that any system or person that fails to acknowledge this and function in this way is hostile to life and attempts to assassinate the future of man, and follows a path to nothingness.[18] Nietzsche in fact says that “life itself in its essence means appropriating, injuring, overpowering those who are foreign and weaker; oppression, harshness, forcing one’s own forms on others, incorporation, and at the very least, at the very mildest, exploitation.”[19] Nietzsche even says “Perhaps I can even be allowed to admit the possibility that pleasure in cruelty does not really need to have died out.”[20]

Nietzsche said that “people everywhere are rhapsodizing, even under the guise of science, about future social conditions that will have lost their ‘exploitative character’—to my ear that sounds as if they were promising to invent a life form that would refrain from all organic functions.” This seems so apparent to Nietzsche because “the original fact of all history” is that “’Exploitation’ is not part of a decadent or imperfect, primitive society: it is part of the fundamental nature of living things.”[21] Thus, utopia, Eden, heaven, etc. will never be our home. Our nature, since the beginning has been to exploit and Nietzsche would conclude there is nothing wrong with that, it is perfectly normal and realistic.

Nietzsche believes that it is a terrible thing that “the animal ‘man’ is… taught to be ashamed of all his instincts.”[22] Man, at his core, is an animal following his will to life. Christianity, conversely, says we are not animals but that humans, male and female, are created in the image of God and thus have intrinsic worth. We also see that we do not have to follow are base sinful, not merely animalistic, instincts. Nietzsche is hitting on something. We do have instincts, but they come from Adam and the Fall, not animals. Nietzsche’s solution to the inner problem that we all face is wrong as well. The solution is not to give in and forget guilt. The answer is to become a new creation in the better Adam.

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[1] The word “nihilism” comes from the Latin word nihil, which means “nothing.” Nietzsche basically says that nihilism is the predilection for and overvaluation of compassion (see par. 5 in the Preface of On the Genealogy of Morality cf. the end of par. 12 in the First Essay par. 24 in the Second Essay). As Clare Carlisle says, “Although Nietzsche’s philosophy is sometimes mistakenly described as ‘nihilistic’, the opposite is in fact the case, for the purpose of his writing was to halt and to reverse this process of decline” (Clare Carlisle, “Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: ‘Why insist on the truth?’” in Richmond Journal of Philosophy 4 (Summer 2003). It does seem ironic that Nietzsche’s own philosophy would later be termed nihilistic, which I think is accurate. Nietzsche’s philosophy does lead us to conclude that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known; thus leading us to nihilism. So, although Nietzsche said Christianity was nihilistic, in the final analysis it is his own thought that is. Nietzsche says that Christians have “an imaginary teleology (the “kingdom of God,” “the last judgment,” “eternal life” (The Antichrist, par. 15) and yet Nietzsche has no teleology, Nietzsche is left with nothing—nihilism.

[2] In a sense, so-called “slavery morality” comes from Christ Himself and can be traced all the way back to God the Father. God had pity on Adam and Eve, Israel in Egypt, and on the hopeless state of humanity. Nietzsche is essentially damning humanities only hope of redemption. In fact, the rescue mission included Jesus becoming a man and taking the form of a slave, and dying, dying on a roman cross. Nietzsche who seemed to respect Jesus in many ways hated what Jesus was actually doing. Christ emptied Himself, Christ had pity.

[3] “Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect. Mankind has ventured to call pity a virtue (—in every superior moral system it appears as a weakness—); going still further, it has been called the virtue, the source and foundation of all other virtues—but let us always bear in mind that this was from the standpoint of a philosophy that was nihilistic, and upon whose shield the denial of life was inscribed. Schopenhauer was right in this: that by means of pity life is denied, and made worthy of denial—pity is the technic of nihilism. Let me repeat: this depressing and contagious instinct stands against all those instincts which work for the preservation and enhancement of life: in the rôle of protector of the miserable, it is a prime agent in the promotion of décadence—pity persuades to extinction… Of course, one doesn’t say “extinction”: one says “the other world,” or “God” (Nietzsche, The Antichrist, par. 7). One translation says, “pity is the practice of nihilism” (par. 7).

[4] “There is no place in Nietzsche’s picture of the ideal man for pity: pity is nothing more than a morbid fascination with failure. It is the great weakener of the will, and forms the bond between slaves, which perpetuates their slavery” (Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey [New York: Penguin Books, 1994], 297).

[5] See par. 24 of the Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality.

