1.3 The Tendency of Art for Good and Evil

1.3 The Tendency of Art for Good or Evil

By Jonathan Martinovici

Copyright © Jonathan Martinovici 2018

In the preceding session, I made the two following points, among others:

  • Art should not make what pleases God seem displeasing.
  • Art should not make what displeases God seem pleasing.

Without dwelling much on either of these points, I implied that art in fact can make Good seem Evil and make Evil seem Good, or at least can tend to do so. I derived these points from two Bible passages: 2 Peter 2:12-13 and Isaiah 5:20. (These two Bible passages are quoted in the third point of the previous session, “3 .God’s word condemns speaking evil of what pleases God, and condemns speaking well of what displeases God.“)

In today’s session, we focus on more of the Biblical material that specifically states that certain uses of art (that is, communication) can indeed have the tendency to either make Good appear Good and make Evil appear Evil, and that it can also have the tendency to make Good appear Evil and make Evil appear Good. We will consider that God’s creation, as designed by Him, is said by Scripture to reveal God and to reveal Good as Good and to reveal Evil as Evil. Then we will consider implications for creaturely communication and consider Biblical material on it.

The line of argument I will pursue is as follows, and will be supported with Scripture quotations all throughout:

Outline of this session:

  1. God made the universe.
  2. The universe therefore reflects, reveals and conforms to His character and nature, similarly as our actions reflect, reveal and conform to our character and nature.
  3. The universe thus reflects, and thus reveals, what pleases God; and the contrary displeases God.
  4. Thus, the universe reveals what is Good and Evil, since what pleases God is Good because God is Good.
  5. The contrary of the universe (“against nature”), as created by God, is Evil.
  6. The universe, as God created it, has a certain form/distribution of parts (its parts are distributed accord as God intended). This distribution, as it came from God’s “hand”, reveals God’s pleasure and displeasure clearly, and makes clear the distinction between Good and Evil.
  7. Creatures capable of choice are able to re-distribute the universe in ways which either continue to clearly distinguish Good and Evil, or in a way that makes the distinction less obvious, or even makes Good seem Evil and Evil Good.

 

  1. God made the universe.

Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

  1. The universe therefore reflects, reveals and conforms to His character and nature, similarly as our actions reflect, reveal and conform to our character and nature.

Romans 1:18-32, “[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, [19] because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. [20] For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…[32] who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

In the passage above we find it asserted that all human beings know the following:

  • God is a Spirit, for He is said to have wrath, which is an attribute of persons and not of material things.
  • God’s character includes wrath.
  • God’s wrath is against human beings for particular kinds of acts and dispositions: namely, because of their ungodliness and unrighteousness. (Ungodliness can at least be said to mean that they are contrary to God and to God’s character and nature, in the various ways I have articulated this in previous sessions.)
  • God’s invisible attributes.
  • God’s eternal power and Godhead.
  • God’s righteous judgement, that is, His moral requirement.
  • God is righteous.
  • God is the final judge and will punish that which deserves death.
  • All sin deserves death.
  1. The universe thus reflects, and thus reveals, what pleases God; and the contrary displeases God.

Romans 1:32, “who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

God’s judgement is righteous. God judges that certain things are deserving of death. In that people know this righteous judgement of God, they know what pleases God, and what displeases Him and what He therefore punishes.

  1. Thus, the universe reveals what is Good and Evil, since what pleases God is Good because God is Good.

Romans 1:32, “who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death…”

God’s judgement is righteous, and therefore good.

  1. The contrary of the universe (“against nature”), as created by God, is Evil.

Romans 1:26-27, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. [27] Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

In creating the world, God had a particular intention for how things were meant to behave, including how human beings were to conduct themselves sexually and what they were designed to desire sexually. The contrary of this intention of God is “against nature”. It accords neither with the commandment of God, nor with the nature of human beings as rational beings.

  1. The universe, as God created it, has a certain form/distribution of parts (its parts are distributed accord as God intended). This distribution, as it came from God’s “hand”, reveals God’s pleasure and displeasure clearly, and makes clear the distinction between Good and Evil.

The first statement above needs no specific Scripture proof. God’s word, from beginning to end, describes the variety in the universe, and says that no single created thing is everywhere, but there are countless numbers of different things in different places, filling up the universe.

The second statement above is proven in the passages given for the preceding points. I merely include this point here as a matter of clarification and explanation.

  1. Creatures capable of choice are able to re-distribute the universe (re-arrange material objects in space) in ways which either continue to clearly distinguish Good and Evil, or in a way that makes the distinction less obvious, or even to reverse the definition.

A. This is what Satan did in the garden to our first parents, Adam and Eve. “the serpent by his craftiness/subtlety”, etc. This was done through use of words primarily.

Genesis 3:1-6, “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” [2] And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; [3] but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'” [4] Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” [6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that is was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”

In verse 4, the serpent says either (1) that God lies, and therefore God is not a God of truth; (2) that God is malicious, and that there is therefore a standard of absolute perfection and Goodness outside of God; or (3) that God did not mean to be taken seriously in His commandment, and that, therefore, Eve misunderstood the nature of Goodness by misunderstanding God. It may be that Satan intended his own speech to have all three of these effects. What is certain is that Satan was crafty, and that his speech had at least some of these effects on the mind of Eve, and that therefore the point is proven, that creatures can re-distribute the universe in ways that make the difference between Good and Evil to appear less clearly, or to make Good appear Evil and Evil appear Good. When I say, “re-distribute”, I mean that creatures – such as ourselves – can change our own position in the physical universe, or the position of other objects in the universe. We especially have control over our own bodies in various ways. The control which Satan exerted over the serpent’s body regarded speech, the use of words, vibrations in the air which are symbols, etc.

