Can You be a Bible Believer and An Artist (Poet, writer, singer, composer, actor…)?
Or, what did Yeshua mean when He said, "If Your Right Hand Offend You, Cut it Off"?
Many things have been said about this verse, and much harm has been done, using it as justification. Errant children, inconvenient marriages, and intellectual, physical, and artistic gifts, have all been thrown on the fire as possible impediments leading to damnation.
I always knew instinctively that this was wrong. Firstly, by the natural instinct that God places in all people, the conscience that begins, imperfectly enough, but is still a start; secondly, by the instinct that comes from a thorough and repeated reading of God’s Word over many years; and thirdly, the instinct that comes from the way God has worked through his Spirit in my own life over time.
I knew in my bones that this use of our Savior’s words was wrong, but I didn’t understand how – I suppose, if anything, I looked at the fruits, and they were not good. But as for understanding the thing, I think I have had an insight into it, so I pass it on. You must search the Spirit within you, and go to the scriptures, and see if I am in error. Whatever scripture I quote, many have quoted verses before, and many will quote after me: you need to be sure in your own mind. So, while this is my best, and I give it to you, it may be wrong, or if nearly right, perhaps wrong in certain points. Whatever you do, please don’t think I am trying to write a final word on this topic.
But I do write from experience, and I do think I have the Spirit of God. So should we all, if we are His. It does not always preserve us from error, though, so I leave you my caveat.
Though Christ mentions hand and eye, and nothing else, the term "offend you," or "cause you to offend (sin)" and the mention that it would keep you from salvation, seems to indicate either:
- Abnormalities and curses, such as, in the physical world, deformities or diseases, like cancer and gangrene – and in the spiritual realm, encroachments on your usual limbs (or spiritual parts) by evil to the extent that it cannot be saved, and must be removed;
- An abnormal pride, admiration, or other temptation to sin occasioned by one’s physical or spiritual attributes or gifts, such that deformity and mutilation would be preferable to a corrupted wholeness.
You must remember how shocking this was. It is shocking enough to us, now, because everyone cringes at disease and deformity and amputation – but God’s Old Covenant forbad anyone with any physical defect from going into the temple, and forbad mutilation like scarification and even the unnatural cutting of the hair to make bald spots, etc., so to deliberately do this would be considered even more horrifying – to mutilate yourself to get to God would be shocking indeed.
Yet the prophet who saw the priests as sepulchres full of bones – and Christ, who called the Pharisees whited sepulchres – saw the spiritual death caused by refusing to cut off those things that can kill spiritually. And there are times when the best of things are so corrupted that they must be destroyed.
Satan loves to pervert the very best and most important things, so if you find something he’s interested in, be sure it is something important to God. Worship, prophecy, sex, money – these are all perverted by Satan because, in their purest sense, they point to God. So, also, good health, beauty, talent, good workmanship, art, music, and high quality in everything…it makes one think of God, who is the creator of all good things. So, Satan attacks all these things, making them subject to pride, snobbery, extremes of wealth and poverty, bitterness of spirit for artists, leading to abuse of drink and cheap drugs (only movie stars and athletes can afford expensive ones), an alienation from the general culture who rejects them, so then also leading to a rejection of the usual values…though, in many cases, it is the honest and open adoption of what the regular world just does in secret.
Too many churches teach in word or in deed that what our Lord meant by this quote was that we were to sacrifice our individuality, our personality, our skills, talents, and everything we love and that gives us pleasure or joy – that all such things are automatically "idols" to be destroyed in the fire. We are to become de-personalized, de-humanized drones, uniform, spouting the same jargon, reading the same pamphlets or religious books, and avoiding anything individual as being "vanity." If you are familiar with Star Trek, you may know of the Borg, who "assimilate" any species, and turn them into half-organic, half-mechanical "drones," devoid of all individuality, like worker bees in a hive. This is what too many churches strive to do to people…and when they succeed, they are duly horrified and puzzled at the results!
Of course, this is what is done in convents, but simply in a milder form. Wearing uniforms, moving to a different room periodically to avoid a sense of "one’s own space," the forbidding of property, no pockets, no mirrors, injunctions against looking at one’s self when washing, keeping one’s eyes down, obeying to the point of being daily humiliated for minor infractions, silence, avoidance of friendships, inability to see family…very few cults, even those who practice communal living, do such a good job, though convents and monasteries have safeguards before final vows, and the ability to at any time leave the order, which cults do not, but still, the discipline required is frightening. Whether in some cases, for some people, such excessive discipline can be used for the glory of God, I cannot judge…it may be so.
But even Mother Theresa was not "a good nun," in the normal sense of the word. She was supposed to teach the daughters of wealthy Indian families, and she rebelled against this, and fought, and used the church system, and manipulated and connived to be allowed to serve the poor and sick of India, and eventually start her own order. She was headstrong, determined, driven, formidable, and politically astute. A woman with a lesser will would simply have been punished by her mother superior for "willfulness," and the work would not have been done. So let’s not make Mother Theresa a vote for the conventual system. What she did was despite it, though she used it, like some of the great abbesses of the Medieval period, to make her personal vision a reality.
Far too many Protestant churches, as well, seem to teach conformity and uniformity, and from what I have seen, this is exaggerated in the more fundamentalist, evangelical churches. A talent for the arts or sciences or intellectual pursuits is seen as "worldly" at best, or demonic at worst. In the words of Larry Norman, "Why does the devil get all the good music?" Read Franky Schaeffer's excellent book on this topic, "Addicted to Mediocrity."
So, we see the stands. But is this view biblical?
We know Christ said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets," and the law clearly speaks of people skilled in dyeing, weaving, tapestry, sculpture, poetry, musical composition, singing, metalwork, embroidery, lapidary, and other arts, as having "wisdom," and even when it comes to the work of the tabernacle, being given wisdom "by the Spirit of God." Much of the Old Covenant is written in poetic form, and the Psalms are the lyrics to songs whose melody is now lost.
Some scriptures to ponder:
"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." Eccl. 9:10
"Let my right hand forget her skill, if I forget Jerusalem." Psalm 137:5
The priests were anointed on their forehead, ear, thumbs, and toes, for their thinking, hearing, working, and walking (conduct). Lev. 8:24
by Jesse Ancona