It’s high time I took a moment to untangle a muddle of ideas from my mind and soul. Christians tend to lightly throw around expressions such as “I’m called to ____” and “God has inspired me to ____”. What do they actually mean when they use these words with so much clear determination? This is an important question I’m left with as a direct result of asking my Christian friends on Facebook, yesterday, whether they believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. If the entire Bible is the inerrant word of God, every book in it has been inspired by God and contains no factual errors, except those wrought by multiple translations. Ironically, as I sat down or, rather, rose up to write this post (I have a standing desk), I opened Mike Duran’s blog to discover that he is also grappling with the idea of callings to the writing life, and how we know when we have them: Three Ways to Know You’re Called to Write. This is, of course, applicable to the Bible because the Bible is a work of literature written by multiple authors.
For a start, what does it mean to be inspired by God, and do “levels” of inspiration exist? I ask this because Christians, in almost the same breath, will claim that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that they have also been inspired by God to write a book or a song or a poem. Does this mean that the average “inspired” Christian’s work equals the books of the Bible? I would hesitate to answer in the affirmative. In fact, I would hesitate to use the word inspiration at all, if God is the force behind inspiration. I would also hesitate to claim that the books of the Bible were all inspired by God, except those we know, without doubt, had to be by their very definition. The books of prophecy are either entirely given by inspiration, or they are are lies conjured by man–that is, not prophecy at all. But do the gospels claim to be prophetic works? Or what about the letters of Paul or Peter? When Paul wrote his famous words to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” he wasn’t referencing any books of the New Testament because they hadn’t yet been published. Instead, he was speaking of the books of the Law and the Prophets. Were Paul’s letters inspired by God, or were they letters of pastoral advice from a man who had the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? It’s difficult for me to make a determination either way. Every Christian has an indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t mean that all works written by Christian people are inspired by God.
What do Christians mean, then, when they claim to have been inspired by God, or when they claim that God has placed a calling on their lives? Perhaps, the problem rests in confusing a vocation or a calling with inspiration. God may call his people to various vocations, places where he determines their skills will bring about good works or will further the gospel in some manner. This doesn’t mean that every act or duty Christians perform while under the auspices of God’s divine calling is inspired or even correct. Pastors who operate under God’s vocational callings often make enormous errors in judgement and, consequently, guide the flock into dangerous pastures where wild beasts wait to devour them. For that reason, for their human fallibility, they’re what Jesus calls hirelings–they may be called by God to “feed the sheep”–but they are in nowise the same in inspiration as Jesus. As Christian sheep, we should be following Jesus, as the fulfillment of the inspired Law and Prophets, rather than the men who come and go in Jesus’ name. Even Paul emphasizes the importance of this, telling Christians not to go about saying “I’m of Paul” or “I’m of Apollos”. We are of Christ, or we’re not Christians.
As writers or artists, however, it’s impossible to deny that force of “inspiration” that falls on all of us at various times during our careers. I’ve felt it. It’s a compelling force–a tidal wave–that we often are at a loss to explain, let alone replicate at will. What is going on inside of us, if it’s not divine inspiration? Step back momentarily from the emotional center that tells us we are God-inspired and consider that creative people of all religious stripes, even atheists, understand this creative force that drowns us and pulls us under, then spits us out whole again. I would conjecture that this force is a gifting from God, rather than direct inspiration from God, which we call the archetypal muse. The muse resides deep inside our own psyches–she’s a part of us, rather than set apart from us. She’s our creative spark. Although Greek mythology likens the muse to the feminine–nine goddesses or daughters–she isn’t necessarily a female at all. On the contrary, she’s any aspect of self that rises up inside us to challenge us to new work, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof.
Does that mean that, as Christians, God has no influence on our work? No, of course, I don’t intend for any Christian to reach that conclusion. What I’m trying to separate, here, are those works created by Christians who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and those works which are inspired by God. They must be different–they must be if we hold anything at all to be sacred. God, himself, may be inerrant, but we are fallible creatures who continuously fall into error. Unless we’re spirit-writing God’s prophetic words–and I would seriously question anybody who boasts such inspiration–then we’re simply workers with a creative spark that flames (under the deluge, shockingly!) into something amazing every once in a while. To add yet another metaphor to this mix, we’re comets whose lights cross the visible night sky, blazing brightly enough to conjure up deep spiritual speculations of doom or glory, before fading away.