[6] “I condemn Christianity; I bring against the Christian church the most terrible of all the accusations that an accuser has ever had in his mouth. It is, to me, the greatest of all imaginable corruptions; it seeks to work the ultimate corruption, the worst possible corruption. The Christian church has left nothing untouched by its depravity; it has turned every value into worthlessness, and every truth into a lie, and every integrity into baseness of soul. Let any one dare to speak to me of its “humanitarian” blessings! Its deepest necessities range it against any effort to abolish distress; it lives by distress; it creates distress to make itself immortal… For example, the worm of sin: it was the church that first enriched mankind with this misery!—The “equality of souls before God”—this fraud, this pretext for the rancunes of all the base-minded—this explosive concept, ending in revolution, the modern idea, and the notion of overthrowing the whole social order —this is Christian dynamite… The “humanitarian” blessings of Christianity forsooth! To breed out of humanitas a self-contradiction, an art of self-pollution, a will to lie at any price, an aversion and contempt for all good and honest instincts! All this, to me, is the “humanitarianism” of Christianity!—Parasitism as the only practice of the church; with its anæmic and “holy” ideals, sucking all the blood, all the love, all the hope out of life; the beyond as the will to deny all reality; the cross as the distinguishing mark of the most subterranean conspiracy ever heard of,—against health, beauty, well-being, intellect, kindness of soul—against life itself… .

This eternal accusation against Christianity I shall write upon all walls, wherever walls are to be found—I have letters that even the blind will be able to see… I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are venomous enough or secret, subterranean and small enough,—I call it the one immortal blemish upon the human race… The transvaluation of all values!…” (Nietzsche, The Antichrist, par. 62).

[7] “Love and compassion, for instance, especially for the weak and sick, was in Nietzsche’s view, contrary to the “life-affirming” philosophy of the Overman” (Richard Weikart, The Death of Humanity: and the Case for Life [Regnery Publishing, 2016], Kindle Locations 3353-3354).

[8] Par.13. Diogenes makes the interesting observation that “Nietzschean genealogy is effective at undermining master narratives precisely because it provides a counternarrative” (Allen Diogenes, Philosophy for Understanding Theology [Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985], 236-37). David F. Wells believes that Nietzsche’s writing on “slave morality” has had a very large impact. He said that perhaps what laid the groundwork for Nietzsche “becoming the godfather to our morally collapsing world was his contrast between master and slave moralities” (Wells, Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision, 151).

[9] So the “lamb” (i.e. the Christian and Jew) says, “’Only those who suffer are good, only the poor, the powerless, the lowly are good; the suffering, the deprived, the sick, the ugly, are the only pious people, the only ones saved, salvation is for them alone, whereas you rich, thenoble, and powerful, you are eternally wicked, cruel, lustful, insatiate, godless, you will also be eternally wretched, cursed and damned!’” (Par. 7 in the First Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality). Adolf Hitler said in Mein Kompf that “the Jew knew that by an able and persistent use of propaganda heaven itself can be presented to the people as if it were hell and, vice versa, the most miserable kind of life can be presented as if it were paradise. The Jew knew this and acted accordingly.”

[10] Nietzsche seems to believe that a regressive trait lurks in the “good person.” Morality itself is to blame for man not reaching its highest potential of power and splendor. Morality itself is the danger of dangers (see par. 6 in the Preface of On the Genealogy of Morality).

[11] Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There is this in common between art and morality, that in both we have to do with creation and invention. We cannot decide a priori what it is that should be done” (Sartre, “Existentialism Is a Humanism”). We are “free” to believe and do whatever it is our hands find to do. There is no plum line by which to measure what is morally right and morally wrong and thus, it seems in this view, all things should be permitted. The Lord is dead, in Nietzsche’s thought, so we are lords of our own lives. We decide what is right and we take that path not matter where it leads and no matter what the world says about it.

[12] Yes, it remains true that the “bird of prey” may inconvenience others by his actions and may even reap consequences from his actions but in the final analysis what he did was not evil and thus not really wrong. It should be noted that the bird of prey’s actions will more likely occur when birds of prey are more numerous than lambs; in a system where birds of prey hold sway. This is because the bird of prey will be less likely to have their actions checked by penalties. Benjamin Wiker explains a similar reasoning: “Since the universe is purely material result of chance, it is amoral, a conclusion ultimately drawn from the belief that the universe is not designed (and therefore has no intrinsic moral order) and has no designer (And therefore no extrinsic moral orderer). Given such a universe, it is not difficult to see that the most we could hope for is the maximization of our desire and the minimization of pain” (Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Moral Hedonists [Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002], 166). Further, it seems in societies where it is believed that there is no true evil, “bird of prey” actions would be expected as the norm.

