Of all the living creatures God created, just one species has the capacity to fully imitate a wide range of Creation’s beauty. We are created in the image of God—and therefore, we too are creators.
In the beginning, Creation was pure, unspoiled, and very good. Then, mankind introduced sin into the world. The beauty of the Garden was lost to us, and we were forced to live in the ugly world we chose: a world filled with pain, toil, and death.
From that moment on, the story of our Father’s relationship to His children has been one of redemption. Throughout Scripture, we see Him redeeming seemingly hopeless situations. When people were so wicked that He determined to wash His earth clean of them, He could have simply started over. Instead, he chose to save Noah’s family and redeem the human race through them.
When Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his own brothers, his beautiful coat was torn and splattered with blood. It’s hard to imagine he could see much beauty from the bottom of the pit where his brothers threw him or from the jail cell he was tossed into after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife. But God’s faithfulness was at work all along, to bring redemption not only to Joseph, but to his brothers and countless others as well. As Joseph told them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” Gen 50:20a
We see it again and again: the Lord redeemed the children of Israel when he led them out of Egypt, and again when He ended their wanderings and led them into the Promised Land. And finally, His great redemption of all His children, both Jews and Gentiles, was accomplished at the Cross.
Our God takes brokenness and turns it into something beautiful. And we are made in His image; we have the same God-given ability and desire to create beauty. When we create, we echo back the glory of our Creator.
Think of the Tabernacle the Lord instructed the Israelites to build. It was not only functional, but intricately decorated, filled with gold and precious stones. In His wisdom, God knew our hearts crave beauty, and that beauty points us to Him.
In fact, the beauty of Creation itself points us to the Creator: “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” -Romans 1:20
Good art can be a call to worship. Countless artists over time have created religious works, renowned the world over as some of the best artwork of all time: Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. But art doesn’t have to be overtly ‘Christian’ to point us to Christ. Monet’s landscapes are timeless not only because they are skillful depictions of beauty, but because they are loving renderings of the handiwork of the Creator.
Consider the work of Van Gogh. Some of the most cherished and priceless works of art in the world were created by a broken man. In spite of his own mental pain and financial difficulty, he produced the swirling loveliness of The Starry Night, the striking colors and brushstrokes of Irises, and the unflinching honesty of Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear. From a place of brokenness and suffering, he produced works of deep, aching beauty.
Even abstract art can illustrate how seemingly discordant, disjointed parts can come together to form a meaningful whole. God gives us beauty for ashes. Good art does the same, taking our human imperfections and messiness and pain, and creating beauty with them.
Think of Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth. Its drab colors surround a girl lying on the ground, in the brown grass, looking toward a gray farmhouse in the distance. Wyeth was inspired by the real woman, Anna Christina Olson, who suffered from a condition that left her unable to walk. She refused to use a wheelchair, and therefore crawled everywhere. In the painting, she is alone in an ocean of space, facing the seemingly impossible task of dragging herself all the way to the house in the distance.
As with all good art, the painting evokes powerful emotions in its viewers. We feel deep compassion for this courageous woman—we are moved to compassion, as Christ was moved to compassion by the crowds who gathered to hear Him speak. We are reminded of times we’ve felt very alone or overwhelmed by the task before us. We may think of what we’re suffering from that feels unfair and isolating.
As followers of Jesus, we may be reminded in viewing this painting and experiencing the feelings it evokes that our Savior faced these same challenges. He felt alone and isolated, and was at one point overwhelmed by the task before Him. Jesus suffered these emotions and can relate to us, just as we stand there relating to the woman in the painting.
As people of faith, we may see more in this melancholy painting as well. Her dress is a bright pastel point in the otherwise dreary landscape. Her solitary struggle brings life and a story worth telling to an otherwise lifeless scene. She is looking upward, reaching forward, suggesting she is not hopeless. She has a goal, and she is pressing toward it. She is going home.
Artists can imitate and worship our Creator by creating. We can point others to Him by reflecting the beauty of His Creation. And in art we can reflect the very mission of Christ on earth: to redeem what was lost.
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