Another cliché. Christian writers always say they hope to praise God with their art. But some art made by Christians, frankly, doesn’t. We don’t agree on which is which. It’s such a difficult thing to tell what God is pleased by, isn’t it?
Actually, it’s not really.
Does the question come down to who knows God better? Or is it more a question of ourselves? Do you know what praising God with your art means for yourself, sitting at a keyboard in a dark room, full of voices no one else can hear?
Are you sure what you’re creating praises God? Is there some secret to it, praising with art?
One of my favorites, Katherine Paterson (author of Bridge to Terabithia), wrote that “you write the story as well and as truthfully as you can because that’s how you glorify God.” You can only be who God made you to be. You can only write what God gave you to write. You can only say what the world and human nature give you to say. You write as well and as truthfully as you can.
You praise in your own way. Praise God for your ability. Praise God for your opportunity. Praise him for the inspiration and the metaphor and the connections. Praise him for everything you get to do every day you wake up to a new day, with new hope, and still another chance to do something in the world. Praise him for your chance to be here, and for the love that taught you how to read, and appreciate books, and for the ones who spent the time investing in you and growing your dreams. Praise God for his influence on them and their influence on you. Praise him for your influence on others, what you have to do in the world with your voice and your choices, your own ideas about what makes the world so worthwhile.
You can praise him now with your life, and that will change your art. It will change you, praise God.
You might be skeptical. Think it won’t? Try it. It will. It will change you. And go ahead and do it for that reason if you have to, to be changed. God will change you anyway.
Just praise. Don’t think negative thoughts about stuff like this: When asked how informed Protestant ministers and laypeople see themselves in regard to 12 facets of today’s culture–books, music, sports, celebrities, television programs, politics, magazines, radio and TV talk shows, movies, the Internet, video and computer games, and clothing and fashion–a representative sample of 797 Protestant church ministers nationwide and a companion survey of 1,184 adults who attend Protestant churches at least once a month, not one of the 12 categories registered a majority of clergy or laity as very informed about culture
(study by LifeWay, one of the largest CBA store chains, of the Southern Baptist Convention).
You will find how to balance engaging with your culture and remaining set apart from it as you come to the table praising God. And it will happen, in part, because you won’t be looking at the problem of that balance directly. You’ll notice yourself interacting with the world and observing it more accurately while remaining distinct. And you’ll be more artistically relevant. You’ll portray more of the world more accurately. And you’ll find your voice.
This long-term debate among Christians about how much involvement with culture is inescapable, but it will not be a problem for you. Your involvement with culture and your observation of the world around you will be reflected in your art because you put God first. And you will find the balance, the answer for you.
And you won’t have to worry about what people think of that scene in chapter 13 that didn’t seem all that lovely. Or the protagonist’s lack of faith and susequent fall to temptation after that big, painful stuff in chapter 9. Because you’ll know that yes, that was a worshipful moment of inspiration. Flannery O’Connor says, “The novel is an art form and when you use it for anything other than art, you pervert it. Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.”
You are willing. You’ve proven that already. And where you are willing, God will work. So we must praise God, in the name of Jesus the storyteller, with borrowed words and ideas. It isn’t ours to craft and shape as we will any more than it is ours to choose not to live in the world around us. We live here, as writers, making choices about how accurately we will observe. Regardless, our art will reflect us. Therefore, it is our wills we must shape to fit.
And it starts with us. So let it start with us. Praise God.