As I began writing this article I was sent a news story about a new Adidas advertisement for women’s bathing suits. In it, Adidas attempted to sell a one piece women’s bathing suit by having it modeled by a man. The lump in the crotch, the muscled shoulders, and the hair on the chest were dead giveaways what we were dealing with, a man. The big story in my mind is not the advertisement itself. That seems par for the course at this point. The big story is that there enough people in our society who believe this is normal that the advertisement is still up. How did we get here? I believe the answer to that question is one that every Christian ought to take time to reflect on. There is something about the compassion and concern for souls in pain, that should motivate Christians to think wisely on these topics, and something about the world we will leave to our grandchildren that should motivate us to stand firmly and unwaveringly on the truth.
Picasso may have something to teach us about our current dilemma. Picasso was famous for his effort to discover the “universal truth” by stretching reality and redefining norms. In his widely celebrated art, he was searching for something deeper than society’s predefined categories. This was not just a style of painting in an effort to leave his mark, it was a quest of his soul to discover truth. By what authority must a nose be in the center of a face? Perhaps the question sounds ludicrous, but the question itself reveals a heart searching for the ultimate meaning, the ultimate truth. In his effort to stretch the category of “human” to its limits he dared to put a nose where it didn’t belong. To look at Picasso’s work is to see the confusion and despair of a soul with no anchor, no grounding, let loose from reality, and drifting ever so slowly into a different world altogether.
Picasso, like Van Gogh and Gauguin before him, suffered deeply in an existential way. The same story line persists through each of these artists in their own ways, always ending in despair. Picasso attempted to break the categories of what is true, right, normal, and sane. After all, who says sanity ought to be defined in any particular way? If Picasso can break the institutional definition of a face, then can’t we break the institutional definition of a marriage? If a human body is pliable in art, why not in reality as well?
Picasso’s despair is no laughing matter. In him, and in his art, we can feel the angst of a soul searching for truth but rebellious to the only source of truth, God and His Word. Picasso believed he could pierce through the skies themselves and peer into some previously unknown universal metaphysic. He believed he could pull down new visions for humanity if only he could reach far enough past our legalistic chains of the past. Francis Schaeffer commenting on Picasso says,
Unlike, say, Renoir, who painted his wife in such a way that she could be recognized (that is, the subject was a particular), Picasso was seeking for a universal. As he abstracted further one cannot tell whether his women are blondes or brunettes. This is a move towards the universal and away from the particular. But if you go far enough your abstracted women can become ‘all women’ or even everything. But the difficulty is that when you get to that point the viewer has no clue what he is looking at. You have succeeded in making your own world on your canvas, and in this sense you have become god. But at the same time you have lost contact with the person who views your painting. We have come to the position where we cannot communicate.”Francis Schaeffer. The God Who is There. Page 32.
Schaeffer—a cultural thinker well ahead of his time—saw in the heart and the art of Picasso the seedlings of a societal soul in despair. The heart of Picasso was a heart to become God, to redefine the world according to His own liking. The problem was that in his effort to redefine reality, he lost touch with reality. As it turns out, ‘reality’ is fixed. And, the further one attempts to distort was is true, in some effort to recreate reality, the less capable that person is of communicating on any meaningful level. At some point, a distortion of a human body is no longer recognizable as a human body all. It simply becomes absurdity.
Modern man must ask ourselves a few serious questions. At what point does our quest to find meaning become an absurdity? At what point does our refusal to accept the institutions of the past become an act of insanity? At what point does our effort to retell history in order detach ourselves from our Christian heritage become an act of deceit? At what point is a face no longer a face, or a body no longer a body? The consequences of Picasso teetering on the edge of blurred categories was unique art and a soul in despair. But the consequence of an entire society living out the Picasso ideal—bending previously held categories in some pursuit of the universal—is the “soul” of a society in despair, a people gone mad. It’s one thing to move body parts around on a canvas with a brush, it’s another to do it on a person with a scalpel.
What we are seeing our society right now is not something to be taken lightly. As Christians we must see the image of God in all people, and see the consequences of rebellion to God in every false idea. Sin will always lead to death, transgenderism is no exception. The heart of transgenderism is a desire to break free from God’s design, to become gods ourselves, and to create new categories for society to follow. These types of actions throughout history have only every led to pain and death on large scales. This new movement is certainly proving to be no exception to that rule.
At the heart of transgenderism is the lie that there is some unique “I” at the center of my existence. There is a true version of me somewhere deep inside, but it has been so shackled by the systems and structures of society that it is nearly impossible to discover. Like Picasso, the motivation is soul-fulfillment, meaning, transcendance. As the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau so poetically said centuries ago, “Man is born free but everywhere is in chains.” According to this worldview, the only right thing to do is to break from all of those “systems” no matter the cost or risk to self or society. Reality is what my inner self says it is, so let us mutilate ourselves in a desperate effort to correlate my ‘inner self’ with my ‘physical reality.’
This is the world we now inhabit, and it leaves the Christian wondering how we ought to behave. What is our witness to look like to a world that now celebrates insanity as normal? May I suggest two key considerations. First, live, speak, and think unapologetically Biblically. The institutions that God has designed are not malleable. The same wisdom that propelled Solomon’s kingdom in his early years will provide grounding for your own life. Do not seek to find some middle ground between Christianity and insanity. Just be a Christian. Think like a Christian. Feel free to call insanity exactly what it is, insanity. And while the world disagrees with our theology, stand confidently in the fact that many isms have launched onto the scene throughout history as the next best thing, only to wash away in the morning tide. God’s Word remains. And it will remain far after what we now call transgenderism has seen its day.
Secondly, there is a point of contact to be had with our peers who find our Biblical rigidity unnerving. That point of contact is the same point of contact that we might have had with Picasso. Man has not changed all that much. We are all seeking meaning, purpose, transcendance. In short, we are all seeking something to worship. It is in that point of tension in each person where there exists rich ground for discussion and discovery. In that inner tension of the soul, there is a human in longing, some inward acknowledgment that all is not as it ought to be. But the question we must help those we love ask, is what ought the world be like, and how ought we know?
The only real answers to those questions must come to us from beyond ourselves. And they have. The “ought” exists because of sin, and the solution is provided for in Christ alone. Every soul in longing can only ever be satisfied by the God who is there, Christ Jesus. Every other solution to the problem of a soul in angst is simply a band-aid that will come off in the rain. But God, is the truly transcendant one, and His gospel is a gospel of peace to all who will believe. Schaeffer offers wise counsel,
Therefore, the first consideration in our apologetics for modern man, whether factory-hand or research student, is to find the place where his tension exists. We will not always find it easy to do this. Many people have never analysed their own point of tension. Since the Fall man is separated from himself. Man is complicated and he tries to bury himself in himself. Therefore, it will take time and it will cost something to discover what the person we are speaking to often has not yet discovered for himself. Down inside of himself man finds it easy to life to himself. We, in love, looking to the work of the Holy Spirit, must reach down into that person and try to find where the point of tension is.Francis Schaeffer. The God Who Is There. Page 125.