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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Isn't God a great artist?

I don't think it's original with me, but I sometimes place, in the description of a photo I post, such as those on Flickr, the question, "Isn't God a great artist?" (This is, I believe, the latest of these.)

God as artist

What do I mean by that? What should I mean? I wish to muse about these questions. First, some scripture:

Genesis 2:19 Out of the ground Yahweh God formed every animal of the field, and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called every living creature became its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock, and to the birds of the sky, and to every animal of the field; but for man there was not found a helper comparable to him. 21 Yahweh God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. As the man slept, he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Yahweh God made a woman from the rib which had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of Man.” (all Bible quotations from World English Bible, public domain)

Isaiah 64:8 But now, Yahweh, you are our Father.
We are the clay, and you our potter.
We all are the work of your hand.

Leaving aside questions about how literally we are supposed to take these passages, the language indicates clearly that God can be described as an Artist, a Craftsman who takes existing ordinary material and does something wonderful with it.

Is God an artist? Of course. Orthodox Christian belief includes this:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty maker of heaven and earth,of all that is, seen and unseen. (Taken from a version of the Nicene Creed, 1975)

If God is Almighty, He clearly can be an Artist. If He is "maker of heaven and earth," then that required Him to be an artist, in the sense that He took, not "existing ordinary material," but nothing, and made a lot of something, wonderful something, from it. See the graphic at the top of this page for more about this question. Not only did God make things, but He sustains the universe -- see Colossians 1:16-17, and Hebrews 1:3 for part of the evidence for that.

Christians also usually believe that God is Omnipotent and Omniscient. Such a powerful Creator should, then, be able to design every leaf on every tree on earth, and every water ripple and dewdrop on earth, and every human face, individually, and to the finest detail. I suppose that human faces are altered by human activity, such as disease, emotions, bad nutrition, exposure to the sun, accidents, and, of course, makeup. But I believe that God could have designed each face, exercising complete control over its appearance. I'm not sure that God did, for reasons I hope to explain below. There are those who believe that not only could God have designed each face, but that He did, and that He is also in control of how each face changes as it matures and is exposed to the environment, including emotions and human activity.

Free will and randomness

We come, thus, to the question of free will, at least for humans. I'm not suggesting that leaves, water ripples and dewdrops have a will at all, free or not. But humans do, and I'm certainly not alone in believing so. If they do, part of what a human face looks like is because of choices that human has made, or that others have made affecting that person.

How about leaves and ripples? Although God created the universe, and sustains it now, it is possible that God's artistry is not so much expressed in His work in each leaf, ripple, or face, but in the creation of the laws that determine how things develop. For example, God could have created the universe in such a way that the Big Bang produced the elements with small nuclei, and in such a way that supernovae produce the elements with heavier nuclei. He could also have created the universe in such a way that Carbon atoms bind rather easily with Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Sulfur and Phosphorus so as to assemble the complex organic molecules that make life possible. Creation of a universe with laws and properties resulting in the way things are now would have been as great, or even greater, artistry than assembling each leaf, atom by atom.

God could also have built some randomness (or maybe a lot of it) into the universe. I have posted previously on this idea, asking "Is there such a thing as chance?" and on "God and Chance," here and yet again, and also on the idea of randomness at the subatomic level. Henry Neufeld, theologian, has also written about this subject. C. S. Lewis, on the other hand, had one of his best characters, Puddleglum, in The Silver Chair, say that "there are no accidents."

The fact is that we have no way of determining whether God controls all events in the universe, or whether he lets some of them be determined by the properties He has built in to the universe, or by those properties, plus chance. So God could have specially designed each and every leaf, and its changing fall colors, or God could have built laws and principles and properties into the universe which lead to the changing fall colors of each leaf, or God could also let random events, at the subatomic level, or higher, determine the appearance of such a leaf, over time. But, in all of these cases, God either controls or allows. If random processes produce a beautiful leaf, God be praised! If intricate control does, God be praised! God is a great artist.

An illustration of what Puddleglum said: While thinking about this subject, and preparing to write about it, I came upon a discussion of the artistry of Linnéa Spransy, who, she says, attempts to express "the tension between freedom and constraint" in her paintings. Spransy is a Christian. The post says this:

Like many working scientists, she is seeking a way of understanding how the creator engages with His creation, and a better grasp on how we creatures should make our way in response. On one hand, her attentiveness to the basic orderliness of the material creation has a corollary in the familiar disciplines of faith, including reading the scriptures, prayer, and responding with mercy to ruptures in human lives and communities. But on the other hand, her embrace of surprise and chaos is, as she says, an “invitation to the otherness of God,”. . .

You may wish to see my recent post on the use of the words, beauty and beautiful, in the Bible.

Thanks for reading, whether by chance or design.


FancyHorse said...

I always smile when I see that phrase on your photos, Martin. Yes, indeed, He is a great artist. Not only "a great artist" but THE great artist, the first Artist, and He has graciously shared His creative spirit with us, His creation (some more than others).

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you, FancyHorse!