One of my recent quiet times / devotional readings was in Ezekiel 4. Instead of having Ezekiel just tell Israel that judgment was coming, God had him act it out in several different ways. For example,
Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it. Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering rams around it. Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face toward it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel.
Ezekiel 4:1-3 (NASB)
Ezekiel did this kind of thing a lot, which got me thinking about God and imagery.
God spoke through the prophets but He did so using their own personalities and gifts. Ezekiel must have had an artistic / dramatic streak in him. At the same time, Ezekiel, like all of us, was created in the image of God. His predilection for being a living metaphor reflects something about the nature of God Himself.
Or think about the phrase, “created in the image of God”. That should have told us something right there about God’s artistic heart. Our personalities are pictures through which He reveals various aspects of Himself in the world. Our sinfulness distorts the message but doesn’t completely conceal it.
God is infinitely creative. God could have sat in heaven alone within Himself, joyful and complete and unchanging and doing nothing more than being. Instead God’s self-sufficient joy overflows in the things he makes and does to express His perfect love and wisdom.
In our finiteness we could know nothing of God, could not hope to say anything about God’s true nature, but God, being an Artist, expresses Himself to us in ways that can reach us.
God the literary artist, reaches out to us in language. God the visual artist paints reflections of His glory in nature and in human personality. God the performance artist dramatizes His message to us through stories. (It seems undemocratic to us that God revealed Himself first through a particular nation, but it is the essence of good drama to speak universally by telling a specific story about a particular community.)
Jesus is the Word of God and the picture of God (“the exact representation of His nature” — Hebrews 1:3), and the leading man in the drama of redemption. “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18).
God knows better than we do the importance of artistry for us and how it touches us intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. That’s one reason the Bible has such a variety of literary genres.
The Bible uses imagery a lot, but it also contains analogies, illustrations, types, parables, and allegories. All these things are ways to for one thing to stand for another, but in my opinion each is subtly different, serves a different purpose, and speaks to a different human need.
A lot of American evangelicals are unsure what to make of the arts. They know music and drama are good tools for getting a message across, but they haven’t reflected on the difference between propaganda and art. They are confused by anything that doesn’t have a clear moral associated with it. They haven’t really realized that it’s OK to value art for artistic reasons.
A few evangelicals, usually the artistically inclined ones, get really frustrated because a lot of Christian songs, movies and dramatic works are not very good. They worry a lot about how to stop all this mediocrity and inspire creative excellence. If we really want to develop our artistry as Christians, though, then we can’t worry about that too much. When we set out to produce “good Christian art”, we short-circuit the creative process.
Instead of trying to produce things we should focus on releasing people. There are lots of Christians whom God has called to artistic expression in one way or another. They find themselves compelled to create. We just need to turn them loose! It’s like when the tabernacle was being constructed:
“See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work.” (Exodux 35:30-33)
Ezekiel and Bezalel are not just anomalies. God has put a holy creativity in the hearts of many of his children.
The thing that is always too bad is that, more often than not, it is the NON-artistically minded Christian who believes he has the authority to judge the quality of art of another believer. While I can (as a non-artistic-type) attest to what speaks to me and what does not, I really have no understanding of whether something is artistically good or not. So I am better off just saying, “Hmmm, very interesting.” ;-D
Kate: I suppose it’s a natural response (although not the best response) for Christians to criticize the art they don’t like. Movies and TV are filled with profanity and immorality, and believers hear these things defended in the name of artistic expression. They decide quickly that artsy rhetoric is just propaganda for an amoral worldview.
In reaction, they stick with whatever they can understand easily. Tried and true stuff. Stuff with a clear message. Stuff that reminds them of the good old days, when people were kinder and purer. It’s not that they are wrong to like the straightforward pieces of art — it’s just that what they don’t get they should probably remain neutral toward, as you said.