I was having an interesting conversation with a friend about art and should it have a prominent place in the life of the church. One of the questions was why should art have a place at the table when mathematics, sports activity and other things don’t. Obviously all work that we do are to be done to the glory of God but is there something uniquely different about art that makes particularly suited for life in the church?
I think that the answer is yes. Art is uniquely suited and it should have a place of prominence in the life of the church. There are at least three things that support the importance of art for the church. There probably are more but I want to focus on these three: reflection, illustration and illumination.
Reflection – The first thing we encounter in the Bible is the reality that God reveals himself ascreator. The earth is formless and void and God creates. He brings things into existence out of nothing. “And God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Over and over God creates life out of nothing. Over and over we see that God restores and renews what is broken. He creates new life in all of us. God is a thoroughly creative being.
We as his image bearers are made to reflect his nature. The artist is a great conduit for reflecting this fundamental characteristic of God. The artist creates beauty out of nothing and in their work reflects what God is like.
Now the mathematician reflects God’s character in their pursuit of math. Math is consistent and certain two characteristic attributes of God but some how these things aren’t as equally suited to reflect God widely in the church. So what makes art different. I think it has to do with the next two areas: illustration and illumination.
Illustration – Art has a tangible way of making reality knowable. Biblical truth, the nature of God, the real working way of love, the brokenness of sin, the fragileness of life, the futillity of life lived apart of dependent obedience trust can be know by all when they are illustrated. By illustrated I don’t just mean drawn but written, sung about, performed, sculpted and photographed.
I’m a big fan of books and when I read I am drawn into the story. A good story has a way of illustrating truth and reality clearly. In Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale “The Selfish Giant” the boy clearly intended as a Christ figure I’m able to understand the mercy and transformative power of God. In the boy I understand the reality that Christ has changed us and because of his wounds we are assured that when death comes we will be with God. Or think of Aslan the great lion in CS Lewis the Chronicles of Narnia in his death for aslan we understand substitutionary atonement in a way that makes sense. In church this Sunday we sang It is well with my soul. The song clearly illustrates the dependence and certain confidence that believers have in both peace and trouble. Or think of a photograph of impoverished and orphaned children living in Kenya. Doesn’t the photo illustrate the reality of the fall, the pain of death, and the dehumanization that oppression brings.
Art has unique ability to illustrate Christian truth, beauty and reality in a way that an outline or simple recitation of facts can’t and the illustrate it in a way that makes sense and that we can connect with.
Illuminate – Art is uniquely suited to illuminate Christian truth, beauty and reality. I want to define what illuminate means in a very narrow and specific way. By illuminate I mean it lights a path where we can hear or see God and where we can respond as he reveals himself and calls and draws us to him. Art creates space for God to work in us. I was reading a great anonymous article posted by Michael Winters on the Sojourn Visual Arts website on whether or not art can change us. He says no but he says that art creates a space for God to change us. I think he is right. Here is a quote from the article (Read the rest here) :
“Then for any who would express themselves creatively, there is the realization that our art can’t bring change, that our art isn’t the source for change. But also there is the challenge to create beautifully, intelligently, with such passion, such deliberation, such obedience that we may create a space, a physical space or a pause in time, in which God can draw us and draw near to us.”
Art is uniquely suited to illuminate our path and create space for God to change us. As I think back over the singing of It is well with my soul this Sunday I have to admit that the song completely wrecks me everytime we sing it. Through our singing God reveals my sinfulness in doubt and in letting my circumstances drag my confidence away from him as the good, faithful and merciful God that he is. Singing the song illuminates my brokenness and brings me to my knees hoping for God’s mercy and transformation to turn my doubt into confident trust. It also creates space for me to hear the gospel and to find hope in the mercy of God. God doesn’t just illuminate my brokenness and sinfulness but he also illuminates my only hope “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
photograph by me: let there be light