This past month we celebrated ‘arts fest’: where we celebrate God’s gifts of creativity. It’s something near and dear to my heart. As many of you know, I enjoy drawing and painting. In fact, I actually have a degree in the fine arts: drawing, painting, and sculpting. Though I’m not very good at sculpting or 3-D work.
I’m not sure what you talked about with Mrs. DeBoer or your guest speakers. Sadly, I had to teach those periods. I would like to talk to you a little bit about what I see in the Bible regarding creativity and the arts.
I’m going to start in the beginning. In Genesis 1, God made humans in his image. I don’t think it means we have hands and feet because God has hands and feet. In fact, Scripture is very clear that the Israelites weren’t supposed to create any image representing God because He was so completely other that they didn’t understand what He looked like (Deut 4: 15-20). Instead, if we don’t physically look like God, than the word ‘image’ must mean something else. Actually, it could mean many things. One of the things I think it implies is our ability to imagine and be creative. Of course, our creativity is different than God’s in some major ways. We need raw materials, which we reshape and form into something else. God, on the other hand, has the ability to create something out of nothing.
Yet that difference doesn’t mean God doesn’t appreciate our abilities. Over and over again in Scripture, the Lord requires the objects used in worship of Him to be made by “skilled craftsmen”. In one particular passage, we see the Lord actually giving someone the ability to make excellent artwork.
“1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 "See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given skill to all the craftsmen to make everything I have commanded you: 7 the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Testimony with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent- 8 the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand- 10 and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place.” (Exodus 31: 1-11)
Notice that God gave the artists the skill to create excellent work. In our school, we talk a lot about all of life being worship: our schoolwork, our play, our interactions with other people, etc. We see evidence of that here. Even in our hobbies and interests we can bring glory to God. God has given us the raw ability and now it is our responsibility to hone that ability--to make something of excellent quality with which to worship our creative King. For instance, if you like making art, or playing music, or writing stories or poetry, those things can actually be turned into worship.
Good art will not only be an emotional outlet for yourself but also help draw other people into your experience. Better yet, it will help give them a visual language for their own experience. Art has the ability to teach but it is strongest when it evokes emotion within us. The power of the biblical imagery was not for teaching purposes primarily but to bring people into an encounter with the Most High (Dyrness). Often the point of the text is not to get you to think about a theological principle but to help you experience the theological principle (Dyrness).
Think of how often the main passages of our faith are visual and anchored in an experience of God’s presence: Moses on coming down from the Mountain with his face shining like the sun; David’s psalms written before the glory cloud in the tabernacle; the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This does not even include the myriad of visions in the prophetic books.
Think of Isaiah’s vision of God:
“I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Is 6: 1-4).
There’s John’s vision in the first chapter of Revelation.
“And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man, "dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”(Rev 1:12-16).
The purpose of these passages is not so much to teach, as it is to capture our imaginations and help us to wonder at the greatness of the God we serve. That is the joy of the artist: to help give voice to people’s longings for self-discovery and their natural tendency toward the contemplative and help turn them towards the God of all life and creativity.
Now I want to take a quick detour and speak to the creative types and the budding musicians and artists among you. There is a lie in our culture—the tortured artist. We see the stories so often we begin to think depression, dysfunction, and various other self-destructive tendencies are the price we pay for creativity. It does not have to be that way. You do not have to cut your ear off to be creative.
As a Christian artist you do not have to follow the path of the world. They do what they do because they know no other way. As a child of the King, you do not have to get your creativity from inside yourself. When doing introspection, I have never found anything I liked. When I look deep inside myself, I see my brokenness, my pain, my inadequacy… but I don’t have to create with those as my raw materials. The most creative person in the universe lives inside of you. One of his names is Teacher. The same one who gives you access to the throne of grace in heaven can also use your imagination to give you paintings from heaven. Believe it or not, Christian art does not have to be cute, or lame. In prayer, with your sketchbook or guitar in front of you, you can ask the Lord for ideas and believe it or not, he gives them. Some of the best guitar riffs I have heard as of late have been from people who ‘heard’ them during prayer. First off, how cool is that? Second, what a sweet way to pray. I can spend hours in front of my canvas, doing what God created me to do, and as I turn my heart towards him in worship, the inspiration is better than it ever was before? I’m in.
[In trying to formulate my words for this chapel, I found "Contemplation for Protestants: Where the Reformed Tradition Went Wrong" by William Dyrness very helpful.
Issue #49• Spring 2006