[13] Nietzsche said that “Jesus of Nazareth, as the embodiment of the gospel of love, this ‘redeemer’ bringing salvation and victory to the poor, the sick, to sinners—was he not seduction in its most sinister and irresistible form…?” Nietzsche goes on: “Did Israel not reach the pinnacle of her sublime vengefulness via this very ‘redeemer’, this apparent opponent of and disperser of Israel? Is it not part of a secret black art of a truly grand politics of revenge, a far-sighted, subterranean revenge, slow to grip and calculating, that Israel had to denounce her actual instrument of revenge before all the world as a mortal enemy and nail him to the cross so that ‘all the world’, namely all Israel’s enemies, could safely nibble at this bait? And could anyone, on the other hand, using all the ingenuity of his intellect, think up a more dangerous bait?… Israel, with its revenge and revaluation of all former values, has triumphed repeatedly over all other ideals, all nobler ideals.” (Par. 8 in the First Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality cf. par. 9). Later he says that “the Jews were a priestly nation of resentment par excellence” (Ibid., par. 16). See also Nietzsche, The Antichrist, par. 24.

[14] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 136.

[15] See par. 7 of the Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality.

[16] Nietzsche, Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality, Par. 7.

[17] Nietzsche, Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality, Par. 11.

[18] Cf. par. 11 in Ibid.

[19] Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 259.

[20] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, par. 7.

[21] Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 259.

[22] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, par. 7.


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 2)

5198900758_1e654c81a9_bNietzsche was Right, but He was also very Wrong
What I hope to show in my paper is that Nietzsche’s philosophy was either very accurate or very wrong. That is, Nietzsche’s conclusions if God is “dead” lead inevitably to certain conclusions. In my evaluation, I take three of Nietzsche’s late period writings (1886-88) as my main point of interaction.[1] This is for a two reasons. First, Nietzsche’s writings are large and this paper is not. Second, because his philosophy is more likely to be further established in his later writings.

In Nietzsche’s writings, he shows over and over again that his thought is the converse of Christianity; this is true if we look at his doctrine of eternal recurrence or his writings on slave morality. And as Nietzsche said, philosophy “always creates the world according to its own image, it cannot do otherwise”[2] and for Nietzsche’s thought, when extrapolated and applied, it makes hell. That is what I hope to argue, I hope to show how Nietzsche’s thought, when applied, makes a world in its own image, one that is terrible, filled with war, rape, and violence. I want to show this because I believe it is the inevitable outcome of the path he started. Since the beginning, it has been true that when we turn away from God we turn to our own destruction (Ps. 16:2; Jer. 2:5; Rom. 1; 3:12; etc.).

So, how is Nietzsche right? Nietzsche is right in that he paints a powerful portrait for us of what it means to be given up to our own devices (cf. Rom. 1). Nietzsche shows us the fallout from the Fall of humanity. But, Nietzsche was also gravely wrong. God is not dead!

Nietzsche’s philosophy is most clearly the converse of Christianity. Nietzsche says God is dead.[3] He says there is no truth. He says to assert yourself and make your own way. He says there is no heaven so live each moment today like it will occur eternally. In short, I hope to show that in the throwing off the “shackles” of morality and the hope of heaven Nietzsche has fettered those who follow him to hell on earth. Nietzsche’s writings and subsequent history show us that a world where right and wrong do not exist, is a world where lots of pain and oppression do.[4]

Ideas and beliefs have consequences, profound consequences. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ has not been raised then let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die. Elijah says in 1 Kings 18:21 that if God is not God then don’t live for Him, live for whatever it is that you believe is true, whether Baal or, I believe he would say, whatever applicable philosophy. So, as we look at Nietzsche’s thought, which is the converse of Christianity, we can begin to understand and better appreciate Christianity. 

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[1] That is, Beyond Good and Evil: A Prelude to the Philosophy of the Future (1886), On the Genealogy of Morality (1887), and The Antichrist (1888).

[2] Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par 9.

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, par. 108, 125, 343. Cf. e.g. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, “Zarathustra’s Prologue,” par. 2 and 3.

[4] “By denying human equality and human rights, and by devaluing the lives of the masses, Nietzsche’s philosophy is really a loveless, forlorn philosophy of death, cruelty, and oppression” (Weikart, Richard, The Death of Humanity: and the Case for Life [Regnery Publishing], Kindle Locations 3394-3395.


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 1)

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Introduction
What follows is important and relevant for individuals, society, and the world. The water is deep at places but must be forded for us to get to solid ground. The world, I fear, is in a swamp of uncertainty, but the water is rising, every day the need for solid ground is more apparent but harder to reach. Wade through this with me, and perhaps we can find something solid to build upon. Something that will stand through the next wave, whatever that wave may be. As we set out, we will use Friedrich Nietzsche as our marker, though he is no North Star, he helps us map the mire.

First, we should know some about Nietzsche. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born on October 15th, 1844 and died on August 25th, 1900. Nietzsche lived a sickly life and died at the age of 55 of pneumonia.[1] Nietzsche’s father was a Lutheran pastor. “Nietzsche’s uncle and grandfathers were also Lutheran ministers, and his paternal grandfather, Friedrich August Ludwig Nietzsche (1756–1826), was further distinguished as a Protestant scholar.”[2] Nietzsche faced many difficulties from a young age. His father died when Nietzsche was only four years old and just six months after the death of his father his younger brother died.

