I don’t think that it is an overstatement to say that art has power. It has the power to move and shape our understanding both individually and collectively. The power in art partially comes in the reality the makers of art are in some way showing forth or imaging forth the creator God in their creating. They are acting as little representatives of the truth that God is a good God who creates. All art in some manner tells something about God and good art by Christians intentionally tells others about God. I want to highlight three ways in which art is able to tell about God. These three are: reflection, illustration and illumination.
Reflection – The first thing we encounter in the Bible is the reality that God reveals himself as creator. 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. The story of God as creator doesn’t end in Genesis. God creates a people for himself out of one elderly man and his barren wife. Even in the New Testament this revelation as God as creator is seen. Jesus the Messiah comes and creates life out of death. Sinful people are born again with the Spirit as new creations, restored in relationship and renewed to reveal God as a good merciful creator God. 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.
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 futility of life lived apart of dependent obedience trust can be known by all when they are illustrated. By illustrated I don’t just mean drawn but also by being 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” I’m able to understand the mercy and transformative power of God. In the boy, who is clearly intended to be seen as a Christ-figure, I understand the reality that by Christ’s life and wounds we are changed 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 Edmund we understand substitutionary atonement in a way that makes sense and we can get our heads and hearts around. Songs can illustrate as well. One of my favorite hymns is It is well with my soul. This 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? The photograph hopefully moves us to act in compassion. We are moved to be like God who heard the cries of his children in Egypt and acts to redeem them from their oppression.
Art has unique ability to illustrate Christian truth, beauty and reality in a way that an outline or simple recitation of facts often can’t and leave an impression that sticks with you beyond that moment you see, hear or read the piece.
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.
“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 about why I love singing It is well with my soul so much I have to admit that the song completely wrecks me every time we sing it. Through our singing God reveals my sinfulness in doubt and in letting circumstances drag my confidence away from him as the good, faithful and merciful God. 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!”