Ice dance, Imago Dei and the existence of GodWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
It’s amazing, the things one thinks about while watching the Olympics.
Every four years, the Games cast their customary spell, disrupting TV schedules and family routines, drawing people to sports they might not ever follow at any other time.
And so it was with the ice dance competition at Pyeongchang 2018, which pitted Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – arguably the greatest ice dance duo in history – against their chief rivals from France, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. As the riveting drama of artistry and athleticism played out across the ice, a thought occurred.
Why do people do all of this, or any of it? Why do they expend their time and talents to craft these expressions of beauty and variety, passion and joy? And why are audiences so enthralled by them?
No doubt many answers might be offered to those questions. But the best ones are firmly rooted in a Scriptural view of the world. And they’d probably make Saints Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas (the A-team of medieval theologians) wish that ice dance had been a thing, back in their day.
The first impression from watching world-class performers like Virtue and Moir, or Papadakis and Cizeron, is of beauty. The music, costumes, choreography and grace of movement are all interwoven to create exceptionally beautiful performances. In the broadest sense, this desire to make beautiful things lies at the heart of every worthwhile cultural endeavour. Such endeavours may also challenge and edify as well as entertain, but they will only do so if they first appeal, on some level, to the senses and the imagination. The human drive to create beauty, together with the capacity to appreciate and enjoy it, is in fact one of the most powerful evidences that human beings have been made in the image of a beautiful Creator.
But beauty comes in a variety of forms, a fact made clear by the two performances in view. The French couple skated to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in a program of serene, classic elegance. The Canadians interpreted the music from the film Moulin Rouge in a fiery, edgy, avant-garde performance. The two programs couldn’t have been more different, and yet both were undeniably beautiful, each in its own unique way. This, too, reflects the creative nature of a God who loves beauty in diverse forms. After all, He could have made a bland, uniform world devoid of colour or flavour or variety. But instead, He chose to create a cosmos teeming with stars and flowers and foods and people that are all different, one from another.
It’s no secret that the vast majority of art, music and literature deals with the subject of love. Themes of romance and passion, of love lost and found, are at the core of every society’s artistic traditions. These themes find their most concrete expression in the art of dance, whether in a casual folk setting or more formally on Olympic ice. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that humanity was designed for intimate relationship by a relational God. The Scriptures themselves flow with the language of romance, from the creation of Adam and Eve, to the story of Ruth, to the Song of Solomon, and finally to the wedding feast of the Lamb. Universal artistic themes of passion and romance resonate with our most basic need to love and be loved, to belong to God and to each other.
As might be expected, the beauty and passion on display in the ice dances made for an emotionally charged journey for skaters and audience alike. But the one emotion that best characterized the entire event was a sense of exuberant joy. This wasn’t just the thrill of competition or victory. Rather it was a deep satisfaction in creating and enjoying excellence, a delight in doing something well and sharing that delight with others. It had a hint of the experience everyone seeks, knowingly or not, more than happiness or contentment or any other emotion – true joy, which can only be found, ultimately, in knowing God and sensing His pleasure. This is what Jesus spoke of as the joy that He shares with His Father, and wishes to share with all of His people.
Pointing to God
Beyond the Olympics, the questions remain: Why do people do all of this, or any of it? Why do they expend their time and talents to craft these expressions of beauty and variety, passion and joy? And why are audiences so enthralled by them?
Skeptics would claim that it’s all a by-product of evolution. Beauty, variety, passion and joy are illusions, they’d argue, phantoms of our brain chemistry that somehow helped us mate more effectively in primitive times. But these materialist just-so stories don’t jibe with the facts of science or logic or shared experience, to say nothing of Scriptural revelation.
Anyone who took in the performances by Virtue and Moir and Papadakis and Cizeron, and the emotional responses they elicited, would have been hard-pressed to reduce all of that to mere mechanistic processes. The human desire to create and enjoy beautiful things, to experience love and connection and joy, points unerringly to a Creator who shares those qualities. In short, we make culture because it’s what we were designed for, to reflect the image of our own Maker. As theologians past and present have argued, these undeniably spiritual traits, present in all humans and inexplicable in material terms, offer compelling evidence for the very existence of God.
That may not have been the express purpose of either Tessa and Scott, or Gabriella and Guillaume, as they skated to gold and silver in Pyeongchang. But for viewers with eyes of faith, it was a most welcome and delightful subtext to their stellar performances.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2018 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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