Nietzsche must have been gifted intellectually from a young age. For example, he composed piano, choral, and orchestral music as a teenager. He also received a good education at a first-rate boarding school. As a teenager, he read “David Strauss’s controversial and demythologizing Life of Jesus Critically Examined[3] and it had a big impact on him. Early on Nietzsche considered himself devout, he was even called “little preacher” when he was young, but eventually, he would deny the faith, though at first not publically.[4]

Second, it should be understood, that in my mind, Nietzsche’s ramblings are closer to rhetoric than to philosophy. Nietzsche often employees ad hominem arguments and attacks a person (e.g. the Apostle Paul[5]) rather than their arguments. Nietzsche also seems fond of constructing straw man fallacies for his argumentative flame.

Third, Nietzsche wrote in a very unique and even enjoyable style. However, his lack of precision in writing is dangerous; people can construe his writings in many ways, and they have. There is much disagreement over Nietzsche and his work, which must to a large degree, must be because Nietzsche seems to have communicated often more like a poet, using words to paint, and not as much for precision.[6] It is true that Nietzsche at times is very hard to discern and it is also true that his body of work is large and there is much disagreement upon what place Nietzsche’s unpublished work should play in Nietzschean scholarship. However, all that being the case, Nietzsche is still responsible for what he wrote and the way he wrote.

Yannick Imbert has said,

In the history of Western thought, Nietzsche most likely holds the distinction of being the most misunderstood and misrepresented philosopher. Understanding him represents a particular challenge for Christians, given Nietzsche’s radical criticism of anything related to Christianity. Let us consider more closely the philosophy of the so-called father of nihilism.[7]

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[1] See e.g. D. Demelsoet, K. Hemelsoet, and D. Devreese, “The neurological illness of Friedrich Nietzsche,” 9-16 in Acta neurologica Belgica (April 2008).

[2] Robert Wicks, “Friedrich Nietzsche” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ed. Edward N. Zalta (Fall 2016 Edition)(https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/#Life1844 accessed on December 5th, 2016).

[3] Ibid.

[4] “From his early boyhood, Nietzsche was expected to follow the family tradition and become a minister himself. As late as 1864, when he studied classics and theology at Bonn University, he seems to have adhered to his family’s expectations (if no longer wholeheartedly). When one year later he finally dropped theology, he proved a family crisis” (Jörg Salaquarda, “Nietzsche and the Judaeo-Christian tradition,” 90-118 in The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997], 92).

[5] E.g. Nietzsche says, “In Paul is incarnated the very opposite of the “bearer of glad tidings”; he represents the genius for hatred, the vision of hatred, the relentless logic of hatred. What, indeed, has not this dysangelist sacrificed to hatred!… The life, the example, the teaching, the death of Christ, the meaning and the law of the whole gospels—nothing was left of all this after that counterfeiter in hatred had reduced it to his uses. Surely not reality; surely not historical truth!… He simply struck out the yesterday and the day before yesterday of Christianity, and invented his own history of Christian beginnings… The figure of the Saviour, his teaching, his way of life, his death, the meaning of his death, even the consequences of his death—nothing remained untouched, nothing remained in even remote contact with reality. Paul simply shifted the centre of gravity of that whole life to a place behind this existence—in the lie of the “risen” Jesus… The figure of the Saviour, his teaching, his way of life, his death, the meaning of his death, even the consequences of his death—nothing remained untouched, nothing remained in even remote contact with reality. Paul simply shifted the centre of gravity of that whole life to a place behind this existence—in the lie of the “risen” Jesus… What he himself didn’t believe was swallowed readily enough by the idiots among whom he spread his teaching.—What he wanted was power…” (Nietzsche, The AntiChrist, par. 42).

[6] So, Alvin Plantinga has said, Nietzsche “writes with a fine coruscating brilliance, his outrageous rhetoric is sometimes entertaining, and no doubt much the extravagance is meant as overstatement to make a point. Taken overall, however, the violence and exaggeration seem pathological; for a candidate for the sober truth, we shall certainly have to look elsewhere” (Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000], 136).

[7] Class notes from Yannick Imbert’s lecture in “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought” on Oct. 12th, 2016.


What is Art?

So, what is art? That is a difficult question. Let’s look at some examples I’ve gathered. Art is…

…according to a dictionary:

The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance

~dictionary.com 

…indefinable

You cannot define electricity. The same can be said of art. It is a kind of inner current in a human being, or something which needs no definition.

~Marcel Duchamp , French painter and sculptor

…imitation or creation

Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding.

~Marc Chagall, Russian-French artist

…creating beauty or harmony

Filling a space in a beautiful way. That’s what art means to me.

~Georgia O’Keefe, American painter

Art is harmony.

~Georges Seurat, French painter

…an expression of our innate desire to decorate

The intrinsic decorative urge should not be eradicated. It is one of humankinds deep-rooted primordial urges. Primitive people decorated their implements and cult objects with a desire to beautify and enhance… it is a sense emanating from the urge for perfection and creative accomplishment.

~Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Swiss multi-media, applied arts, performance artist, and textile designer

…something that reveals the essential or hidden truth

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.

~Paul Klee, Swiss painter

 

…a blessed mistake, a misfiring

Art is like the feathers of a peacock; there is no ultimate reason for it. It is nothing more than a leftover impulse from our distant ancestors. It is a mere signal to potential mates that we have enough time, resources, and leisure to be able to waste time on extravagance.

~This seems to be the Darwinian view (cf. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 253)

…thought expressed

To give a body and a perfect form to one’s thought, this—and only this—is to be an artist.

~Jacques-Louis David, French painter

…a source of calm in a chaotic world

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.

~Henri Matisse, French artist   

Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos.

~Saul Bellow, American novelist

…self-expression or autobiography

What is art? Art grows out of grief and joy, but mainly grief. It is born of people’s lives.

~Edvard Munch, Norwegian artist

 All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

~Federico Fellini, Italian film director

…communication of feelings

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has experienced, and…then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling—this is the activity of art.

~Leo Tolstoy, Russian author

Art has to move you and design does not, unless it’s a good design for a bus.

~David Hockney, British artist

 …labor

Art begins with resistance — at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.

~André Gide in Poétique

…philosophy

Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums — they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level.

~ Michelangelo Pistoletto in Art’s Responsibility

…according to my favorite definition:

“One individual personality has definite or special talent for expressing, in some medium, what other personalities can hear, see, smell, feel, taste, understand, enjoy, be stimulated by, be involved in, find refreshment in, find satisfaction in, find fulfillment in, experience reality in, be agonized by, be pleased by, enter into, but which they could not produce themselves…

Art in various forms expresses and gives opportunity to others to share in, and respond to, things which would otherwise remain vague, empty yearnings. Art satisfies and fulfills something in the person creating and in those responding…

One person’s expression of art stimulates another person and brings about growth in understanding, sensitivity and appreciation.

~ Edith Schaeffer in The Hidden Art of Homemaking


Sneaky Subtle Stuff

Abstract building

It’s the steady and unnoticed drip that corrodes the foundation.

It’s the subtle stuff that shapes us. What’s imperceptible impacts us. It’s the little things that don’t seem like a big deal that last. Precisely because they seem little.

When we excuse something, because after-all, it’s only small, we often give refuge to an infectious virus that will destroy. Yes, it’s small. But it will kill. And it will be hard to seek out.

Don’t be ok with the unnoticed drip. Don’t give refuge to a virus.

Destroy what in you destroys. Kill sin.


Art through the Eyes of Faith

Drawing in water-colors

Introduction: How should we think about art? Why has art had such a varied history? What explains why we can relate to both “sad reflective art” as well as “joyous exuberant art”? How does art in its various forms sometimes make us yearn for something that seems out of reach?

These are big questions and questions that have been answered by many better minds than my own. However, I believe as we look to God’s Word as our guide we will be able to make some significant observations that will better position us to answer them.[1]

Let’s consider seven things from the storyline of Scripture.

Consider the Creator

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1). He made atoms and oceans, sunsets and frogs, butterflies and hogs. He made matter and motion, the stars in space and every trace of sand. He made my hands and yours too. God makes flowers and bees. God thought up nectar and the neurons that make emotion.

God created the wild crash of hydrogen and oxygen known as water; crystal clear and falls from the sky, and gives life. It’s like miraculous manna from heaven that we completely take for granted.

The only artist who is perfect in all forms of creativity—in technique, in originality, in knowledge, of the past and future, in versatility, in having perfect content to express as well as perfect expression of content, in communicating perfectly the wonders of all that exists as well as something about Himself, is of course God—the God who is Personal.[2]

God is the most majestic musician, supreme sculptor, wowing writer, and awesome artist. We can look at the flowers of the field and see that God is the most creative creator of clothing. He is the creator that gives creativity.“God is the Great Maker, the unique Creator. And all other creative activity derives from him.”[3]

God the Creator is the great Artist. He set the dome of the heavens and fashioned the universe. He created the music of the stars and set the heavenly bodies whirling in a great cosmic dance. He paints the sky of man’s earth with clouds and sunsets, and the ground with flowers and streams. He fashioned man out of dust of the earth. He tells the greatest love story of time and eternity, and unfolds it in a drama unlike any that man has ever created. He uses every art and every medium.[4]

Observation: Our creativity is contingent upon the Creator.[5] God is the great Creator and we merely reflect Him with our creations, as we will see.

