(Originally Posted at A Clear Lens)
Creativity and art give us permission and confidence to embody our faith. The themes, metaphors and anthropomorphic visions of God in the Book of Job demonstrate a timeless aesthetic (not to mention its rather contemporary-sounding sarcasm), which is why studying a book like Job is beneficial for Christian creatives today.
Specifically, what can creatives learn from this ancient story? Among many others, here is one large, overarching lesson in fusing theology with creativity:
Suffering Points to Transcendence
Our creativity must maintain the tension of living in a fallen world. Life doesn’t pan out like the black-and-white model of justice that Job’s three friends held (4:7-9; 11:13-20; 18:5-21). Bad things happen to good people and the wicked prosper.
Sure, Job was doubly blessed in the end (42:12-17), but this is no prosperity gospel that preaches earthly rewards for faith. First, if it was, he would’ve never suffered since he was a man of strong faith (1:1). Second, his reward was a “restoration” (42:10) that came after repentance (1-6). But most importantly, his earthly wealth was incidental to the true reward of knowing God (42:5) and his transcendence (2-3).
Most people in the midst of suffering want someone to speak into their suffering. They don’t necessarily want platitudes about how much heaven will be worth it. That’s why our creativity must not be afraid to linger in the difficulties of evil and suffering.
This is what happens in Job. The writer puts Job and his interlocutors (his three friends and Elihu) through an intense dialogue that spans 34 chapters (88% of the text). The writer lingers on the topic of suffering, debating God’s righteousness and human ethics, doing so from a human perspective with varying theological interpretations (a fact that will always be relevant).
When making the story more human, as in the case with Job, audiences can relate to the theological questions involved. For instance, like Job, we inevitably wonder why it even pays to be good if God allows evil to come to all anyway (9:29).
Paradoxically, while firmly planting our perspective in the human, the writer of Job guides us heavenward. Bound by space-time, we all must endure suffering as it comes. Like Job, we can’t escape our limitations, which makes us yearn to transcend them. And like every one of us, Job is never given access to transcendence. All he can do is pine for it. Even when God confronts him, it is to his humanity that God directs Job’s attention (38:3; 40:7).
Peculiarly similar to the Ancient One’s tour of the multiverse in Doctor Strange, God takes Job on an imaginative tour of the cosmos. This climax leaves the audience in humble awe as God takes us to the limits of our finiteness (compare with Isa. 55:9). With such anthropomorphic metaphors of God, we are forced to put our human selves into the shoes of the Divine and see ourselves as He does. In other words, metaphors of God equip our imaginations to visualize our limits.
What we as Christian creatives can learn from this is to aim for an existential yearning for “the things of God” by emphasizing our weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9) and mysteries of life. Elihu, the last human interlocutor (32-37), invited Job and his three friends to consider broadening their narrow conceptions of God–realizing how suffering doesn’t contradict the goodness of God. Elihu may not have known what God knows, but he understood that God transcends human knowledge (36:3, 22-25) and that He works through suffering (36:5-16). Indeed, he claims suffering ought to motivate us to search for God (35:9-11) if we’re willing to come to Him in humility (35:12)
We as creatives must not be afraid of lingering on the pain, for it is through the pain that our hope rises (see Rom. 5:3-4). When our creative pursuits honestly concentrate on suffering, we encourage people to “dig deeper” and imagine how the sovereignty of God is capable of working evil for good (8:28; 11:33-34).
But what about the apologetic answers to the Problem of Evil? Is not intellectual peace the gateway to existential peace?
Perhaps that’s sometimes the case, but if our intellect serves what we worship, and we worship anything other than God, then our intellect will fight for a reason to reject Him. That’s why the hope of the Gospel must speak to our entire essence, not just our minds. Yes, some may require more intellectual reasons than others, but the call of Jesus remains the same: “Come to me and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
He didn’t say: “I will answer your questions so you can live your life with intellectual satisfaction.”
The writer of Job, likewise, responds to the problem of evil and suffering with God Himself, leaving intellectual questions unanswered for the sake of existential peace:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3)
In conclusion, I admonish Christian creatives everywhere to strengthen their craft in this way. Art targets the depths and limits of humanity, which is where God often speaks clearest. Wherever our creative impulse is employed, we would be wise to study the Book of Job and imitate how this ancient writer takes characters through the quagmire of suffering to arouse hope. Let us likewise encourage imaginations to visualize God’s restoration of our fallen world.