God, it seems, has always been partial to art.
Oh, sure, there is the command against creating graven images given on Mount Sinai: but that command seems to be focused fairly specifically on fashioning idols—ascribing homemade gods some kind of status over and against the One-And-Only God, whose name is I AM (cf. the golden calf; Mount Sinai again).
When the Holy One wants to tabernacle (to tent or dwell) with a chosen-but-sinful people, the Tent of Meeting (or Tabernacle) is specifically designed by God—designed to be beautiful AND to communicate the grace of the One-And-Only, the I AM who dwells in the midst of a not-so-holy-but-forgiven people.
So when the artisans carry out the divine plan for the divine dwelling, even their artistic abilities are explicitly from the divine hand:
The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.” (Exodus 31:2, ESV)
Notice that the artist is
- Known by name.
Hi, my name is Bezalel; yeah, Uri’s son. You knew grandpa Hur? Cool!
- Specifically and uniquely gifted by the LORD God.
“I have filled him with the Spirit ability, intelligence, knowledge, and all craftsmanship.”
- Gifted for a specific purpose.
“to devise artistic designs”
- Gifted according to God’s command.
“According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do…” (see vs 11).
From the description of the buildings, utensils, altars, garments, coverings, and structures these artists are commanded to create, it’s also clear that the purpose of all this divinely inspired artistic beauty is to communicate both God’s glory and God’s grace.
Just like the beauty of creation declares the glory of God in a general way to everyone (Psalm 19:1), so all art worthy of the name gives glory to the Author of all beauty. In fact, God even delights in art for art’s sake; the detailed craftsmanship of the pomegranates on the top of the temple pillars could not be seen by anyone but God alone (2 Kings 25:17).
So all beauty is God’s beauty, just as all wisdom is God’s wisdom. In addition, some art also points more specifically to the story of salvation; some art not only glorifies God by being beautiful, it helps communicate God’s heart for the chosen-but-sinful people with whom the Holy One desires to dwell.
I just finished a project with a team of artists from Visual Faith Ministry. It’s a Hymn Journal for Holy Week titled, When from Death I’m Free. That resource combines music, both new and old, with Scripture readings, Visual Faith Experiments, devotions, and of course, art.
The illustrators, gifted by God and filled with the Spirit, created something that gives God glory, both because the artwork is beautiful and because it communicates God’s heart for people Jesus loves.
I just can’t get over the way Pat Maier captures the experiences of life and death in her illustrations for “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Or the way Valerie Matyas created a Secret Code Prayer that places our confidential confession on the implied shoulders of Jesus in the Faith Experiment for “Thieves on a Cross.”
The variety of the flowers Karen Hunter drew to complement the discussion of “We Will Rise” is amazing. The details of Ann Gillaspie’s illustrations for “Go to Dark Gethsemane” capture the movement of the hymn verses perfectly. And the first time I saw Katie Helmreich’s sketch of nail-marked hands holding a pearl of great price, it took my breath away.
But the best part about this Visual Faith art is not the beauty on its own: this art was specifically and intentionally created to draw you in, to invite your participation, to inspire you to engage God’s Word in a unique kind of meditation that comes from coloring, and sketching, and writing, and drawing, and creating. We have a creating God who fills people with creative ability and works through that creative ability to make the work of Jesus take root in hearts and lives.
You would never want to produce my sketches for a resource like this, but that’s kind of the point. Talented artist have already given me a canvas to play on. My engagement can give God glory not because of its perfection, but my creative effort, for what it’s worth, is first and foremost focused on Christ. I get the Word planted deeper in my heart, and I trust the Spirit is active, even if my art would make Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur cringe.
As Lead Illustrator Valerie Matyas says in her introduction, “You don’t have to consider yourself particularly creative to use this book. But you may be surprised what the Holy Spirit will do if you allow yourself a bit of grace and opportunity.”
That kind of attitude has won me over to the good people of Visual Faith Ministry. This is art that is praiseworthy and praise-giving just as art. This is art that points to God’s heart for people like me. But even more than both of these, this is creative art that invites me to be creative, to experience the power of the Word in new and creative ways. This art is an act of worship that both gives God glory and invites others to join the song.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Faith comes from hearing.” (Romans 10:17) In context, Paul is talking about communicating the message of salvation to people who do not yet know God’s love for them in Jesus:
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
Paul’s focus isn’t the organ of the ear or the sound waves involved in hearing: it’s about a message that needs to be communicated to people in ways people can understand. The illustrations produced by Visual Faith Ministry put the message of Jesus—His saving life, death, and resurrection—on display in ways that preach to all who see (and to all who pick up a crayon or marker or pencil and join in).
The illustrations in When from Death I’m Free are beautiful artwork, created by artists gifted by God for a purpose. These illustrations speak the Gospel. And these beautiful works of art invite you to join in.
Join the When From Death I’m Free Facebook group to receive encouragement, ideas, and support as we walk through this resource together.
Cover art copyright 2020 by Karen Hunter and Next Step Press.
Other art copyright 2020 by Pat Maier, Katie Helmreich, Valerie Matyas and Next Step Press.