Continuing our thoughts on beauty in art and in nature, I’d like to share with you a second parable:
A father had two sons, both about five or six years old. One day he decided to buy them a gift and got each of them a pack of clean, crispy-white construction paper and a box of crayons with colors from “robin’s egg blue” to “sunglow”.
The first son thanked his dad for the gift and put the paper and crayons on a high shelf to prevent anything from happening to them. The second son tore open the package of paper and at once started to draw and sketch.
Years later, when his sons had gone to college, the father found his gift to his first son: the paper perfect and crisp in its unopened package, the crayons perfectly formed and uniformly aligned in their box without so much as a scratch. In his second son’s room he found, now long forgotten somewhere in a dresser, a few sheets of construction paper wrinkled and bent after so many years—and no sign of the crayons except for a broken stump in the corner of a drawer. The father picked up the papers and looked at the drawings, most featuring stick-men from so many years back. And, with tears in his eyes, the last picture he saw was entitled “Me & My Dad”.
Question: which of the two “finished products” is more beautiful? Well, for anyone besides the dad, the answer would probably be the first. I mean, the paper is perfect, there’s order and harmony… Yet for the dad, it’s the second son’s work—badly done or not—that means everything to him. That picture will stay in his heart forever (if not on his office wall).
And so here we make a huge jump. We can compare the father with God and consider the paper and crayons he’s given us as nature. In Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve to subdue the earth, gives them authority over nature. Now since God’s God, what he considers more beautiful, is more beautiful. Period. So here we encounter the mystery of grace: that God allows us to help make his creation more beautiful, fallen and weak though we are.
So when we say that art can be more beautiful than nature, we aren’t setting them up in competition, but saying that one completes the other.
In a previous article I mentioned now Tolkien considered art (specifically, stories) as “sub-creation.” Does this seem an exaggeration? Not so much when we consider that the work of redemption is a much greater work than creation—it’s the new creation! Through grace God invites us to participate with him in the work of redemption, to “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24) Now if through some incredible grace-filled calling of God we can help him in the work of redemption, in bringing about the new heaven and the new earth, it seems that perhaps art is a way of helping God in his work of creation.
Photo Credit: Corrie vanKampen