Sunday, August 13, 2006
Participating in Paradise: For the Glory of God
Photo credit: thanks to LutheranChik (gardener and bloomblogger among other things), a photo of phlox, used by her kind permission.
Creating a vision of paradise is not reserved for the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. All kinds of people participate in bringing paradise to their corner of the world. Gardeners -- and bloombloggers -- do what they can to demonstrate the beauty of God in the world. Cooks do what they can to re-create the feast of paradise. Needleworkers and painters and artists of all types recognize the paradise hidden in various places in the world. Home decorating, gardening, cooking -- at their best, all show evidence of the human hunger for paradise. And a quiet place where someone offers gladness, love and acceptance is a paradise of its own sort. God's act of creation is the inspiration for our own acts of creation. Our desire for beauty is desire for God, and for paradise is for fellowship with God.
Over the past few posts in this series I've mentioned some of the famous figures of our culture -- great artists and authors -- who have shown us a vision of paradise. To some extent, these people earned their reputation precisely because they have shown us paradise. It takes a soul of depth and breadth, along with mastery of the artistic medium, to make a believable and desirable paradise against the backdrop of some of the dark realities of this world. Some see the vision of paradise as escapism, others as nourishment. At any rate, it is refusing to let those dark realities dominate our minds and dispel our hopes; it is refusing to let those dark realities dominate the world in which we live. For the rest of us, our homespun attempts at paradise are modest enough. But they are a small measure of Eden, a foretaste of the feast to come and a measure now of the fellowship we will share. These expressions of paradise in our lives are living extensions of our faith and hope. Seeing paradise awakens love for God and for each other and in turn expresses this love again. It sustains us through difficult times. We each participate in some way with our own lives.
As a closing thought, I'd suggest that one reason the Christian authors, artists, and musicians have been among the most creative in the world is that the vision of paradise is completely at home in Christian studies, Christian thought, and Christian hope. This same vision of paradise has spread further throughout the world because of these masters of their craft, and more desire for paradise has been opened up in other lands. It is a legitimate way to let our light shine before the world so that people may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. "Good works" is usually taken to mean morally good, and "morally good" is often restricted to the dry ground of being ethically praiseworthy. But considering Christian artwork opens up new territory, more fertile and creative ground, on our "good work" causing others to glorify God. As C.S. Lewis once said he thought before his conversion to Christianity, he'd rather read Christian authors: they may be wrong (he thought at the time), but everyone else is boring.
This is the final post of the Visions of Paradise series. Starting next Sunday I will begin a series on moderns in our culture who commit their lives to service to the needy, showing the Kingdom of God on earth through compassion to the fallen. This is for people like myself struggling hard to find a way to grow in service. While I will not make much of the point in the future series, there is a connection between the visions of paradise and service. The vision of paradise is bringing God home to a corner of the world where paradise triumphs; it follows God's lead in creation. The work of service is bringing God home to a corner of the world where paradise has all but disappeared; it is following Christ's lead in redemption.
Previous in the Visions of Paradise series:
Children's Literature: C.S. Lewis' Narnia; F.H. Burnett's Secret Garden
Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece
Sacred Art Established Under the Sinai Covenant