What Writing Can Tell Us About God

It sounds audacious, but it is largely the premise of Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker. Because writers, like other artists, are “sub-creators,” they can give us a unique perspective on the Creator Himself, which can simplify questions of how one can make good and evil, and how miracle, free will, and the Trinity might work in less “theological” terms.

She addresses the seeming-impertinence of such an approach:

“Skeptics frequently complain that man has made God in his own image; they should in reason go further (as many of them do) and acknowledge that man has made all existence in his own image. If the tendency to anthropomorphism is a good reason for refusing to think about God, it is an equally good reason for refusing to think about light, or oysters, or battleships.

“It may quite well be perilous, as it must be inadequate, to interpret the mind of our pet dog by analogy with ourselves; we can by no means enter directly into the nature of a dog; behind the appealing eyes and the wagging tail lies a mystery as inscrutable as the mystery of the Trinity. But that does not prevent us from ascribing to the dog feelings and ideas based on analogy with our own experience…To complain that man measures God by his own experience is a waste of time; man measures everything by his own experience; he has no other yardstick.”

Since it’s been on my mind lately, I thought I’d share a few key quotes.

Artists and Creating:

“It is the artists who, more than other men, is able to create something out of nothing. A whole artistic work is immeasurably more than the sum of its parts…The ‘creation’ is not a product of the matter, and is not simply a rearrangement of the matter. The amount of matter in the universe is limited, and its possible rearrangements, though the sum of them would amount to astronomical figures, is also limited. But no such limitation of numbers applies to the creation of works of art.

“The poet is not obliged, as it were, to destroy the material of a Hamlet in order to create a Falstaff, as a carpenter must destroy a tree-form to make a table-form. The components of the material world are fixed; those of the world of imagination increase by a continuous and irreversible process, without any destruction or rearrangement of what went before.”

52c5bd848a48eac6bcea2d423ce94866 by Shenzi

Miracles and Free Will: 

“[T]he free will of a genuinely created character has a certain reality, which the writer will defy at his peril. It does sometimes happen that the plot requires from its characters certain behavior, which, when it comes tot he point, no ingenuity on the author’s part can force them into, except at the cost of destroying them. It may be that [one] has chosen an unsuitable plot, or (this is perhaps more frequent) has imagined an unsuitable set of characters for working that particular plot out. In such dilemmas, the simplest and worst thing the author can do is to behave like an autocratic deity and compel the characters to do his will whether or not…”

“Whatever we may think of the possibilities of direct divine intervention in the affairs of the universe, it is quite evident that the writer can–and often does–intervene at any moment in the development of his own story; he is absolute master, able to perform any miracle he likes…He can twist either character or plot from the course of its nature by an exertion of arbitrary power. He can slay inconvenient characters, effect abrupt conversions, or bring about accidents or convulsions of nature to rescue the characters from the consequences of their own conduct.

“He can, in fact, behave exactly as, in our more egotistical and unenlightened petitions, we try to persuade God to behave. Whether we mock at miracles or demand miracles, this is the kind of miracle we usually mean…If we by analogy call God ‘the Creator’ we are thereby admitting that it is possible for Him to work miracles; but if we examine more closely the implications of our analogy, we may be driven to ask ourselves how far it is really desirable that He should do anything of the kind.”

Photo by Shenzi, Creative Commons

5 thoughts on “What Writing Can Tell Us About God

  1. Wow, Andrea! There is some really rich, thought-provoking stuff in these quotes. And so timely for me–as you know I’ve been dealing with these writing issues myself lately. I’ll be re-blogging this tomorrow for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Andrea. There is the need to create, on a deeper level, and maybe, just maybe, the need to control through creation. As for writers, many times their characters resemble real people taken from life. Writing, and as such creating, is a way to make life bearable.

    Liked by 1 person

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