The Mind of Christ in His World: Part 2 (5)
And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Acts 10.13-15
A proper lens
Peter would undoubtedly still be sitting somewhere scratching his head over the vision sent to him by God were it not for one thing: God provided an explanatory text to help the apostle understand His meaning.
As Peter would come to understand completely, the words of the Lord instructing him to eat unclean foods, and advising him that these had all been made clean, explained the vision as a whole, and freed him to enter the home of a Gentile and preach Christ to him.
Art and other forms of culture can serve the purposes of truth when we are grounded in God’s revelation. To gain the benefit for the sound mind art and culture can offer, the revelation of God in Scripture is essential. It provides the lens through which we make sense of everything else (Ps. 36.9). The better we understand God’s Word, the more we’ll be able to appreciate, and grow from, all manner of works of art and culture. This is especially true of those works of art deriving from the Christian tradition.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins, the 19th century English poet, understood this truth quite well. We often find in his poems direct links to images, thoughts, and even quotes from Scripture. These remind us that Hopkins’ insight derives from the Word of God and can only be fully understood when we read his poems in that light. He may be using an ordinary, everyday image to communicate his meaning, but he will surround that image with so much Biblical allusion that getting our minds around his point is not difficult. And once we get his point, the image used to convey that point makes a permanent stamp in our minds, and stretches them in the direction of the mind of Christ.
Consider what is perhaps Hopkins’ best-known poem, “God’s Grandeur”:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God” declares the opening line, as if echoing Psalm 19.1-4. That transcendent beauty is visible on every hand. It flares or oozes out at us from many quarters. Yes, people, by their sinful employments, have lost sight of that glory, and have damaged the creation. But there is always hope of seeing the glory of God in it, for the creation every day renews itself afresh. Why? Hopkins explains in the concluding lines: “Because the Holy Ghost over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings” (cf. Gen. 1.1, 2; Ps. 104.27-30).
Hopkins develops an essential Biblical idea in a concise sonnet to remind us of our calling as caretakers, with the Lord Himself, of the vast creation (Gen. 1.26-28). Here, indeed, is art in the service of truth to bring soundness and understanding to our minds.
Exercising the mind through the world
Jesus was the Master of using everyday objects, cast into stories, as vehicles of truth. His use of coins, farms and farmers, plants, animals, kings, businessmen, seeds, fields, and more challenged people to think about profound ideas according to familiar, everyday objects and situations. This would have had a double effect. First, it would have helped make difficult ideas such as the Kingdom of God more readily accessible to the minds of schooled and unschooled people alike. Second, it would have set a prompt in people’s thinking which, when they saw those objects at other times, would recall the truth Jesus taught.
Poets like William Cowper, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wendell Berry, and Richard Wilbur are adept at taking everyday objects and suffusing them with mind-expanding truth, by connecting them with Biblical teaching or imagery. Their poetry has the double benefit of helping us to see familiar truths in a new light, and of connecting truths and ideas with everyday objects, so that, when we encounter those objects during the day, our minds can be stirred for thanksgiving all over again.
Christian artists in every genre and every generation have understood that Biblical ideas connected with art can make deep and lasting impressions on how and what we think. By drawing on God’s Word and encouraging us to use Scripture as our interpretive lens, Christian artists guide us in nurturing a sound mind for benefiting from all kinds of art and culture.
1. Take five minutes and jot down as many everyday items or situations you can think of that Jesus used to teach about the Kingdom of God:
2. Take one of those items and explain how Jesus suffused it with mind-expanding truth to enlarge our thinking about the Kingdom of God:
3. Look around you, right where you are. Choose one item in your purview and think about how you might use that item to explain the Kingdom of God to someone. Jot down your thoughts.
Next steps – Conversation: Using the item you focused on in question 3, talk with a Christian friend today about how this item helps you think about the Kingdom of God. Explain how you connect this item with the teaching of Scripture.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.