We were made to create. We are fulfilled when we create through the gifts that God has given us to express our uniqueness. Are you using your giftedness to create?
This summer I will be teaching a Seminary course on Christianity and the Arts in which we will determine how a Christian view of beauty and truth meets form and content within the arts. One of the texts we will examine is Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible in which he states, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars”. Schaeffer reminds us that the father of Jesus was also the God of beauty. He created the heavens, the earth, and all of its inhabitants. Everything that we see speaks to the depth of the creative mind of God. Art and the Bible is a primer on biblical creativity with the idea that “we create out of a worldview and it is our responsibility to align that point of view with Scripture before continuing on” (9).
What is your definition of art? Why create or observe art? Is art in the Bible?
As humans who are made in the image of God, our artwork, at all times, must be a reflection of those truths. In Colossians 3, Paul reminds the church of Colossae: “ And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
This has been my tenet for many years as an aficionado of all Liberal Arts: poetry, architecture, literature, painting, and art history (French, Dutch and German). Experiencing these arts has brought me much joy over the years. I try to spend a few hours each week immersed in one or more activities of: copying a masterful works by the Impressionists ;reading prose and poetry from nineteenth century authors such a Longfellow, Verne, Hugo, Melville, Goethe; discovering and translating the traditional languages of past centuries such as Greek, German, Russian and French which have not been available in English; or digging deep into the Scriptures in the original language of Greek to find hidden nuggets of truth. These are my happy places that renew my mind and spirit.
Have you thought of the great works of literature, prose and poetry, to be a form of expressing art? The Scriptures are a great example of this.
What is the place of art in the Christian life?
Schaeffer looks at several of these areas of art in the Bible. For example, in the Old Testament, God instructs a specific pattern in the building of the Temple including the architecture, pillars, oracles, bas-relief, the priest’s robes etc. (I Chron 28:11-12). The same is true in Solomon’s temple (2 Chron 3:6) which required Hebrew artisans to handle marble and clay (30). Do we consider the art and architecture in our sanctuaries today as pleasing to God? Does He feel welcomed and glorified in the places of Worship?
With reference to poetry, the most obvious Biblical reference is in Psalms. But there is also Jewish poetry in 2 Samuel and the Song of Solomon. Schaeffer states that it is probably much easier to write Anglo-Saxon poetry than Hebrew poetry which requires strict literary discipline (40).
Visual imagery has been an important way for artists to honor the stories of the Bible. The art of the Renaissance from artists Cimabue (1240-1302), Giotto (1267-1337), Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) were among these artists. This important theme slowly began to fade away in Europe in the 17th century and became “Humanistic”. Can God still be honored in visual arts (painting, photography, etc) that are not based on Biblical themes?
Of course, this was expressed more in the early eras of Renaissance up through Leonardo da Vinci in the 16th century. We see this not in a single painting, Schaeffer states, but in their whole collection just as in a series of poems by a poet or the novels of an author (56). Of course, not all art is edifying to God. Just as all language and thoughts of mankind are not automatically edifying!
Schaeffer reminds us that “all of us are engaged daily with works of art” (49). When we read books, listen to classical or praise music, admire flower arrangements or paintings we are engaged in art. Man was given the ability to create by God, THE CREATOR of all life. When was the last time you created something with your hands? Did it bring you joy? Was it for someone that you loved?
Language and Translation
We know that God created language; How does He want us to use this language?
Have you paid attention to the grammatical style of the Scriptures? Of course, original language is Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic so we are reading translations. When I set out to learn a new language, the first book I purchase is a Bible translation of that language. This really aids me in the learning the nuances of a language and helps me pay closer attention to the particular verbs that are used.
No matter the translation, the words of Jesus are powerful, n’est-ce pas? We do not have any of his personal writings. The words of Jesus were dictated by writers who witnessed firsthand His sermons and published into four books of the Bible we call “The Gospels”: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
I have studied the grammatical style and content of the Jesus’ sermons over the past 20 years. These are some important grammatical rules in which Jesus used to communicate His message and that all writers should head:
- Jesus omitted needless words. The fewer words in which something can be said, the better.
- Jesus used descriptive phrases to his parables. These phrases directly relate to the first noun that follows. Avoid misplaced modifiers. This will be confusing for your readers and will cause them to lose focus.
- Jesus used consistent, symmetrical, parallel structure. If you are using plurals, stay with plurals. If you are using past, stay there. Be consistent.
- Jesus used references from prophets (we now find in our Old Testament) to support His arguments. There are no plagiarism issues here!!
These historical accounts are God breathed through man’s creativeness in language. “An artist can use language with great richness, fill his writing with figures of speech and hyperbole or play games with the syntax” (Schaeffer, 58).
As a professional Linguist, words are my life. The precise use of words is essential for meaning. Did you know in the English language, there are 611 different senses of the word run that can be found in the Oxford Dictionary? In addition, we have been using many of these same pronouns and prepositions (us, for, to him, in he) and verbs (sing, stood, answered) from Old English for 1,000 years. Language changes every day, but the important art of communication stays the same.
Language, whether spoken or written, “is our shell our antennae; it protects us against others and informs us about them; it is a prolongation of our senses, a third eye which is going to look into a neighbor’s heart. We are within language as within our body. We feel it spontaneously while going beyond it toward other ends, as we feel our hands and our feet; we perceive it when it is someone else who is using it, a we perceive the limb of others” (Jean-Paul Sartre,35).
It is, therefore, very important to choose the words you will use in your correspondence (texts, emails, blogs) and speech as well as the literature you chose to read. “The writer is a speaker; he designates, demonstrates, orders, refuses, interpolates, begs, insults, persuades, insinuates. If he does so without effect, he is talking and saying nothing (Sartre).
Art is a creative work that belongs uniquely to those creatures who are stamped with God’s image and likeness—one important way that we possess capacity to imitate Him. It combines the raw materials of His creation with the technical skills and expertise, making something meaningful to be enjoyed by observers (Schaeffer, 50)
I do believe that a Christian’s art should in some way point to our Creator. We should judge art by asking the question: “Is this giving glory to God? Or is this art distracting attentions and misleading people away from God? Art should be judged in a manner that points to Christ, and his Lordship over all of creation.
A Second Chance at Life
“The Christian’s life is to be an art work. The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world”(94). My expectations of having art in my life extend to eternity. I believe there will not be any platonic separations of art forms there.
This fact really hit home four weeks ago when I was very close to death and eternity when I suffered an Ischemic stroke in my Parietal lobe that affected my short-term memory. In my recovery, God has blessed me through this world of artistic expression in painting, translating scriptures, and reading poetry and literature which have filled my mind and heart with peace and stillness. “Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10). Yesterday, I spent time with my friend Marie expressing art through painting my impression from a recent visit of Lake Michigan. In God’s artistic creation of this stormy lakefront, my heart is still!
Schaeffer, Francis A. (1973). Art and the Bible. Illinois: Intervarsity Press.
Copyright 2021 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)