Talking with a friend the other day who grew up in Iran, he told me that as a young boy he would walk into the home of an Armenian friend (Christians), and he immediately knew there was something different, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on, something good. Every car mechanic, he says, in Iran is Armenian Christian. Industries and companies flourish under Christians and then languish and fail under Muslims. He says there is something magical about Christianity that causes creativity and goodness to flourish.
I ask him what it is, and he shakes his head and says, I don’t know, it’s magic.
And of course in some sense, he’s right. Grace is magic. God is magic. There are deep, wonderful mysteries here. But we do have some hints and clues. At least one of those clues is found in the nature of God Himself as Trinity. Unitarianism — the belief that God is a solitary, singular being — as found in Islam cannot account for creation apart from the will of god. “Islam” means “submission,” and central to Islamic faith is submission to the will of Allah. This makes sense because in Islam god is a unitary, solitary being and therefore to create another, others is simple a function of will, volition. But for the solitary being there is no accounting for this decision. There is no “reason” to speak of because there is nothing apart from the singular, solitary existence of this being. If there is a reason it is utterly unknowable. And so there is only submission to the will of the god.
But Christianity proclaims an entirely different God, the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons though only one God in essence, in being. This is a mystery, but it gives us a clue to the way God is. When the New Testament says that God is love, the glimpse we have into the being of God is through the Trinity, through the love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit. And thus, for God to create a world is not pure, raw volition, rather while we still speak of the will of the Trinity as singular and perfectly unified, we see that what drives this will is a mutuality, a harmony, a community even within the one, true eternal God. The delight of the Father in His Eternal Son through the Spirit is what overflows in creation. Because there is already “otherness” in the one God, another that God shares His eternal glory with, there is already more than an arbitrary decision, there is joy, there is gladness, there is delight and sharing in the very heart of God.
When you hear a beautiful song, when you taste an amazing flavor, when you see a beautiful picture or a scene in a film, not only are you inspired, not only are you lifted up and blessed, but you immediately want to share the experience. And there is something about sharing the joy, the delight that magnifies the joy and delight. I’m pretty sure C.S. Lewis says this somewhere far more eloquently.
But there’s more: this love and fellowship of the Father and the Son bound together in the harmony and loyalty of the Spirit colors and shapes then the Christian conception of “submission” to God. In the Muslim vision of the world, Allah decides, commands, and there can only be simple submission and obedience or defiance. But this command, this will is based on nothing observable. It just is, and therefore is not apparently or necessarily rational, reasonable, understandable. And therefore, in so far as Allah is compassionate or merciful, this is likewise only an arbitrary decision, a distant, faceless decree. There is nothing apparently swaying Allah, nothing driving his will. It’s pure volition which is of necessity purely arbitrary. There is nothing for the will to lean against, nothing for the will to interact with. And therefore, this creates a picture of God and man in pure hierarchy. God is a Master, a Lord to be obeyed, to be submitted to. You do not ask questions, you simply obey.
This is the difference between a culture of slaves and a culture of sons. Christianity, when the gospel of Jesus is openly proclaimed and embraced, produces cultures of sons. There is submission included in sonship, but it is not a mindless, reasonless, faceless submission. A son submits, but a son also asks questions. A son submits but grows up into maturity to become like his father. And the older he grows, the more he speaks, the more he asks, the more input he gives. It is not as though the Creator-Creature distinction will ever be obliterated, but somehow in the infinity of God’s being, there is room by design for His created children to grow more and more like Him as they are conformed to the image and likeness of His Eternal Son.
And it is this growing and maturity in their Father’s likeness that seems to me to inspire creativity and adventure and exploration and invention. Slaves do not create. Slaves do not invent. Slaves merely want to stay alive, to stay out of trouble, to sneak guilty pleasures, to cut corners when the master is not looking, to show off to impress the master and earn his favor, but there is no room for maturity in slavery — it is all a function of fear and anxiety and insecurity and domination. But the Christian God is familial. The Christian God is love shared, delight shared. And this God has drawn near our silent planet in order to teach us to sing His song again. When men and women and children meet the Son of this God, they meet the Joy that made them, they meet the Delight that still delights in them. And they discover to their amazement that this God loves them, this God claims them, prizes them, rejoices in them, and this Father has sent His Beloved Son to die for them, to rescue them and now they do not need to fear anything. The judgment is passed, the guilt is absolved, now God loves them as His own dear children, holding nothing back, no regrets, no embarrassment, only delight. This, it seems to me, is part of the magic that drives cultures to produce good and beautiful things. This is the magic that makes men wake up in the morning and want to build suspension bridges and write sonnets and brew beer and study stem cells and discover new planets and have families and love them and delight in the goodness of all things till their last dying breath.
Because at the heart of this world is the Triune God, the Father, Son, and Spirit, a God bound together by love and shared joy and delight, a God driven by this love to create, to invent, to pursue, to rescue, to deliver. We delight in these things because our Father delights in these things, and we follow Him, confident that He has prepared good things for us. Because we have become His children, and now He loves us.