I was never very artistic as a child. It was a source of great frustration for me, as I somehow always saw painting as my “outlet.” However, I was never able to properly articulate what I felt inside through painting. I would frequently describe myself as an artist manqué— an artist who has not found their medium. Every time I tried to paint, it was a joke. I explained away my lack of skill by labeling my art as “abstract depression.” But the longing inside never went away.
Fast-forward to 2016. One of the hardest years I’ve endured. Because of everything we endured, I found myself questioning the goodness of God. That’s never a place you want to find yourself. Questioning something so fundamental to your faith can feel shameful. Then around April of this year the Lord began to highlight painting to me. I jumped in with both feet, ready to fail. Imagine my surprise when I sat down and suddenly had talent and skill that I could not explain. Since the Lord highlighted it, I saw it as a way to spend time with him and didn’t really think about my skill or ability. It truly became worship. The best worship of my life. It became my place of greatest intimacy with the father. What I love is that after such a hard year, he didn’t take my problems away or fix everything. Instead, he gave me one of the deepest longings of my heart that I had forgotten about and he gave me a way to spend time with him. He restored my faith in his goodness.
Since then, it has been a wild ride of exploring art and the Bible as one narrative together. Removing the lines I had unknowingly established between creativity and worship. What if creativity WAS worship?
So I dove into scripture. When studying the Bible there is something called “the rule of first mention” which says simply that when something is first mentioned in scripture, you can interpret the rest of scripture through that lens. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning, God created…” This shows us that God is an artist. A creator. So then when we read Genesis 1:26 where it says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” we can be sure that God has created us to also create! He had ONLY been described as a creator up to this point. To solidify this, he gave Adam the job of naming all the animals in Genesis 2:19-20. Adam was literally using his creativity to subdue the earth and to change the culture he found himself in. That’s what we should also be doing with our creativity!
Exodus 31 is a goldmine for this stuff. We see two guys named Bezalel & Oholiab. They were responsible for building and creating everything beautiful within the tabernacle. It says that they were “called by God to be artists.” That shows us that God approves of both the arts and the artist. It also shows us that some people were created to be artists! This is also the first place in scripture that the phrase, “filled with the spirit” is used, and it’s in reference to the arts. Wild, right? What’s also interesting to think about, is that these guys were born to create everything in the tabernacle. They were skilled artisans. As an artist, your natural desire is for people to see what you’re making. But think about how few people actually saw what they made. What they did and what they created was purely for worship unto the Lord.
The church used to be the cradle of the arts. The birth place of beautiful art that glorified God. Look at the Renaissance. The Sistine Chapel. But in the last few decades we have reduced our creative expression to an advertisement for Jesus. “How many times can I paint Jesus in my landscape?” “How many people will get saved from my art?” These are wonderful things, don’t get me wrong. But when we take away a need for beauty in what we do, we are inadvertently limiting our reach. God desires our best. He loves beauty. I truly believe we find ourselves on the brink of a new renaissance. An awakening of the marriage of beauty AND truth. How do we see that become a reality?
I think the answer lies in our authenticity. As artists (whether painting, photography, dance, music, etc) our greatest testimony comes from our process and not the final product. In our art form, there is a key component of our own weakness and vulnerability that we are touching that creates a space for someone viewing our art to recognize the same weakness and vulnerability within themselves. And it’s from that place that we can begin to share the good news of the gospel. As we express the creativity God has put within us and we don’t try to polish it or make it perfect, we invite other people into the process and show them that it isn’t about WHAT we make, it’s about WHO we make it with and what he is teaching about us as we make it.
Worship is not just singing or clapping. It’s using who you are, your individual desires and passions, to remind people of what He’s like. As long as our art exists, it will testify to the goodness and nature of God.