Consider Creation

We see in the beginning that when God saw all He had made He pronounced, “very good” (Gen. 1:4; 10; 12; 18; 21; 25; 1:31). There was no sin, no death, and no problems. Man had perfect fellowship with God (cf. Gen. 3:8) and enjoyed God’s beautiful creation.

God’s creation shows us what God wants for us. He wants us to enjoy and take part in the creation that He has made very good. It shows us our intended design: fellowship with God and each other and the correct enjoyment and creative oversight of creation.

The heavens declare and shout forth the glory and beauty of God (Ps. 19:1-6). “Our God is beautiful in all his way; it is part of his perfection. This divine beauty has been woven into the fabric of creation, in the massive stars, inside the submicroscopic balance of the atom.”[6]

Observation: As we take in and enjoy beauty, whether Mozart, Norman Rockwell, or a brook basking in the sun, it points us back to our Creator for which we truly yearn. Even “photography is a longing for eternity, a desire for a lasting impact. When we blast our memories far and wide, we are hoping they will linger when we’re not present and maybe even when we’re gone. How odd that something seemingly instant can be rooted in a hunger for eternity.”[7]

Consider that we are Creative Creatures

What is man? A complex animal, more advanced through Darwinian Evolution? Are humans merely matter in motion?

We see the doctrine of the image of God,[8] the imago Dei, in various places in Scripture (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7 Col. 3:10; James 3:9). The most prominent is Genesis 1:27 that says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[9] “The ‘image (likeness) of God’ refers to a permanent aspect of our created nature, which was not affected by the fall. It is the special characteristic of the human race, which distinguishes us from other creatures.”[10]

So, “We are created in the likeness of the Creator… So we are, on a finite level, people who can create.”[11] 

We were made, in part, to create. We were made to work unhindered at the creative care of the creation. However, the plot thickens. A cosmic problem is introduced. Through man’s fall we see the crash and curse of creation, which explains why everything is no longer good and why our creative care is constrained.

Observation: We are creative creatures; that is part of what we do and how we reflect the image of our Creator. We see that because that is what we were created to do we thrive as individuals and as societies as we create.

Man was created that he might create. It is not a waste of man’s time to be creative, because this is what was made to be able to do. He was made in the image of a Creator, and given the capacity to create—on a finite level of course, needing to use the materials already created—but he is still the creature of a Creator.[12]

We were created in the image of God not to procrastinate but to be productive, to create and “subdue the earth.” When we are functioning according to our design, doing what God has given us to do, it is then that we prosper (and realize I do not mean financially, I mean teleologically).

Realize there are all sorts of types of creativity, one person creates cars, another creates music, and still another manages his restaurant in thoughtful ways.[13] The important observation here is not so much what we do but how we approach our tasks.

We should approach all we do with intentionality and skill. As Timothy Keller says, “our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person and… undermines society itself.”[14]

Consider the Crash

Man disobeyed and rebelled (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6) and this brought spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19), pain (3:16-17), difficulties (3:18-19), and separation from God (3:23-24). This is the bad news that we all live in.

In Genesis 3:1-24 we see the Fall of humanity. We see various forms of death given birth to. We see “’an ever-growing avalanche of sin, a continually widening chasm between man and God’. It progresses from disobedience, to murder, to indiscriminate killing, to titanic lust, to total corruption, and uncontrolled violence.”[15] Sin truly brings a litany of death. “Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God’s shalom—physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart.”[16] Sin opens Pandora’s box and unleashes a horde of evil.

We have marred more than the mediocre; we have marred the Michelangelos of the world. We have marred superb beauty and made it unbelievably hideous.

To illustrate, if I ruin a “masterpiece” that my son made with paper, glue, and crayons, the ramifications will be far less than if I destroy the Mona Lisa.

Well, creation was intended to be a Mona Lisa; that is, it was intended to be supremely glorious. God’s creation was intended to be good, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing to our senses, emotions, and intellect beyond what we can imagine.

We often think of this world as the way it is not as the way it was intended to be. If we could see a glimpse of what the Great Creator had in mind for His masterpiece, then we’d see that we “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” We essentially killed a thousand Beethovens and blared white noise. We backfilled the Grand Canyon with gravel. We burned a hundred museums of art. We scorched our taste buds off our tongue. We took a wrecking ball to all the wonders of the world and razed a thousand gorgeous cities. We have brought cataclysmic chaos to the world.

Sin is not a light thing. We, as humans, were created in the image of God. We were to be like Christ, God in flesh (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). The world was meant to be supremely glorious, peaceful, and loving but instead it is disgusting and understandably repugnant to God. So, as we try to grasp the wonder of what has been marred we can begin to understand how serious the situation is and how terrible sin is.

