Reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker has gotten me thinking of something about which I wish I could pick her brain: whether I’m really the one doing my own creative work. I imagine we’d have a lively discussion, and that Dorothy would surprise me with her input. But I can’t ask her, so I’m going to write about it, and look for my answers elsewhere.
In The Mind of the Maker, Sayers explores how God the Father, Son, and Spirit are active in the work of a human artist, and in what proportion to each other, and—by extension—how they contribute to and affect the end product of that artist. Sayers also explores the ways and degrees to which an artist is expressed in his or her own work. By all appearances, Sayers assumes the artist to be a central actor in the making of his or her own creative output.
But my question is one that Sayers doesn’t touch on at all in The Mind of the Maker. It is this: In light of Galatians 2:20, does the human artist—submitted to the Father, Son, and Spirit—actually do his or her own work?
In light of Galatians 2:20, does the human artist—submitted to the Father, Son, and Spirit—actually do his or her own work?
Allow me to explain what I mean.
In Romans 7:18, Paul wrote, “And I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh….” And in Galatians 2:20, he wrote, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Since Scripture asserts that there is no good in me and that I am dead and that it is Christ who lives in me, then when I create something, is it even I doing it? And if so, how is it I? Does God alone do the creating, using my mind and body as instruments? And if so, then what part did I really have in it? None? Am I, as Mother Teresa said, but a pencil in the hand of God?
What if I—my person, and my creative capacity—am a unique combination of some several selected facets of God (chosen by him to be instilled in me); and when he creates anything through me, it is all him doing the creating, and the process is only unique to me because the end product was only that which could arise as a function of his limiting himself to working through only those facets? It would be a way of his creatively focusing his own expression, as an artist might choose to work only in charcoal rather than using a full rainbow of oil paints plus orchestral music and a laser light show all at once. Yet, it is still all Christ living through me in that case. I would have had nothing to do with the selection of what facets were instilled in my own being for use in my projects. In that case, my only actual involvement would have been that of my will having given permission for my participation in the process of creation that was done through me. (And perhaps not even that. Election is a factor which may even negate the idea that the giving of my own permission really had its source in me. But that is not a point that needs to be followed up here.)
I am still left wondering how much of me is really even doing my own work.
My mind scans the Scriptures for any answer. I think of Bezelel and Oholiab being given artistic ability to make the articles and furnishings of the Tabernacle and to teach others to help them with the work (Exodus 31:6). But everything they made was according to specific patterns and instructions given by God, and derivative of what already existed in heaven. So did it even matter whether it was Bezalel and Oholiab—or any other two people—who did the crafts? Wouldn’t the pieces have looked exactly the same, given this situation, regardless of whose hands they passed through? I can think of two possible answers for that.
It mattered to them. It made a difference to Bezalel and Oholiab as individuals, and to each skilled worker who received such gifts, that they were chosen to do the work and that the gifts were worked through them. It mattered to their experience of God and to their personal relationships with God.
First: It mattered to them. It made a difference to Bezalel and Oholiab as individuals, and to each skilled worker who received such gifts, that they were chosen to do the work and that the gifts were worked through them. It mattered to their experience of God and to their personal relationships with God. It also mattered to them because it shaped the course of their lives in a daily way while they worked on their assigned projects, and probably, if I had to guess, for a long time after the Tabernacle was completed.
Second: Each person’s unique human stamp would have necessarily been put on the work.
One reason for this uniqueness is the human artists’ lack of perfection, which would have varied in each person. Even being gifted as they were by the Holy Spirit for the task, and working with excellence, their human imperfection would have meant that Bezelel and Oholiab could not have perfectly made the prescribed copies of what exists in heaven (Hebrews 8:5). They may have come close—the work perhaps even being so excellent that no human eye would have ever detected any flaw at all. (It is doubtful even that human would have been able to notice any deviation from the original in heaven—not having conscious memory of having seen the original, and having only human eyes with which to see at all.)
However, work may also vary from one artist to the next in ways that is not negative:
Work of two artists may also be of the exact same level of quality, yet different. I must allow for the possibility—although I do not know if this was the case—that some image of a pomegranate rendered by Oholiab may have been distinguishable from an image of a pomegranate worked by Bezalel (Exodus 28:33), in that same way that a famous musical composition, played impeccably by two different accomplished pianists may still somehow be distinguishable as being played by this one, or that one—not even as objectively or subjectively better—but just in a noticeably different style.
Work of two gifted artists may be of excellent quality, yet there are times when the creative output of one of the artists is perceivable by everyone to be unmistakably superior. Even an untrained eye or ear can recognize this (as anyone who has listened to The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s The Messiah can appreciate). However, this principle is not limited to original composition. It is even true in the execution of some “pattern” by two different outstanding artists, such as in the previous, visual arts example of a pomegranate, or in the performance of the same musical score by two musicians. Isn’t it easy to distinguish between the playing of Yo-Yo Ma—and any other cellist alive, no matter how accomplished?
None of this answers the original question, however, but just brings me back to it. If two pianists are equally good, yet different, I still don’t know whether that difference is because of their own contributions, or solely because different facets of God are on display through them. If Yo-Yo Ma is a better cellist than other cellists (and I think it is so), is that difference really Yo-Yo Ma himself? Or is it the genius of the divine working through him?
This is where Dorothy would jump in.
Update June 5, 2019:
Since I initially wrote this post over a year ago, I have continued to think about these ideas. I wanted to update this post to share an incremental development in my thinking about this.
I want to give credit to Gene Edwards’ book The Divine Romance (Tyndale House Publishers, 1993) for articulating a concept—about God reaching into himself to draw from his own essence the substance from which he created humanity—that helped me crystallize this thought and put it into words.
Because I am made of unique parts of God’s essence, my work is neither entirely of my own making, nor (by his choice) only of God’s; it is both. When, as a writer living for God, I write differently than another writer who is also living for God, the distinction between our work (hers and mine) represents that area where the essence of God in her is a different portion of his essence than the portion of the essence of God in me. We are both made in the image of God and are of the essence of God, but we were drawn by him from different parts of his substance.
I look forward to seeing how God continues to develop my thinking on this topic, since it is of special interest to me. And I look forward to hearing your comments.