Creativity and Suffering


In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.
Orson Welles

What is it about adversity that causes mankind to reach the heights of greatness? As Welles so humorously pointed out above, some of the most stunning pieces of art, some of the most famous stories and songs, some of the most incredible sculptures and photographs and poetry were created in response to times of great pain and struggle and heartache.

What is it about suffering that inspires creativity? Is it our inherent need to be known? Are we desperate to have a community with whom we can share our troubles, but feel we must first create a community by expressing our suffering? Is it a cry out to know that we are not alone in our suffering? Is it just a need to get it out before our own hearts explode from the pressure? Why do people shine the brightest in moments of deepest darkness?

This creativity in adversity is part of our nature; it is a part of the image of God imprinted on the soul of every person. God’s greatest work in Scripture occurred in the midst of some of the darkest moments in human history. Creation occurred in literally the darkest moment. When the Creator made time, He began his work with nothing. The word used to describe the work God did when he fashioned Eve from the side of Adam is the same word used later in the Old Testament to describe the artistic handiwork of the craftsmen commissioned to build the Temple. God is an artist. And He used the darkest moment in human history to serve the greatest purpose in divine sovereignty.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our LORD Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our LORD Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5)

Did you catch that? At the end of suffering, there is hope. There is hope in spite of suffering because of the work of Christ on the cross. The most incredible creativity in adversity is born in the minds of those who, in the midst of suffering in this fallen, sinful and broken world, continue to long for a better country (Hebrews 11:6). Those who suffer without hope see no point to suffering, and their work reflects their hopelessness.

Some of the most beautiful passages of Scripture were written in the depths of pain and sorrow. And the beauty in them comes in the fact that, in spite of the desperate expression of pain, there is always an equally desperate acknowledgment of the love and sovereignty of a God who loves us deeply and knows our pain and is there with us in the midst of it.

Creativity in the face of adversity is the human soul testifying to the fact that there must be something more to this life! When life is peaceful and prosperous, our longing for a better country subsides and we become, in the words of CS Lewis, “far too easily pleased” with the pleasures of this world. But when we are faced with adversity beyond our control, we are also reminded that we are ultimately not in control of our own lives. There is something greater than us, there is a place greater than this one, and we long for it.

How do you respond to adversity? Does is cripple you, draining you of your faith and balance, causing you to shake a fist at God or the Universe or whatever other being you worship? Or does it increase your longing for a better country, forcing you to join all of creation in its groans for redemption? Does it put you in a paralyzed state or does it spur you to move to action in a desperate search for truth and understanding in a seemingly pointless situation? Do you think, “Why me?” or “What can I learn from this?”

When you face suffering, do you crash and burn or soar and create? Is your inspiration found somewhere within the transient and fallen creation, which is sure to fail and disappoint us, or have you found the Creator, the life source that “does not disappoint”?

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