Fragments of Light

Thoughts Beyond our Own

One difference between God’s work and man’s, is that while God’s work cannot mean more than he meant, man’s must mean more than he meant. For in everything that God has made, there is layer upon layer of ascending significance; also he expresses the same thought in higher and higher kinds of that thought: it is God’s things, his embodied thoughts, which alone a man has to use, modified and adapted to his own purposes, for the expression of his thoughts; therefore he cannot help his words and figures falling into such combinations in the mind of another as he had himself not foreseen, so many are the thoughts allied to every other thought, so many are the relations involved in every figure, so many the facts hinted in every symbol. A man may well himself discover truth in what he wrote; for he was dealing all the time with things that came from thoughts beyond his own. —George MacDonald, The Fantastic Imagination

I take comfort in this idea that while I come again and again to the end of myself, God’s great world goes on turning, renewing, refreshing, replenishing my insufficiency, and that is a gift to treasure. Comments welcome.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts Beyond our Own

  1. Regarding those thoughts beyond one’s own: a little earlier in this same paper, McDonald says, “The best thing you can do for your fellow,… is–not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him…” Good advice for us artists I think, but a tricky course to plot, between being an awakener or an instructor.

    1. Yes. I am reminded of Flannery O’Conner’s essay The Fiction Writer and His Country.

      “The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

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