A Species Driven by the Image of God
The second best thing about teaching is having the opportunity to read good books over again, year after year. This past week one of my classes started Dorothy Sayers's _The Mind of the Maker,_ which is probably my favorite study on what humans are, what God is, and how those two things connect.
Dorothy Sayers was a heck of a woman. She lived from 1893-1957, and she passed through Oxford when women worked as hard as men for an education but were not allowed to receive degrees.
Sayers rode a motorcycle, played the saxophone, and smoked her cigarettes in a clay pipe. While Woody Allen's _Midnight and Paris_ romanticized the era of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, I would take instead the soirees of the Inklings, those perfect pubberies between Sayers, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and crew.
Add to Sayers's resume, a son out of wedlock during an era when such an event could have crushed her. Instead of crushing her, she dug in to life and to study, growing to understand the nature of humanity and God with a piercing honesty that makes her work as powerful today as it was a lifetime ago.
She wrote plays, she wrote mystery novels, and when she fell in love with Dante, she learned Medieval Italian for the sole purpose of creating her own translation--a translation so vivid that many consider it the best ever written.
She's the sort of fierce that makes me feel at home in her presence, and whenever I look at photographs of Sayers, I feel a sensation of "there you are." She is the grandmother of my soul, as Lewis is my soul's grandfather, as Chesterton is my crazy great uncle.
And so I am reading her again, and yesterday we finished Chapter 2. The Imago Dei.
I've read many arguments on what it means that we are created in God's image, but Sayers's take on the matter is my favorite. Essentially, she suggests that among all created things, humans alone are made creators.
I'll confess that when I watch those ridiculous exchanges between Ken Ham and Bill Nye I'm embarrassed for both of them. A great many debates have taken place between Christians and atheists, but the undergirding belief that bonds both the believing and the non believing views in every instance I can think of (Hitchens/Wilson, Dawkins/Lennox, etc.) is that man is primarily a rational being.
What I'm talking about here is the essential nature of man, and most Westerners assume that we are essentially thinking creatures. This belief can be traced back through Descartes ("ergo cognito sum"), to Plato's tripartite nature of the soul/ Divided Line theory which elevated logic and cognition above all human traits. And through the centuries since, despite occasional corrective blasts of Romanticism, Western civilization (both religious and non) has generally accepted this as fact.
Thinkers like J. A. Smith have wrestled with this assumption, discussing man as thinker vs. man as believer vs. man as lover. Smith urges a correction that I believe is vital, the recognition that most of us tend to live life in a way that is primarily affective. We are creatures compelled by love, drawn to a vision of the "good life" which involves but transcends strict rationalism.
Our creative human nature, likewise, contains rationalism but uses it as a tool toward a larger pursuit. We spend our lives in the making of something new from something old. Or in the case of writing, we come as near as humans come to creating something from nothing physical (ex nihilo). (Or to use Humean terminology, we offer ideas born from impressions.)
Sayers writes that, "It is true that everybody is a 'maker' in the simplest meaning of the term. We spend our lives putting matter together in new patterns and so 'creating' forms which were not there before." And though we find shadows of this in the animal kingdom when a chimpanzee learns to make his own hammock or a raccoon learns to use a stick to dig food out of a can, the gap between animal innovation and creation and human innovation is remarkable. For the most part, animals tend to replicate by instinct or by observation. Humans develop.
Sayers claims that in our creation of buildings, music, art, books, we imitate our God. We demonstrate the imago Dei. We create because we were made in the image of a creator. (Andy Crouch touches on this some in his book _Culture Making_, by the way. Also note the works of Makoto Fujimura if you are interested in an artist's approach to this topic.)
In Chapter 3 of Mind of the Maker, Sayers carries this idea forward into a theory of creativity that breaks down into stages of idea, energy, and power. The creative process beings with the unseen IDEA, the spark of inspiration that drives a project. The creative ENERGY comes next, the activity, the doing of the IDEA in physical form. At last, there is POWER--the connective force when binds the recipient of art to the creator (or the creator to his art). This is the ah-ha, the "I hear you," the "I understand" that rises when art has spoken to us.
Sayers suggests that even in this creative trinity, we find the imago Dei. The Idea is the unseen beginning of a creation, the Father God. The Energy is the physical incarnation of the Father, who is Jesus the Son. The Power is the connective force between God and humanity--which is the Holy Spirit.
So in every good work of creativity, the imago Dei reflects God Himself. Errors in art (which she discusses in the chapter "Scalene Trinities") result from an imbalance of these forces.
A great deal changes when we begin to see God like this, when we begin to see ourselves like this, and when we begin to see others like this. As creators, we can find limitless energy for innovation and exploration. We can find curiosity, fearlessness, a perpetual pot of paint into which we can dip our brushes.
As believers who engage with an unbelieving world, we can begin to revere and embrace those who do not yet share our doctrine, for in them rings forth creative remnants of our God, working out beauty with a longing to be seen, blessed, and set free into the deep harmony of Creation that thrums in the mix.
And because we are born creators divorced from the Creator, we are implanted with Sehnsucht, the holy, restless homesickness that reaches through the limits of rationalism and empiricism (with their constraints and unverifiable presuppositions) and lands down deep into a more primal center.
If believers will learn to lay aside their pride, their strain for power, their deep trust in humanistic arguments, and begin to whisper universal truth and hope from our God-indwelt center, I think great good can be done. We abide in the Creator, like branches in the vine. Apart from this core, we can do nothing by the force of our minds or bodies.
Nor do we need to do any more, because "a thing resounds when it rings true." We are a species driven by the image of God, made to sing out in given, sweet tones that quicken by God's power what fury and flurry cannot.