The crash happened in Genesis 3, man disobeyed God and chaos and curse ensued. In the crash, we see what went wrong with us and the world.

Observation: The image we bare is tainted and marred. It’s like one of Winslow Homer’s famous watercolor paintings had a pail of acid poured on it. We can still trace the image but it’s faded. We need a master painter to repaint us.

It is important to observe that “The arts, which speak so subjectively and so very personally regarding who and what we are in relation to our Maker are very vulnerable to the distortion that sin has brought in the world.”[17] Even in the Bible art can be used to idolatrous ends. We, after the crash, often use creativity to de-create and desecrate the good world God has made.

We see that we often desire heaven and make hell. We want back in Eden and sometimes we express that, but sometimes we express the crash. We, in the words of Makoto Fujimura, “carry the dust of Eden in our DNA.”[18] Michael Card has said, “A thousand examples speak of a deep, inner hunger for beauty that, at its heart, is a hunger for God. We hunger for beauty because it is a beautiful God whom we serve.”[19] Yet, we are stuck on the outside of Eden.[20] We are stuck yearning.

Much art reflects on this theme, from superhero movies to angsty art, we know there was a fall. We know we live after the crash. We desire the new creation but many don’t know the answer. They don’t know Christ the Promised One.

Consider Christ

After the crash of creation, after the curse was introduced, there was a promise of a deliverer that would set all right again. At first, the promised offspring (Gen. 3:15) was vague; in fact, Eve rejoiced because she thought she had the offspring (4:1) but it was all for naught because Cain was the offspring of the serpent and killed his brother.

However, later on, we see Him who even the prophets longed to see (Matt. 13:17), we know that all Scripture finds its fulfillment in Jesus who is the long awaited Messiah (2 Cor. 1:20). The one that will crush the curse and bring in the new creation.

The Bible is a true story about God making the world, man messing it up, and God becoming a man to fix the world by not messing up. It is a story of Eden—exile—repeat. It is not until the true Adam, the true and righteous Son of God—Jesus—comes that this process is broken. All of Christ’s predeceases fell short; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Saul, David, Solomon, and the lambs, priests, and prophets could not fill Christ’s role.

Through Christ we see what God has done to put things right. Christ hung, outstretched on the tree, and bore the curse and will come again to bring His eternal reign when peace will be pervasive and joy will be tangible.

Jesus is the hero of the story. He takes upon Himself the curse and brings the new creation and friendship with God that we all yearn for.

The Cosmic Creator that flung the stars in place and knows them all by name cares to the point of crucifixion. He is the author that writes Himself into the story. He makes, He comes, He dies, and He rises again. And He’s coming back to recreate the world.

Observation: In Christ, first we see our Savior, but we see also see a profound example. Christ’s character as seen in the Gospels is one of creativity and compassion. He is expressive and real. He is harsh and gentle. 

Christ was honest to the reality of our current condition. He didn’t lighten the realities of the crash and the catastrophes that it created. However, He wasn’t hopeless either. He brought the world the solution they needed: Himself.

We too must understand our current condition and honestly and creatively communicate truth to the world.

Consider our Current Condition

It is important for us to correctly situate ourselves within our current condition. We, for instance, do not want to place ourselves within the new creation when we are still wheeling from the crash. In the same way, we don’t want to forget that Christ has came. We need to understand our current condition. We do not want to have an “over-realized eschatology” or an “under-realized eschatology.” We want to correctly grasp our situation and communicate the struggles and hopes that we have to the world.

Steve Turner has said, “It is not Christian to make art that assumes that the world is unblemished.”[21] It’s certainly true that the Kingdom has come in God’s Son. The light is shining and the darkness is passing away (1 Jn. 2:8) but it hasn’t passed away yet. We still live in a fallen world. Soon the darkness will be forever gone (Rev. 22:5) but for now it’s an element in our reality so to paint or portray reality means including “darkness.”

We must position ourselves after the Creator, the creation of all things, and the crash and curse of the cosmos, and we must remember that we were created as creative creatures to reflect our Creator. We must remember Christ, the hope of all the world. We must hope in Him and the new creation that He will bring at the consummation of His Kingdom.

We must not get stuck hopelessly on the crash and curse of the world, though to be in the world is to reflect realistically on its realities. Yet, we must not forget Christ and His coming Kingdom and the fact that we are not the center of the universe. So, “The Christian artist will often be an irritant, disturbing the anthropocentric view of the world that fallen nature naturally gravitates toward.”[22]

Observation: It is when we remember our current condition, all that has laid behind us and all that lays before us, that we can most profoundly and prophetically speak into our cultures. It is then that we can bring compassion and truth to bear and see God’s truth take root and change people and society.

