The Historical Adam, Round 2: John Schneider

The Tragic Artistry of God

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Are such suggestions theologically poisonous? Not if we consider that a morally perfect divine Being might well wish to create higher, second-order goods that are possible only via first-order evils. The valuable good of moral courage, for instance, is possible only if directed at evils that call for it. Likewise, the great good of the risen and glorified Christ is possible only following the horror of a crucifixion. If someone suggests that God planned the Incarnation and the tragic horrors of the Atonement from the beginning of beginnings, as many have done (probably including Paul!), it would be strange indeed—and mistaken—to accuse him/her of attributing moral evil to God.

Art provides a good analogy. There is strong support in Scripture for envisioning God as a cosmic artist, who pursues his own vision freely, yet wisely, and morally well. God is the "Potter," says Isaiah, and Paul takes on this metaphor in Romans 9-11. Paul also envisions God as the artistic cultivator of a remarkably complex, enigmatic, yet beautiful vineyard that is still taking shape. Great artists—especially in post-classical forms—very often deliberately include bad things in their art. They do so in order to "defeat" the bad things by integrating them into a whole that could not be as great without them. We do not "poison" God morally by ascribing to God a preference for the deep beauty and goodness of tragedy over lighthearted comedy in the creation of a great world. We do not make God out to be the author of evil, as the sententious trope goes. On the contrary, we revere God as the creator of the highest and best art, in which the artist transforms evil things, such as the cross, by means of masterful irony, into artifacts of maximal beauty, goodness, and truth.

This article is part of our Symposium on the Historical Adam:

John Schneider teaches philosophy at Grand Valley State University and is publishing actively on the implications of evolutionary science for Christian faith. Long a leading evangelical theologian, Professor Schneider taught at Calvin College for 25 years. He is the author of many papers and three books, including The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth.

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