If I gave a 5-talk series on Christians and the Arts, the third theme would be:
A Tragic Sense of Life
My experience suggests that Christians without much exposure to the arts (whether by choice or not) tend to think that a Christian approach to the arts means only enjoying art that is redemptive. To put it more strongly: there is a myth that Christians should only watch movies and read novels that are “edifying,” “uplifting,” etc.
The Christian narrative is a Creation-Fall-Redemption story, sure, but—two things:
First, we don't have to tell the whole story in each work of art. It's perfectly legitimate for Christians to make and enjoy art that tells just the Creation part, or just the Fall part, or just the Cain-killing-Abel part, or just the Levite-cutting-up-his-concubine part—because:
Second, we are not living in the glorified, renewed-Eden, paradisical future our faith promises. We are living in the really nasty, horrific, in-between of the time when we are saved, but not in heaven. Our redemption is accomplished, but not consummated. So there are perhaps equal parts nasty and nice, or some mix, in every person's life, in every day, in every action. I would go so far as to claim that Art that ignores our fallenness is less Christian than art that's only about redemption.
And here's a point that came up in discussion after one of Sproul's lectures. Actually, two related points.
First, a good use of art by Christians is in protest of the awful inhumanity of human to human. It is OK to make (and read/watch/listen to) art that shows or describes really, really terrible things: persecution, genocide, the loss of love. It's OK to do that as a protest against the awful deeds. Or:
Second, a good use of art by Christians is just to show things as they are, without reveling in the awfulness. So it's OK to depict sexual immorality, violence, hatred, cruelty (within reason) in order to expose its awfulness. It's not OK to depict them just to make more money or get a bigger audience.
And this is what Gregory Wolf calls “the tragic sense of life.” (I don't believe he originated the phrase, but I encountered it in his works). This terrestrial existence is an awful tragedy. And whatever your theology of predestination and so forth, whenever we suffer, God suffers with us. That's kind of the point of the Cross. Jesus suffered. The Holy Spirit prays with us, groaning more deeply than we do ourselves. How can we leave that out of our art and call ourselves Christians?
This is true, by the way, whether the artist is him/herself a Christian. I had a little debate with a church friend about All Quiet on the Western Front. He was saying that it was “totally hopeless,” and he meant is as, well, not exactly an insult, or a reason to ignore the work, but (I'm trying to interpret him here; D.B., if you're reading, please correct me) possibly as a reason that Christians should either not read it, or offer something more hopeful à la Les Mis in its place. I argued that the point of the books was how hopeless and horrible war is, and that that's a perfectly legitimate argument to make, whether or not the author was making it from a Christian viewpoint. Also, if Remarque himself was without hope, then it was honest for him to write a hopeless book.
Therefore, for all these reasons, we should read/watch/listen to—and also make—those works that show the fallenness of life.
So here's today's Question for you: Can you name a work of art that you think adequately, movingly engages with a “tragic sense of life” in a way that is true and meaningful?