May 2017 – The Art and the Artist of Creation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said “Let there be light,” and there was light.  (Genesis 1:1-3, New International Version)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was an empty waste, with darkness over the face of the deep, and God’s breath sweeping over the face of the water. But God said “Light!” And light came into being. (Genesis 1:1-3, Genesis for Everyone Translation)

God has created all creation. And from the beginning, God’s grand work of creation is translated and interpreted. Much as bible translators must always make choices in the words they use to translate the original Hebrew words of Genesis into English (or into any other language), so we all make choices as we interpret creation. What do we see, hear, feel, smell and sense most in creation, any given moment, any given day? How do we interpret what we see and hear and feel? (Is this a miserable rainy cold day? Or a cool but welcome gentle Spring rain?) Close friends and family members can often interpret the same day’s weather differently…

Bible translators generally attempt either word-by-word translation (called formal translation) or thought-by-thought translation (known as dynamic translation). Both approaches have merit. Most contemporary translations seek a balance between these two basic approaches, but judgement calls are always necessary. For example, the original Hebrew language of Genesis lacks punctuation – so every comma, question mark, period or exclamation point is always a translator’s judgement call. Excellent translators working within the same basic formal and/or dynamic translation approach will often translate the same Hebrew words differently (as we can see in the two translations of the first three verses of Genesis above). And most bible translators are comfortable using more than one good translation of the bible.

And leaving aside for now consideration of scientific study of creation… Except to say science is a gift from God and science is a necessary part of life in this age and I can even picture God as the original Scientist of creation… But when I think of God and creation, I think mostly of God the Artist. God the Performance Artist, who sings forth creation, as vividly imagined by CS Lewis in his Narnia Chronicles. God, the Visual Artist, who sketches, paints, draws, and sculpts creation, day by day, aeon by aeon…

Probably I’m thinking of God as Artist lately especially because our family visited Boston’s Museum of Fine Art last week. We saw a special exhibit of the work of the French artist Henri Matisse, famous for his creative mastery of color and form, well-known also for his working with  every day items – a vase, a pot, a pitcher, a bowl, a chair. Matisse would draw or paint these items surrounding a person or a view of nature seen through a window – using his collection of well-loved items to frame, reveal, or draw attention to a person or some aspect of a person or persons… Other times, humans appear to be more like the background, with these familiar objects of life as the foreground. Either way, Matisse took care and delight in each part of his compositions. Which is how I picture God working.

I picture God designing creation day by day, moment by moment, age by age, giving close attention to the design of not just sea and sky, sun, moon, stars and planets, but also every limb, branch, leaf, flower and fruit of every plant, every tree… The same careful attention given to fish, birds, and animals as God gives finally to humans made in the image-of-God…

I’ve been thinking of God’s care for the whole of God’s creation, remembering how, another day last week, we watched large pods of right whales at Race Point, rolling, blowing, feeding, playing… People were all around us watching with us, many with binoculars… And for a few hours that day, we humans were all in the background – whales were the center of attention… And by the time we picked up and moved on I was thinking of how that Very Big Sea-creature that swallowed the reluctant prophet may be the real hero of the book of Jonah…

I’m fascinated with this idea of God as Artist… Fascinated with the idea of God trying out different angles of vision and perspective… Showing us creation first from a panoramic roll-out seven-stories-within-the-one-story sequential view… Showing us all the plants and trees that bear seed and fruit with seed in them, in the beginning, with God seeing it is good before there are any humans around to see (Genesis 1:11-13). Then God the Word-Artist showing it all again from another angle (Genesis 2:4-9) – now with the first gardener already in place, even before the first azaleas and rhododendrons have been given – our first ancestor is plunked down, ready to plant, prune and transplant… A parable perhaps? Who knows where all punctuation properly belongs in this twice-told-tale of creation? Who, of course, but God?

For as Author-and-Artist of all, God (like even good earthling artists) does not need anyone’s permission to tell the story from any number of angles… But God simplifies and sketches with broad strokes and paints in bold colors for our sakes… Hoping we’ll keep reading… Looking… Listening… Hoping, as the story continues… we’ll notice the big picture even in the smallest details… For our Creator’s love and wisdom is always there for all to see… God’s blessings always present for us to notice…

The grace and peace of our risen Savior be with you,

Pastor Tim