2 Corinthians 11:3-4, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted – you may well put up with it!”

Some understanding, cleverness, “craftiness”, subtlety, is involved in what the serpent did. Some kinds of verbal communication have the power to “corrupt” the mind and poison it against what is good. This power is also attributed to the words of false preachers in the passage quoted above.

B. God’s word says that certain uses of words have the tendency to make clear the distinction between Good and Evil, and to make Good appear, as it is, pleasing, and to make Evil appear, as it is, displeasing.

Proverbs 1:1-6, “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment, and equity; To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion – A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, To understand a proverb and an enigma, The words of the wise and their riddles.”

The above quotation is the opening to the book of Proverbs, which states the purpose of the book. It states that the purpose of the book is to make one wise and to understand what is Just and Equitable, and to train its reader in Discretion. This assumes that words can have this tendency.

1 Timothy 6:3-5, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.”

In the passage above, certain words are said to be “wholesome”, which are the “words of our Lord Jesus Christ” who is perfect, and to “accord with godliness”. Other words, on the contrary, are said to generate “envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings”, and are said to arise from “corrupt minds” which are “destitute of the truth”, and are said to arise from a hear that is set on worldly gain. We are instructed to withdraw ourselves from such people. Thus, manners of speech are not equal, and are subject to moral evaluation. Some are Good and others are Evil.

2 Timothy 3:14-17, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

God has communicated with us in written words as from His own mouth (“by inspiration of God” literally means, “God-breathed” in the original Greek) which are suitable to our understanding, and which have a good tendency, for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, and to make us thoroughly equipped for every good work. This tendency is here ascribed to words.

C. God’s word says that certain uses of words have the tendency to render unclear the distinction between Good and Evil, and to make Good appear Evil and displeasing, and to make Evil appear Good and pleasing. The Scripture condemns such uses of words.

Proverbs 7:1, “My son, keep my words, And treasure my commands within you. [2] Keep my commands and live, And my law as the apple of your eye. [3] Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart. . . [5] That they may keep you from the immoral woman, From the seductress who flatters with her words. . . [21] With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, With her flattering lips she seduced him. . .[27] Her house is the way to hell, Descending to the chambers of death.”

In the passage above, two kinds of speech are contrasted to each other: (1) the words of the proverb writer, and (2) the words of the seductress. The words of the proverb writer are said to lead to life (“keep my words/commands and live”), and the words of the seductress are said to lead to death and hell. It said of the seductress that “With her enticing speech she caused him to yield”, so that there is some causality attributed to her words. Thus, the Scripture attributes causality towards Good and Evil to words. Words are said to have power over the minds of men, to tend to make Good appear Evil to them, and to tend to make Evil appear Good to them.

Jude 16, “These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.”

In this passage, false teachers are referred to as mouthing “great swelling words” which have the tendency to flatter people to gain advantage. This tendency is attributed to the words uttered.

D. God’s word says that Good and Evil can become more clearly distinguished in our minds through the study of God’s word and the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 5:14; Proverbs 1:4-6 -presupposes the possibility of growing more distinct in our perception of good and evil. Also Psalm 19:7b, “making wise the simple”).

Hebrews 5:14, “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

In this passage, there are people who are referred to as having grown in their ability to discern and distinguish good and evil. The expression, “solid food”, in this passage refers to a certain kind or degree of instruction which is unsuitable to some (referred to in the previous verse as those “unskilled in the word of righteousness” and such as partake “only of milk”). Thus, there is a kind of instruction to which not all people should be admitted, because it would be either completely lost on them or in some other way unprofitable to them; and yet this instruction has a place, that is, it is useful to those who have had sufficient preparation so that they can discern good from evil in the new instruction. This should not be taken as a defense of every kind of possible instruction. Scripture clearly teaches that some things are unprofitable at all time and sinful to expose ourselves to, because they are such heightened degrees of temptation that there can be no justification for willingly exposing ourselves to them. Nonetheless, an argument can be made here, that some kinds of art may be suitable to some, and unsuitable to others on whom they might simply be lost or some other way unprofitable.

This is one fact (D) that will begin to complicate our theory. There are some depictions of evil in Scripture which, if they were not Scripture, some of us would perhaps be ready to disapprove of and condemn. Yet these things were given to us by God for our edification. – Nonetheless, all Scripture was given for our edification, and we are to read it all, and not only these parts, otherwise we may well be led into evil, not seeing these things in their proper perspective, situated within the whole Bible.

Conclusions for the Arts:

We have seen, in a brief way, that at least the use of words – which is one art form – can have a tendency to lead our minds to see Good as Good, and Evil as Evil, and can also have a tendency to lead our minds to, contrary to nature, see Good as Evil, and Evil as Good.

There are many other Bible passages we could consult for the other art forms, but will need to leave a discussion of these until a later session, after we have given a Biblical account of the various kinds of art.

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