Why Can’t Evangelicals Write Well?

Or paint well? Or compose well? I recently discovered one possible reason, as expressed by one of the exceptions to the rule: C. S. Lewis.

“Joy”, as defined by Lewis in Surprised By Joy, is an intense experience of longing. This yearning, he came to understand, could not be satisfied by any earthly experience. It seemed to point to something which, as an atheist, he did not yet know. This “joy” is what drives artists to create art; indeed, art itself has the capacity to create “joy” as we contemplate it.

But listen to the way Lewis concludes the book:

To tell you the truth, the subject [i.e. “joy”] has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. I cannot, indeed, complain, like Wordsworth, that the visionary gleam has passed away. I believe (if the thing were at all worth recording) that the visionary stab, the old bitter-sweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever.

But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts.

When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, “Look!” The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold.

“We would be at Jerusalem.”

(C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, p237-238; Image: Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures)

2 thoughts on “Why Can’t Evangelicals Write Well?

  1. I would agree that an artist, or writer, or musician, who becomes a Christian, has a higher calling now than the perfection of and admiration for their art. Surely, though, creativity will be most lit on fire by inspiration from the Creator? Thinking on such pure, lovely, beautiful things spills over into wonder and awe that finds its expression in praise and adoration of the one who gives all good gifts. But more than this, what we admire, we seek to emulate, and surely in creativity we are able to express this wonderment most freely. In a piece of poetry, in a painting, in the soaring melody of a piece of music, are only echoes of shadows of what we see and feel in God’s working in creation, in our lives and in his word, but echoes that lead people to look back to the source of all beauty. Captured by the light spilling through a stained glass window or moved to tears by a song, when the artist is able to say Sola Dei Gloria, all for God’s glory, sentiments beyond the rational expression of logic, or mathematics, or reason, turn to a God of light, and colour, and beauty, and poetry

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