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The puzzle of creative infidels

Faith & Inspiration

When Larry Norman was inventing Christian rock back in the 1970s, he sang, “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” Have you noticed that while all beauty and order come from God, many of the great human works—the creative elaboration of the wonders God has hidden in the fabric of His creation—are the works of people who neither know Him nor love Him? Why does good creativity happen to bad people?

Think of the glories of Greek antiquity. Their magnificent sculptures and colonnaded buildings were often dedicated to wicked idols. The arabesque inlays of Islamic architecture, the romantic symphonies of Beethoven, and the graceful elegance of Steve Jobs’ entire line of Apple products are glorious testimonies to the beauty and goodness of the Creator by people who applied their talent to establishing rival accounts of God and His world.

This should not surprise us. In the first chapter of Genesis, God gave Adam and his descendents the “creation mandate” (also called the “cultural mandate”) to take dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). God gave man a good and fruitful world, but man for his part was to out the full potential of that creation not only through agriculture but also through the industrial arts, fine arts, philosophy, and all manner of culture-making activity.

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But the surprising development in Genesis 4 is that the first people to give themselves fruitfully to those labors were not in the righteous line of Seth, but the ungodly line of Cain. Indeed, their dear old dad was Lamech, the murderous megalomaniac who was the first bigamist and yet who gave us the first recorded poem in the Bible. The sons of this brute originate music, metallurgy, architecture, and animal husbandry. The godly, by contrast, start calling on the name of the Yahweh. That is, they turned their attention to deepening their worship life (4:26).

I draw three lessons for this insight. First, dominance of a cultural field by the ungodly is no reflection of the legitimacy of that field for Christian endeavor. The Lamechites were a sign of God’s superabounding mercy on His human creation, and we still have much to gain, by God’s common grace, from the treasures of wisdom, art, and invention to be found among those who are ignorant of Scripture and strangers to Christ.

Second, we should first give ourselves to the improvement of our souls and taking hold of God firmly in love if we are to develop those cultural enterprises as God most fully intends them, i.e., with Christian understanding and loving application.

Finally, I find it remarkable that, though I have been attending faithful churches with robust expository pulpits for 30 years, I have only now come to understand the import of these texts. Never think you can lay aside the Scriptures because you “know” them. You don’t. Read and read again. And again. As the ancient Gregory said, the Scriptures are a stream in which an elephant may swim and a lamb may wade.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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