“One of the most important - and most neglected - elements in the beginnings of the interior life is the ability to respond to reality, to see the value and the beauty in ordinary things, to come alive to the splendor that is all around us in the creatures of God.”
The Bible is a work of art. For over a thousand years, and across three continents, people used poetry, prose, and all kinds of stylistic approaches to create the beautiful literary masterpieces that the Bible is comprised of.
From the singable lyrics of the Psalms, the philosophical poetry of Ecclesiastes, to the dense argumentative essays of Paul, and the compelling, dynamic narratives of Luke or Esther, the literary artwork that fills the Bible is some of the most influential in all of human history.
Unfortunately, many truths about Biblical art have been lost or misunderstood over time. Many western church songs - regardless of whether they are old, traditional hymns, or modern praise songs - don’t quite measure up to the Psalms in their brutal honesty, intense emotional catharsis, "grounded-ness" in everyday life, theological depth, and aesthetic beauty. Some music we hear in church is both lyrically shallow and artistically bland, or else it might seem out of date, pretentious, and disconnected from real life.
Christians in many places have abandoned the call to creativity. The Bible repeatedly tells us to sing a new song to the Lord [Psalm 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9, 14:3]. But we often leave this type of creativity to big recording artists and labels, or we act as though the creativity stopped with past generations who penned our favorite hymns and church songs, sometimes hundreds of years ago. Two powerful forms of artistic expression are often missing from our churches: 1- current generations creating their own songs and works of art conveying their local community’s experience with God, and 2 - the church using the artwork already contained in the Bible - like the Psalms - for its worship expression.
Artistic expression as worship is also about more than music. In Exodus 31:1-11, we see the Holy Spirit “fill” Bezalel and Oholiab with spiritual gifting to make beautiful visual art and designs. God is the source of all true creativity. Because God is a Creator, we should not be surprised that human beings made in his Image (Genesis 1:26-27) are also creative.
In 1888, Vincent Van Gogh wrote these words to his friend Emile Bernard:
"I tell myself that you may perhaps — be surprised to see how little I love the Bible myself, which I’ve nevertheless often tried to study a little — there is only this kernel, Christ — who, from the point of view of art, seems superior to me — at any rate something other — than Greek, Indian, Egyptian, Persian antiquity, which went so far. Now I say it again — this Christ is more of an artist than the artists — he works in living spirit and flesh, he makes men instead of statues, so….. as a painter I feel good being an ox …. and I admire the bull, the eagle, the man, with a veneration — which — will prevent my being a man of ambition."
Don Postema, theologian and pastor, wrote the following in his book Space For God:
"Some artists reveal a deep insight into reality, a capacity to see beneath the surface of nature and people, an awareness that uncovers for us a spiritual vitality in our world, in ourselves - and points us toward God. What has struck me is that a truly contemplative and prayerful person seems to have a similar capacity for seeing deeply into reality, the ability to pay attention to what is beneath the surface, a willingness to concentrate long enough to catch a vision.” (Space For God, pg. 20)
He goes on:
"“We are God’s work of art (Eph. 2:10). We are being created and recreated by the saving touch of Christ, who, Van Gogh said, “is more of an artist than the artists,” who working in living flesh and living spirit, made living people, instead of statues!” (Space For God, pg. 21)
“Praise” and “Worship” have become cliché terms for some Christians. We sometimes fail to realize the importance of them. Worship is about more than just singing songs; it is about fulfilling the purpose of human existence - reflecting the image of God in our character, our lifestyle, and our acts of creative expression. Whether your gifts are in writing, singing, sculpting, programming, editing, drawing, dancing, designing, speaking, performing, scripting, recording, directing, or whatever else, the Bible is clear that your creative gifts are a powerful and beautiful way to honor your Creator. When you harness your creative potential, you will find ways to enhance your own personal time with God, as well as the way your faith community worships together.
Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song.
Read the Scripture passages referenced in this article, and reflect on what they say to you about creativity, artistic expression, spirituality, and the Image of God.
- Exodus 31:1-11
- Ephesians 2
- Genesis 1
- Psalm 33, Psalm 40:1-10, Psalm 96, Psalm 98, Psalm 144, Psalm 149.
- Isaiah 42:10-17
- Revelation 5
While music is far from the only form of creativity, our partners over at The Haystack have been highlighting young musicians in our faith community who are using their talents for God. Make sure to take a look at that!