Engage Through Art
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). From the very first verse of the Bible, God reveals himself as the Creator, an Artist. Everything within the universe is a magnificent element of the Great Artist’s masterpiece. As works of art created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27), people are endowed with the ability to create as well. We can choose to join the Master Artist by being artists ourselves.
One specific example of God using an artist is found in Exodus 35:30-35 where God called the artist Bezalel and filled him with his Spirit and with wisdom and understanding to make the tabernacle beautiful. The artwork that Bezalel and other artists created was commanded by God and became part of the center of Israel’s worship.
Visual art—including stained glass, sculptures, and paintings—was incredibly important in the Middle Ages when most people were illiterate. Reading the Bible was unavailable except to the upper classes (who were more likely to be literate). But as artists used their gifts in visual arts to tell the stories, the biblical account became available to everyone. Biblical art was known as biblia paupernum or “the Bible of the poor.”
Biblical images are not just for those who cannot read, however. Images connect with our emotions and can convey deep truths. We have a faith that includes our minds and our emotions. Images can be powerful triggers to help us both remember the stories and truths of the Bible and to be motivated toward obedience. Jesus often used varieties of figures of speech (e.g., parables, metaphors, and similes) to convey his message. The Bible describes God in the abstract (holy, eternal, infinite, etc.), but it more often describes him using powerful and emotion-filled images (Father, King, Friend, Master, Warrior, etc.).
Since art is often complicated and takes time to understand, it can help you slow down and meditate on a passage. In the presence of the Holy Spirit, you can combine a piece of art and the inspired words of the Bible, helping you to encounter the God of the Bible in a new way.
Throughout history, many artists have acknowledged God’s sovereignty and position as the ultimate Creator, depicting in their work the accounts and truths that God has given to his people through the Bible. Virtually every biblical account has been visually portrayed at least once (and usually many times) throughout history and across cultures. In museums, galleries, churches, cathedrals, and homes around the world, such works of art are helping people gain a deeper understanding of God through Scripture.
It should be noted that it is inappropriate to simply accept a piece of art without discernment. All art portrays the artist’s faith and spirituality (because we are spiritual beings), so all art is in some way flawed (because humans are flawed). Also, not all things in the Bible are beautiful and calming; many biblical stories are full of distortion and dissonance. As such, biblical artwork will often tell the full story of God that includes creation, the fall, and redemption with each of its harsh realities. Though art can help you to see more clearly what a passage is communicating, God’s Word must always be the ultimate authority.
A good piece of art can help you see the truth of a passage as well as give you “fresh eyes” for familiar passages. The artist becomes your companion, a commentator who points out details of a passage that you might have passed over in haste. Biblical art from other cultures or time periods can especially help you gain a fuller understanding of a passage that you are used to seeing through your own “cultural lenses.”
Scripture engagement through art assists in your spiritual development by letting you share in the wealth of insights God has already given to others.