Can God reveal himself through visual art?
This question often elicits conflicting emotions. Many Christians who are artists would intuitively answer the question with an unequivocal, “yes,” but defending this answer to those who are ambivalent or even hostile to visual explorations of God can be unnerving.
Though it is difficult, it is important that we, as visual artists, engage in these discussions.
Countless examples exist in scripture that point to God’s mandate and blessing of our human creativity; yes, even the creativity of visual art fashioned by fallen hands. Old Testament scriptures relate how brazen serpents, blue pomegranates, red ram skins, gold cherubim and almond blossoms were all blessed by God and accepted as both implements used in his saving acts and as implements used in his worship.
The rational parts of our brains should see the evidence in scripture and conclude that the second commandment (which is the most cited objection to representational art) refers to the making of idols specifically to worship AS gods.
With the coming of Christ, the invisible God made himself visible, clothing himself in flesh, choosing to take on the material of his created universe. He was the true Eikon of the true God, coming to humanity as fully human and fully God, a God that could be apprehended through our finite senses. God had revealed himself in material form, and because God had revealed himself in Christ, early Christians felt appropriate depicting God visually as a human.
Like art, dance, music and poetry, theology too is a human way of forming and constructing meaning from the revealed God. Theologians use language and text in an attempt to meaningfully communicate their thoughts about God. They verbally communicate and commit their ideas and revelations to textual form in an attempt to communicate some aspect of God’s nature. If that aspect of God is considered true by others and if that revealed aspect does not contradict what God has presented to us in scripture, readers have no problem accepting that particularized revelation or its form. The writings of a particular theologian are thereafter available in plastic form (text) to be used by God to reveal himself to subsequent readers.
I find it interesting how text—itself an artificial, visual and cultural construct—is rarely questioned as an appropriate medium by which God reveals himself to humanity. Text is essentially an arbitrary, abstract, symbolic creation; a method of making thoughts tangible and communicable visually. Humans form words. Humans form images. Humans shape symbolically, forming meaning through a shared vocabulary of symbols. Even spoken language is symbolic, a system of producible sounds to which meaning is both imparted and understood. Why would one attempt to elevate one form of human creativity or communication over another? Why would one accept that God would reveal himself through one medium of communication, such as a poem, as opposed to another, such as painting?
We live in the middle of God’s redemptive story. He is not silent or distant; the Kingdom of God is here. The presence of God lives in us in the form of the Holy Spirit, relationally communing with us and forming us into our future selves. God uses all forms of his creation to reveal himself to us, and we reshape his creation in response to him, in obedience to his mandate. Being formed in his image, we continue to enact his initial creation. We look forward to the completion of his work and to the fullness of our redemption in the New Jerusalem. Until then, we create in response to his past revelation and look forward to his continued partnership and revelation in our creative formations.
Does God reveal himself to you and to others through your medium? Do you respond back to him through medium of his revelation?
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