So, David Skeel says, “The most beautiful and memorable art will reflect the tensions and complexity that only Christianity can fully explain.”[23]

Consider the coming Consummation

When Jesus came the first time, He had no beauty or majesty. When He comes again His face will shine like the sun in full strength (Rev. 1:16). We were cast out of the garden in the beginning but as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, all those who go to Him will be let back in. For those in Christ, the story of history will have a happy ending (Rom. 8:29-39).

Through Jesus the Christ, we have the unwavering hope of a new creation (2 Peter 3:13). “The creation was subjected to futility” in Adam (Gen. 317-19) but in Christ “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21). As Isaac Watts put it in “Joy to the World,”

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
 far as the curse is found.

The problem (all of them!) will be fixed and there will be no more sin (Rev. 21:27; 22:3; Matt. 13:41). Everything will be more right than it was ever wrong. We will see that God did, in fact, work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). Christ will make a new creation and we will be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2; Rom. 8:29; 2 Peter 1:4). “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). God will fulfill our deepest desires and we will finally live with Him in paradise in the end.

Jesus is the good news but the good news is not static it goes on and on and on; those in Christ live happily-ever-after. In contrast, God “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (Matt. 13:41) and cast them into the pit of eternal fire (Rev. 20:14-15). The Lord will bring heaven down and establish His Kingdom that will not be shaken but will last forever and ever in perfect beauty and joy. 

Observation: Time is working itself down to a consummation; to a renewal of the creation, in fact, a new creation. Ever since Eden, this is what we have longed for and it is made available through Christ. However, many miss it. They look to the creature rather than to the Creator to find satisfaction, life, and joy.

As we carry out various creative tasks we can thoughtfully point people to what they need and why they need it. We can address the issue of the crash, our current condition, and Christ and the coming consummation. 

We can also know that art occupies a type of middle ground. In one way pointing backward (to creation) while planted firmly (in the current condition) and also pointing ahead (to the consummation). 

Conclusion: So, how should we think about art? 

As we carry out our creative tasks (whether or not it is typically labeled art or not) we reflect our Maker. We point to the reason and rhyme of the universe, especially when we reflect on and cause others to reflect on why, at times, there seems to be no reason and rhyme to the universe. 

Lastly, as we seek to be faithful and reflect God’s image we must look to Jesus. He is the Master. He is “painting” us in His image. The brushstrokes that stand out the most are “love the LORD your God with all you are” and “your neighbor as yourself.” It is through the application of those two brushstrokes that we look more and more as we were always supposed to look.

_______________________

[1] My word is very fallible but God’s Word is truth. This is important because, as William Dyrness, has said: ““Artistic issues are, according to the biblical perspective, profoundly theological from the beginning to end” (William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, 70).

[2] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 14-15.

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 72.

[4] W. S. LaSor, “Art” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 302.

[5] “Only God can imagine and make something out of nothing. In this sense, he is the only One who deserves the title of Creator. We are merely creative” (Harold M. Best in Michael Care, Scribbling in the Sand, 122).

[6] Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.

[7] Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives, 189.

[8] “That man by creation uniquely bears the divine image is a fundamental biblical doctrine—as also that this image is sullied by sin and that it is restored by divine salvation” (Carl F. H. Henry, “Man” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 338).

[9] “The declaration that humanity bears God’s likeness is startling, awesome, and almost incredible, but what exactly does it mean?… Two primary, and not necessarily contradictory views are: (1) the substantive view, according to which humans share some aspects of the nature of God (intelligence, emotions, etc.); and (2) the functional view, according to which humans act like God in their divinely given role to rule the earth. The immediate context, with the language of dominion and subjugation, suggests that the functional interpretation is primary” (Köstenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman, 29). I personally believe in a hybrid view. I believed in a functional view that implies the substantive view. That is, if we as humans are to function as vice-regents we must be endowed with the abilities to carry it out (e.g. intelligence, creativity, etc.).

[10] G. L. Bray, “Image of God” in NDBT, 576.

[11] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.

[12] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.

[13] I think for example of Chic-fil-a.

[14] Keller, Every Good Endeavor, 19. He also says “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever” (29).

[15] Revd Victor James Johnson, “Illustrating Evil – The Effect of the Fall as seen in Genesis 4-11,” 57 in Melanesian Journal of Theology 11-1&2 (1995).

[16] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 177. “Disunion with God is reflected in disunion with others and with oneself” (Johnson, Foundations of Soul Care, 466).

[17] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 75.

[18] Makoto Fujimura, Refractions.

[19] Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.

[20] “Christianity explains our inability to sustain transcendence as evidence that creation, and the creation, have been corrupted” (David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 88).

[21] Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 86. “To portray the world as a rose garden can be as misleading as portraying it as a cesspool” (Ibid., 58).

[22] Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 22.

[23] David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 82.


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