A Theology of Expression

Some people have a problem with being thankful. I am not one of those people.

I thank God for things all the time. But I am not one of those irrational people who thanks God for everything – like inventing cars, or soda, or diabetic socks, or bacon. God didn’t invent those things, stupid people. But I usually pray a prayer of thanksgiving every time I eat a peanut butter sandwich that goes something like this: “God, thank you for creating the man who invented peanut butter.” Now, you might say that is George Washington Carver, but you’d be doubly wrong. So, maybe I have to retract my statement about bacon, but the rest still stands.

I’m so glad that God has inspired so many men and women to think, invent, and create.

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can cause a person to paint a picture, write a song, develop an invention, or pen Scripture. All forms of expression come from some form of inspiration. The key to discovering a great form of expression is to look at the inspiration. God is the highest form of inspiration there is. He is the Creator of the whole universe – from the stars in the sky to the fleas on a dog. Every night when I walk into my house, I look up at those stars and am continually reminded at how inspiring God is.

Just like you can look at a great painting and see the heart of the artist, you can look at the heart of mankind and see the hand of God. You can look at Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and see the love of God. You can see the conquest of Joshua and see the wrath of God. You read the Psalms and see how God inspires man. The Bible itself is another example of God inspiring man – in more ways than one.

Expression is only as good as the inspiration behind it. If your inspiration is temporary, if it is fleeting, if it can fail you, your expression loses significance. People who don’t live in an area where there are peanuts probably don’t care for the inspiration behind peanut butter. People who write songs about sex or drugs or money don’t create inspiration. But songs and paintings can be temporary or about current situations in time and still hold eternal significance depending on the inspiration. Great expression always inspires. It’s contagious.

My pastor said a few weeks ago that the gospel isn’t centered on expressing oneself but denying oneself. This is one of those statements though with a paradoxical twist – it is only when denying themselves that people can truly express themselves. If God is the highest form of inspiration, the highest form of expression comes through Him. This can be heard in Handel’s Messiah, seen in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or experienced while walking through a park on a nice day.

A great thing about expression is it speaks about and to its inspiration regardless of how explicit that mention might be. There are some great worship songs out there that are glorifying and directly speak to God’s character. Then there are those songs that speak through metaphor or situations to point to spiritual and godly truths. I think one of the disasters today of the Christian music industry is its forcefulness of the inclusion of God. People love NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot because their expression isn’t forced; it is fluid and it is natural.

One of my favorite songs of all-time is called “John Wayne Gacy Jr” by Sufjan Stevens. In the song, Stevens talks about one of the most prolific serial killers to ever live. The song is disgusting and it leaves the listener feeling sickened as the song progresses. In the heart, the listener feels how wretched this killer was. Then in the last line of the song, Stevens says: “In reality, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

There it is.

What a phenomenal song to express the fallen nature of mankind and to show the morality engraved in the hearts of man to feel sickened by evil. It is something I loved about the show Breaking Bad. No show in the history of television has painted such a vivid picture of right and wrong. This is the key to great expression. This is a key that opens many doors and leads the artist down many corridors. This is the key that allows one to think outside the box, outside of themselves, and potentially outside their present reality.

What inspires you?

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Robbery. Redemption. Wrath.

I remember standing in front of my audience getting ready to start my sermon. It was the first opportunity I had to preach since being at my internship, and I didn’t want to take it for granted. My audience was a group of juvenile delinquents at a nearby corrections facility. I was ready to proclaim to them the Good News (what the Bible calls “the Gospel”).

The funny thing about “good news” is that in order for good news to exist, bad news must exist as well. I was reminded this last week when CBC had a lecture series on the love and wrath of God. To say the lectures were phenomenal would be an understatement! Our professors explained how God’s wrath was his response to sin, and that the opposite of love isn’t hate but indifference. Wrath is God’s permanent dispensation towards sin – though he is also merciful and patient with those who are sinners. A loving God can do nothing else but hate sin.

We can’t fully understand God’s love unless we first understand His judgment.

It isn’t until we realize that we cannot do anything to reconcile ourselves back to God that we realize the price that Christ paid through his death on the cross. It isn’t until we are able to grasp the full measure of our sin that we fully understand how amazing it is that the transcendent God of the cosmos came to the earth as a babe and died a murderer’s death for a crime he didn’t commit.

It isn’t until we fully comprehend the bad news that we can fully appreciate the good news.

When I preached my sermon that day to those delinquents I was preaching to the choir. I shared with them the story of my own life. I had attended church for a while as a teenager, but I didn’t see a need to be saved. It was as though I didn’t see myself as depraved – but as a “good person.” A few months later I was arrested with a group of my friends for breaking into a house. It was at that moment that I realized the “bad news” as it was being allegorized in my life. I remember just sitting on the sectional in my family’s living room crying, feeling the burden of my disappointment and unworthiness. I let my friends and family down. And I realized that I had been letting God down as well – not just with this run-in with the law but also with my everyday life.

I mark that day as the day I decided to repent and follow Christ. The date was August 31, 2003.

Take time today to remember that you have sinned, and that you deserve nothing but God’s wrath and judgment. Whether you gossip, lie, steal, or you’re just a hater – all sinners are going to be held-accountable one day for their insurgences. That is the bad news.

But the Good News is this: Jesus came and died – taking the full force of God’s wrath as he hung from the cross. We have justification, reconciliation, and redemption through him. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”