Van Til famously said that culture was religion externalized, which simply means that how we view God (or the gods) determines the kind of culture that we build. Christianity is a liberating catalyst for full human thriving and this cultural freedom work is natural for those who worship the God who frees us from our many slaveries. As Fujimura suggests, generative people live out Isaiah 61:1-4 in their meditating, their planning, their preparation, and in the execution of their work. They remember that the Spirit of the Lord God is upon them because the Lord has anointed them to bring good news to the poor; he has sent generative people to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to open the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of God; to comfort all who mourn; to console those who mourn in Zion—-to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. All, so that they may be oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for his glorification. Generative people build up the ancient ruins, raise up the former devastations, and repair the devastations of many generations.
Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-4, of course, but he loves to use people like you and me for the liberating work of reclaiming and rebuilding. People who know what they are about and who keep that high vision at the forefront of their minds continue Christ’s work by incarnating beauty in all its mystery and wonder and ambiguity and depth. One of our purposes in life is to look for beauty, receive it as a gift from God, and steward it for the life of the world and for his glory. Our ability to image forth this beauty is not simply a divine gift, it is an act with divine magnitude. It is God’s name in us and at work through us to humanize a dehumanized people and draw them back to their maker. Hans Rookmaaker argued that Christ came to make us fully human, not simply Christians, so the Christian understands that the biblical view of liberation and humanization includes all people. For this reason, Christians humanize those around them and invite others into a more human life under the open sky of God’s grace. Beautiful work—whatever form it takes—humanizes and liberates.
One of my first memorable encounters with beauty made by a person was when I first noticed my mother’s cursive. I was struck by her smooth, looping line strokes. That beauty called to something deep inside me and beckoned. My mother may not have known it at the time, but she was offering beauty to anyone who happened to read her letter, including a six-year-old boy. Her cursive, not just the content of her letter, subtly beckoned her reader to a higher plane of existence. In some small and unnoticeable way, her cursive ennobled simply by its beauty.
Like my dear mother, we image forth the beauty of God in the little, often overlooked things we do every day. We will image forth that beauty in more and more ways as we become deeper, more reflective people who consider “the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:28) along with the broken cedars (Psalm 29:5) and the Leviathan (Job 41:1). Let us consider the frailty and mortality of man (Psalm 8:4) and behind all these, working in and through and among them, we will see the wondrous hand of God (Psalm 111:2). Then our cultureal work will be informed by this attention to God’s work in the world and serve to combat the spiritual apoplexy that surrounds us all.
Image: “Flehmueller’s Eiche” by Vincent Eisfeld