My town holds a citywide art competition each year, which draws the community out to vote on their favorite works of art. There is art in various forms, from bizarre and interactive to serene and introspective. From gigantic metal installations to theatrical participation, our city steps out to experience creative artistic expression literally on the streets. Some local churches embrace the civic event and host exhibits, becoming galleries and bringing in artists to talk about their creative process and what they are trying to communicate with their art. Other churches get frustrated with the crowds of extra people and having to share their parking lots. How should Christians respond to the arts?
Throughout the history of the church, there have been questions about how to engage with the arts. At times embracing stained glass, paintings, and mosaics as teaching tools for educating the illiterate public about the biblical story. Some architecture, sculpture, symbols, and music became important aspects of the worship experience. In other times and church traditions, instruments or images were considered to be a form of idolatry and many artistic expressions were seen as worldly amusements that should be shunned by the righteous. Perhaps your church community has viewed the arts as entertainment or something that is not essential to your faith practice. Yet, what if Christians engaged the arts as an expression of God-given creativity? What gifts might we receive from engaging the arts?
The arts offer us an opportunity to experience such a depth of creativity and beauty that we can feel overwhelmed in the moment. The arts can give us a glimpse into the creative heart of God. All of this world was fashioned by God’s hand and resounds with God’s goodness and love. We are told in the psalms that:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4a).
Art at its best invites us to experience God’s kingdom breaking through into this world and offering us a glimpse into the heavenly kingdom yet to be. I think of beautiful nights I have spent on the lawn of the city park listening to the symphony playing Bach's musical blessings over the city. In these moments we catch a glimpse of the divine.
Our hearts long for a greater reality than the fractured one that we experience around us. We live in a world of brokenness, yet even here God’s kingdom breaks through in meaningful ways and we catch glimpses of magnificence. The arts can express a redemptive hope for a better world than the one we experience around us. The arts help us to see that there is beauty even amid brokenness and ashes. Through the arts we are able to express our longing for the beauty of God’s world and hold onto a hope for a future yet unseen or experienced.
The arts can also invite us to think in new ways as we see how artists engage their own history and articulate their personal experience. Art helps us to see life from the unique perspective of the artist. Artists draw from the experiences of their own life and allow the audience to experience the world through their eyes. Their works are creative expressions drawn from the richness of life experience and are used to comment on how they have experienced the world. Artistic expression helps us to identify discrepancies and injustice as we see how the experiences of others differ from our own lives.
Sometimes the arts help us to gaze inward. The arts can help us pause, think, and feel. In art we are challenged to see ourselves within a greater context and explore where the Spirit might be leading us. The arts stir our thoughts and feelings and invite us to experience God and God’s world in ways that may be new or even outside our comfort zone. As we invite God to lead us, the Spirit does a transforming work in us. We don't always like what we see in the mirror, but that's not the mirror's fault.
The arts are an expression of our curious spirit looking to share our unique experience of life. God gave mankind the task of being stewards over this diverse world. We are blessed with a remarkable world to experience and care for. As we engage our curiosity and connect with the world around us, we come to a greater appreciation of all that God has made. The beauty of the arts invites us to curiously explore.
The arts can speak to our inner child and invite us to smile and laugh and play. The arts remind us to have fun and explore the wondrous possibilities that God’s world has to offer. Watching musicians or actors perform and share their talents, can bring us delight. We can get caught up in a well-told story or laugh unrestrained over a delightful performance. We can see the playfulness of the divine hand in the diversity of the creatures God has made. Seeing God’s own creativity in the diversity of creation should invite us to engage the world with playful delight.
Inspiration is so hard to predict and what fueled our creative expression one time can be elusive the next as we seek to recreate what worked before. Art captures a moment of time when God stirred the imagination and invited us to use our gifts to express our feelings through the arts. The inspiration of God’s Spirit is outside of our control but as we stay connected with God we experience the Spirit’s leading us outside our comfort zone and using our lives in unique ways.
We are all recipients of gifts from God and called to steward those gifts to the best of our ability. We may not have the same skills and talents of our neighbor, but we are called to be good stewards of all that we have received. We may not all be professional artists, but we all play a part in sharing the gifts that God has given us to make this world a better place.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
God is the one who spoke the world into being and from nothing formed our intricate world with such astounding variety and uniqueness. The magnificence of all that God created is astounding from the magnificence of mountains to the miniature life of insects, God’s wonders delight us. We too are God’s own workmanship and we are given opportunities to create good things in this world. The arts offer us a unique window to see God, our neighbors, and ourselves as well as discover how to serve others with the gifts we have been given.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster