Plato believed that this world, while it existed, was not the most real world out there. He was convinced there was another world, one of ideal forms of how things should be, and that everything in this world was an inferior copy of this superior realm. He used his famous Allegory of the Cave to illustrate this point. There’s a decent chance you’re familiar with it, but if you aren’t, or you need a refresher, I’ll give a brief summary:
Imagine that a group of prisoners in a cave are chained with their backs to the entrance. They can’t see the outside world, but when someone outside the cave does something, they see the shadow of what is being done projected onto the cave wall they’re facing. They’ve grown up in such a prison all their life, and having never seen the outside world, they start to conclude that the shadows are the true reality and that nothing beyond them exists. In this allegory, the prisoners represent us humans, trapped in a fallen world. The shadows represent our perceptions of reality. And the things happening out in the sun that the prisoners can’t see, those represent the true world, the world beyond, which contains everything that is supposed to be.
Now, Socrates took this one step further and said that if a man were to come from the outside and speak to those in the cave about the true nature of things, they’d hate him for saying things that made no sense compared to reality as they saw it. I disagree. Some might. But I think even if someone grew up only seeing shadows of the true reality, all people are still born with an innate sense of how things are supposed to be and some among them would listen to that. Part of them would know that there must be more than what their eyes can see, and their hearts would be desperate to experience it. When someone comes with an explanation of what is outside in the real world, it would echo a longing they might not have even realized they had. Their hearts would overflow with excitement at finally seeing what they never realized they’d been longing to experience.
In Christianity, we have a name for this world of pure forms that Plato longed for; we call it “heaven”, a world where everything is as it was always meant to be. And artists are gifted to catch glimpses of heaven and pass those on to those around them whose hearts long for visions of this deeper reality. And this is the power of art, not just to reveal the nature of earthly things, but to remind the heart of what this world was meant to be. Rock concerts with their crowds and special effects echo the throne room of heaven and the glory, majesty, and worship that continually pours out to the Lord (Revelation 4). Superhero movies give us a glimpse of what life will be like when we get our heavenly bodies freed from earthly limitations. Romance novels show us what it would feel like to be fully known and fully loved by someone who pursues us with unlimited passion. Even when artists are working against the kingdom, Satan can only counterfeit what is good. So when fallen people seek to create art that is good, they must incorporate some heavenly truth (even if it is being done in a twisted, counterfeit fashion) or else fail to create anything with deep meaning or true beauty. And without those, there’s very little to draw anyone in.
As a writer, the world classifies some of what I write as fiction and some as non-fiction. I’m not thrilled with that distinction. Sometimes I have the language to express what I have to say clearly; sometimes I have to use story to express what my heart feels but my mind has yet to fully grasp. But in all things, I seek to point to a deeper truth.
But writing is not the only art form that resonates with the kingdom of heaven; all art has that power. Artists of any discipline can highlight the fallenness of the world and contrast it with what was always meant to be, to give people trapped in darkness a glimpse of what life looks like in the light. This is what all good art does, regardless of whether that was the artist’s intention, because anything that is beautiful, anything that is true, anything that inspires, anything that heals, it points to a world where those things are so commonplace that there is nowhere they can’t be found. I look forward to the day when there’s no more room for fiction, because no one can imagine a world more wondrous than the one we find ourselves in.
But until that day, one of the best ways to experience it and to make it known is to create art. This art can show how wonderful things will be one day. It can give us a taste of a glory or majesty or wonder our fallen world does not live up to. It can highlight the difference between our earthly experiences and what they could be when heaven and earth reunite. It can show what life looks like when we live according to God’s plans (or how it can go wrong when we don’t). And, no doubt, there are thousands of other ways that I can’t even imagine that other artists are doing every day. “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” (James 1:17a, NIV) and that includes artistic inspiration. Even when unsaved artists create good art, they unknowingly reflect heavenly truths. How much more does the glory of God shine through every piece of Christian art?
You may know what heavenly truths you’re shining into a dark world on occasion. More often, you’ll have no idea. You’ll only have a sense that what you did was somehow right–a reflection of what God must have felt when He looked down on His creation and saw that it was good. So don’t despair if what you make seems trivial by worldly standards, and you can’t imagine how it reflects the glory of heaven. All creation reflects the Creator, and anything good that we create resonates with the heavens, whether it’s a towering cathedral or a humble doodle. So go! Make! And see that it is good.
Cameron Miller, writer
Deana Harvey, painter of “Clothed in Glory”