Great Artists of the Bible, Part 1: God
My favorite TV show of all time is the Twilight Zone. This classes series featured characters who were stuck in an alternative reality where nothing made sense. By the end of each episode, they were often alone, frustrated, and disconnected.
Many artists of faith today feel like they are stuck in their own personal twilight zone. Perhaps you feel this way. My guess is that you have, at one time or another, felt one or more of these disconnects:
1. A disconnect between your art and your faith. You love God and have devoted your life to Him, but you struggle to see how your creative gifts relate to the Bible or your spiritual life.
2. A disconnect between your art and the church. You value your faith community and want to use your gifts to serve others. But you don’t have opportunities to use your gifts, or you feel that others don’t value your creative talents.
3. A disconnect between your art and the broader culture. As a person of faith, you want to honor God with your talents and be an effective witness for Christ. But you wonder how to do that in a culture that is usually indifferent, and sometimes even hostile, to your faith.
It’s frustrating when you feel you have to keep your art in a separate box than the rest of your life. You are a whole person, not a collection of separate compartments. Life doesn’t run smoothly when the parts of your life are separated.
But what if there was a way to integrate your art into every area of your life? What if you could live from a calm center of creativity instead of the frayed edges of frustration?
One of the best ways to do this is by getting back to the basics and studying artists of the Bible. When you do, you’ll begin to see how much God values the arts. You’ll also see how He has used artists to lead, serve, and inspire His people through the generations.
This is why I’m introducing a new series, Great Artists of the Bible. As you learn from these artists of faith, one thing becomes clear: God has woven threads of the creative arts into the tapestry of his redemptive story. In this post, we start at the beginning by taking a look at the master artist: God himself.
God, the Master Artist
Genesis begins with the simple and elegant statement, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God’s first recorded activity was creating something.
The following verses describe how God brings shape, form, and structure to his creation. Then he populates the earth with living creatures. At the end of Genesis 1, as he did several times before in the previous verses, God sees that what he created was good. He stepped back and evaluated his own artistry.
Here we see the Master Artist at work. The Bible doesn’t begin with a lecture or a list of bullet points. Instead, it begins with a story about an artist.
Made in God’s image
God’s crowning achievement in Genesis 1 is the creation of mankind. Verses 26-27 tell us that we are made in the “image” of God. But what does this mean?
It’s helpful to look at the original language. The Hebrew word used here is tselem, which refers to an image, likeness, or resemblance. An image contains characteristics of the original and, at the same time, points back to it.
As humans, God designed us to reflect some of His qualities. One of these is the ability and desire to create. You might say we are a “reference point” for God since we are created in His image.
I have always loved the title of the Rich Mullins biography An Arrow Pointing to Heaven. It’s a fantastic image and a great reminder that all of us should aspire to be arrows pointing to Heaven. The creative output of our lives should in one way or another, reflect the original Creator.
That doesn’t mean we have to make “Christian art” or be a “Christian artist.” There is no such thing as a “Christian artist.” That is a concept developed by marketers to sell products to the church. There are artists who happen to be Christians, but you can’t really have a Christian artist any more than you can have a Christian table or a Christian computer.
Art itself cannot be Christian, but it can—and should—flow from Christians. As Philip Graham Ryken writes in his fantastic little book Art for God’s Sake, “If the opening chapters of Genesis portray God as a creative artist, then it only stands to reason that the people he made in his image will also be artists. Art is an imaginative activity, and in the act of creating, we reflect the mind of our Maker” (pg. 24).
What if I’m not creative?
You may be thinking, “That’s all well and good for people who think of themselves as artists, but what if I’m not very creative?” If you don’t think of yourself as creative, I’ve got news for you: God says you are. Since you are a child of God, you are endowed with creative abilities by definition.
The problem is that in our modern culture, we have a concept of creativity that is based on the performing arts. We see creativity as something that is possessed by movie stars, famous writers, and temperamental but talented musicians.
Sure, those people are talented and creative. (Well, most of them, anyway.) But true creativity is not just about performance. It’s all about bringing something good into the world, whether it’s music in a studio, kindness among strangers, relationships in a broken family, systems for a computer network, words on a screen, a home for foster kids, or a million other ways to make ourselves available as channels of God’s blessing in a broken world.
“Creativity” just means the capacity and desire to create. The problem is that we are too limited in our scope of what it means to create.
What about non-Christians?
Another question that comes up in discussions about faith-based creativity is this one: “What about non-Christians who are artists? Where do they fit in?”
In a way, this is the opposite question as the previous one. That one dealt with Christians who don’t feel creative. But what about non-Christians who are creative? How can they be channels of God’s blessing, and how can God use them if they are not people of faith?
This is the wrong question. It’s not an issue of who created the art—it’s an issue of whether it’s good or bad art. There are non-Christians who make wonderful art, and there are Christians who make terrible art. And vice-versa. A person’s creative excellence has much more to do with passion and hard work than it does with the presence or absence of faith.
God’s creative gifting is like rain—it falls on people regardless of whether they look up and acknowledge where it came from.
Our imperfect creativity
We serve a creative God who imagined everything from neutrons to supernovas, from grains of sand to galaxies of stars. When we do any sort of creative work, we are mirroring in an imperfect way the perfect acts of God that brought creation into existence. We are most like God when we create.
The more that we set aside our preconceived notions about creativity and dive into what the Bible says about the topic, we will be surprised, moved, and motivated. I’m looking forward to this series that will unfold occasionally over the next few months!
If you want to explore what the Bible says about artists even further, I recommend these books:
- Art for God’s Sake A Call to Recover the Arts by Philip Graham Ryken
- The Liberated Imagination: Thinking Christianly About the Arts by Leland Ryken
- Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
- Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts by Steve Turner
How does seeing God as the Master Artist change the way you see yourself and your creative work? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!