The following is an exclusive excerpt from The Truth And Beauty: How the Lives and Works of England’s Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understanding of the Words of Jesus, by Andrew Klavan, available now.
What happens if we choose not to point ourselves back toward Eden? What happens if we decide that the original experience of creation—flesh and spirit united—was all a fraud, a random accident of the evolutionary brain, a social construct, a false consciousness? That we’re just meat puppets animated by chemistry and nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so?
That choice—that decision to cease to believe in God’s moral universe—is dramatized in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. In Macbeth, the movie of God’s good creation is played in reverse. Instead of Eve being drawn out of Adam so that the interplay of masculine and feminine can bring both into full humanity, Lady Macbeth removes her femininity—“Unsex me here!” she cries—in order to draw her husband out of his humanity altogether so that he might murder his way to the throne of Scotland.
Macbeth and his lady choose to unexperience the moral order, to sever their connection with the Logos and redefine morality from God’s good to their own desires. “For my own good,” Macbeth says, “all causes shall give way.”
Lady Macbeth cannot quite extinguish her inner awareness of God’s truth: her conscience. After engineering a spate of murders, she goes mad, trying to wash an imaginary spot of blood from her hand.
But something different happens to Macbeth. In pulling away from God’s meaning, he finds he is left with no meaning at all. Near the end of the play, when he hears of his wife’s death and as he faces death himself, he declares his nihilism:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Shakespeare knows this speech is absurd. Macbeth is a player on a stage, and his story not only does not signify nothing, it can’t signify nothing. Even if it signifies that life is meaningless, it has that meaning, and so negates its own message. We’re back to the old problem of all such relativist philosophies: if there is no truth, how can it be true that there is no truth? If there is no meaning to life, how can the story of life mean there is no meaning? The human mind is a meaning-making machine, and it matters whether we find that meaning in collaboration with reality or step out of that collaboration and find ourselves left with nihilistic nonsense.
That is the point of the speech. Macbeth has chosen to separate himself from the Logos. Like Milton’s Satan, he thought he had the power to transform evil into good and hell into heaven, but he could only transform himself into evil, and his soul into its own hell.
He forgot that man’s experience of life—from the sound of a falling tree to beauty and truth—is a cocreation, a collaboration with God’s reality. It is that or it is worse than nothing, it is nothingness.
Which brings us back to the question, How do we know when the creation of our minds is a legitimate cocreation, a collaboration with reality? How do we know our beauty is really beauty and our truth is really truth?
Coleridge found the answer in Jesus. “Might not Christ be the World as revealed to human knowledge?” he asked. “A kind of common sensorium, the total Idea that modifies all thoughts?”
The word sensorium means the apparatus of human sensation, the way in which we experience the world. Coleridge’s idea is that Christ is the model and perfection of that experience, a true melding of flesh and spirit, life and Logos, man and God. The more we experience the world through Christ, the more we become like Christ and know the world truly. This is what Paul was describing when he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
“In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
This is the Gospel of John. This was the faith of Coleridge. He believed in a creator God who expressed his will through the Logos and so made man and nature—man-and-nature, which were one thing, all alive together—and imbued nature with meaning, beauty, and truth that man could discover through the living model of the Logos, Christ. He believed that the human imagination is “a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am.”
We are, each of us, the eighth day of creation.
Andrew Klavan is an award-winning writer, screenwriter, and media commentator. An internationally bestselling novelist and two-time Edgar Award-winner, Klavan is also a contributing editor to City Journal, the magazine of the Manhattan Institute, and the host of a popular podcast on DailyWire.com, The Andrew Klavan Show.