Love God, Love Neighbor, Live Fully, Be Creative
The phrase “human flourishing” seems to be a buzzword among scholars these days. Paraphrased from Saint Irenaeus, “the glory of God is the human fully alive.” Jesus put it this way: “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 MSG). If the “good life” brings glory to God and is a gift from Jesus, it sounds like this is something all Christians should want to pursue!
I think it’s important to clarify the connection between human flourishing and living the Gospel life. Human flourishing includes living a life of meaning, purpose, connection, and underlying joy. It means human happiness and holistic human health – physical, mental, and spiritual. But human fulfillment must be tethered to glorifying God, otherwise our self-endeavors are empty. What gives life to the Christian? What makes the Christian fully alive? For some it’s leading another to faith in Christ; for another it’s taking in the beauty of God’s creation; for another it’s succeeding in business while treating others with fairness and equity; for another it’s coming up with new ideas and innovations. There are a million ways a Christian can feel fully alive, but they boil down to loving God and loving neighbor. To order our lives in ways that glorify God and love the neighbor, the ones whom God has placed in our path, is the simplest of human flourishing because it focuses us not on ourselves but on the bigger story of humanity happening around us. While self-growth can lead us to a deeper understanding of our place in the story, we will atrophy if we stay there.
Humans have been given the gift of creating – it’s one of the blessings of being made in the image of the Creator God. One of the ways humans can live fully alive is to use that gift through artistic expression. Creating “art” can include a variety of creations. Merriam-Webster defines it as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.” On that note, I’d like to propose a few ideas for why artistic expression is important for the human flourishing of Christians.
- The act of creating gives purpose and meaning. Humans need to feel purpose in their lives and assign meaning to their daily activities. Artistic expression gives a sense of contribution to the world and realization of the self to, in turn, share self with the world. Art helps us ascribe meaning by turning thoughts and ideas into something that can be shared and last. For Christians, we find purpose in living the Gospel, and meaning in our relationship with God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Art allows the filtering of this purpose and meaning into something to be shared with the world.
- Art encourages relationship. Art is a relationship between the artist and the artist, and the artist and the viewer. We do not create in isolation, nor do we flourish in isolation. Everything is connected. Art allows Christians to form a relationship between the worldview of the viewer and their own worldview, centered on the desire to glorify God.
- Art reveals the desires of the heart. Humans feel seen and heard when someone else recognizes and names their desires. Art allows the artist to express their inner thoughts and needs. For Christians, a love for and desire to follow Jesus lives at the heart of the self, so artistic expression can help us identify and share those desires of the heart.
- Art can help bring a feeling or idea to fulfillment. Sometimes putting an idea on paper helps its development or completion. Art gives ideas a place to be expressed and can sometimes be a place of finality, where that feeling or idea can be explored and then put to rest. An important aspect of human flourishing for Christians is the recognition that God is enough. God’s love and grace and mercy, and Scripture, are enough to provide meaning, purpose, connection, and joy, now and forever. The artist can explore this idea of the “enough-ness” of God through art and decide on this purposeful direction for life.
- Art can point to the day of re-creation. The true fullness of glory and the true flourishing of humans will not happen until the day the earth and all creation are reconciled to God. Christian artists help us envision that day by prophetically casting a vision for what it might look (or sound, or taste, or smell, or feel) like.
In my opinion, it is right for the Christian to long for human flourishing when anchored in the biblical and theological sense of loving God, loving neighbor, living fully, and being creative. Now go forth and create!