The Facts: President Trump has never met this girl from Honduras. Her separation from her mother at the border was only momentary, as her mom was searched. Afterward they were (at least temporarily) reunited as they awaited processing.
The Truth: Still, the girl comes to represent the many hundreds of children who have been separated from their parents while seeking a better life. The moral outrage following the public's realization of this is understandable, no matter how you propose to handle illegal immigration.
TIME's cover reminds me of a painting from the 1700's -- "The Death of Socrates," by Jacques-Louis David. David depicts Socrates surrounded by his disciples, on the verge of drinking his death sentence in poison. He teaches until the final moments of his life, remaining stoic in the face of death.
|"The Death of Socrates" by Jacques-Louis David (1786)|
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
Why include such an inaccuracy in this painting?
The Facts: David knew from Plato's own writings that he was not present at Socrates' death.
The Truth: Plato was deeply affected by Socrates' death and opposed it. By positioning him at the foot of the bed, looking away, the artist accurately captured Plato's disposition toward the death of his esteemed colleague. If Plato had been missing from the painting, we would lose this central point the artist is trying to make -- a point that coveys the truth of history creatively.
From time to time, feathers are ruffled when someone dares to suggest that the writers of Scripture were brilliant artists. To some, this implies a disconnect with truth and a denial of divine inspiration. The second objection is easily solved. The God who created all things endows humans with creativity and invites us to participate in his work. As a prime example, take Bezalel and Oholiab, the men charged with designing the tabernacle (Exodus 31). These men were Spirit-filled and skilled creatives, in spite of the fact that their task was to construct something that already had very detailed blueprints. If their creativity was not a valuable asset for this project, God would have been better served finding an automaton. No, he chose humans, men who had spent years honing their skills in weaving and engraving and woodworking and all types of art.
But does art imply a disconnect with truth? Put another way, would the exercise of artistic license in the production of sacred Scripture get in the way of truth?
A great place to test this theory is in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each tell us the story of Jesus. With their words they paint a portrait for us of his life and ministry. They share much in common, at times even whole episodes or chapters. But there are differences, and some of these are rather puzzling. Did Jesus drive out the money changers in the temple at the beginning of his ministry (as John tells it)? or at the end (as Matthew, Mark, and Luke recount)? Some Christians assume that Jesus must have driven them out twice -- once at the beginning and another time at the end of his ministry. But could this be an example of creative license?
Matthew, Mark, and Luke may have saved this story until the end to illustrate how the opposition to Jesus gained momentum, resulting in his crucifixion. On the other hand (I suspect this is the better explanation), John may have chosen to tell us about the temple cleansing earlier because he's arranging the episodes of Jesus' life topically. The temple cleansing fits a string of stories illustrating Jesus' redefinition of Jewish institutions (sacred vessels, temple, rabbis, and sacred sites; John 2:1-4:54).* The cluster of stories among which the temple cleansing sits is followed by a series of stories in which Jesus redefines Jewish festivals (Sabbath, Passover, feast of Tabernacles, and feast of Dedication). Together, these two clusters make up the "Book of Signs," where John presents 7 signs that reveal Jesus' identity and call people to faith, setting us up for the "Book of Glory," where Jesus is glorified by offering his life on the cross.
However you slice it, artistic license is clearly at work. Either somebody moved this event out of chronological order, or all four gospel writers chose to omit a second occurrence. In my opinion, the truth has been gloriously served.
*For a fuller discussion of John's arrangement of material, see Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity (Zondervan, 2009), 216-219.