The Impermanence of Created Things
Confession #9: I like to believe that the things I create will last forever.
When I was in high school I read a book about Jane Austen that made me want to be a writer, but for a very odd reason. It made me want to be a writer because it talked about how Jane Austen essentially became immortal through her works. She may have died, but this book said that she would always be remembered.
I wasn't a follower of Christ when I read this book, so this sounded like a pretty sweet deal to me. If I was going to die someday, I could at least live on through my work. My drive to create was fueled by a desire to be remembered long after my death.
However, there is a flaw in this thinking, because no matter what I'd like to believe, my work is impermanent, just like Jane Austen's work. How do I know this? Because I have friends that don't even know the name Jane Austen. This is pretty sad to me because they're missing out on some witty literary classics, but it solidifies the idea that mankind's work will not last forever.
The Preacher (King Solomon) talks about the impermanence of man's work in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
Ecclesiastes 1:4-5, 11
The major theme of Ecclesiastes is that everything is vanity, which means that everything is essentially meaningless. One of reasons King Solomon says that all things are vain is due to their impermanence. The things of this world weren't built to last. Look at the seasons. Look at human life. We live in a fallen and broken world that isn't permanent or everlasting.
Ahh, but the artist thinks that she can escape this trap of impermanence by creating things that will last. So she dedicates her life to writing novels or making films or painting landscapes that will be remembered forever. And maybe they will be remembered for a time. But even a person's art cannot escape the clutches of impermanence.
An example of this is one of my favorite films, Gone With the Wind. Most people my age have never seen this film. Most have never even heard of it. Gone With the Wind was made in 1939, and it was a revolutionary film for its time. It currently ranks sixth on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. Yet, most Americans have never even seen it. A film that was once a hot topic has been resigned to the pages of fading history.
The impermanence of created things.
Even though I like to think that the things I create will last, I have to be honest with myself. Most of the things that I will create will not last past my lifetime. Even if I create something brilliant, and my work becomes famous, my work will not last into eternity. Even worse, I will probably even forget my own art. This is a sobering reality.
But as an artist and a follower of Jesus Christ, I have a hope that far outweighs the bleak reality of the impermanence of things I spend so much time working on.
He who raise the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus
and bring us with you into his presence.
For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people
it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart.
Thou our outer self is wasting away,
our inner self is being renewed day by day.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing us
for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
as we look not to the things that are seen
but to the things that are unseen.
For the things that are seen are transient,
but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:14-18
The things that we make are temporary. We won't take them with us into eternity. This is the perspective that we should have as we create things. It frees us from putting our worth and identity into the things that we create.
If you believe in Christ, you're free from striving to be remembered through your creative work. Jesus offers an inheritance, promise, and eternity far greater than the false hopes of being remembered by your work.
This post is part of a 31 day series called Confessions of a Creative Christian.
You can read the previous posts for this month here.
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