Abide: Engage Through Art

April 3, 2020
By: Dr. Phil Collins

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). From the very first verse of the Bible, God reveals Himself as the Creator, an Artist. Everything within the universe is a magnificent element of the Great Artist’s masterpiece. As works of art created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27), people are endowed with the ability to create as well. We can choose to join the Master Artist by being artists ourselves.

One specific example of God using an artist is found in Exodus 35:30-35 where God called the artist Bezalel and filled him with His Spirit and with wisdom and understanding to make the tabernacle beautiful. The artwork that Bezalel and other artists created was commanded by God and became part of the center of Israel’s worship.

Visual art—including stained glass, sculptures, and paintings—was incredibly important in the Middle Ages when most people were illiterate. Reading the Bible was unavailable except to the upper classes (who were more likely to be literate). But as artists used their gifts in visual arts to tell the stories, the biblical account became available to everyone. Biblical art was known as biblia paupernum or “the Bible of the poor.”

Biblical images are not just for those who cannot read, however. Images connect with our emotions and can convey deep truths. We have a faith that includes our minds and our emotions. Images can be powerful triggers to help us both remember the stories and truths of the Bible and to be motivated toward obedience. Jesus often used varieties of figures of speech (e.g., parables, metaphors, and similes) to convey His message. The Bible describes God in the abstract (holy, eternal, infinite, etc.), but it more often describes Him using powerful and emotion-filled images (Father, King, Friend, Master, Warrior, etc.).

Since art is often complicated and takes time to understand, it can help you slow down and meditate on a passage. In the presence of the Holy Spirit, you can combine a piece of art and the inspired words of the Bible, helping you to encounter the God of the Bible in a new way.

Throughout history, many artists have acknowledged God’s sovereignty and position as the ultimate Creator, depicting in their work the accounts and truths that God has given to His people through the Bible. Virtually every biblical account has been visually portrayed at least once (and usually many times) throughout history and across cultures. In museums, galleries, churches, cathedrals, and homes around the world, such works of art are helping people gain a deeper understanding of God through Scripture.

It should be noted that it is inappropriate to simply accept a piece of art without discernment. All art portrays the artist’s faith and spirituality (because we are spiritual beings), so all art is in some way flawed (because humans are flawed). Also, not all things in the Bible are beautiful and calming; many biblical stories are full of distortion and dissonance. As such, biblical artwork will often tell the full story of God that includes creation, the fall, and redemption with each of its harsh realities. Though art can help you to see more clearly what a passage is communicating, God’s Word must always be the ultimate authority.

A good piece of art can help you see the truth of a passage as well as give you “fresh eyes” for familiar passages. The artist becomes your companion, a commentator who points out details of a passage that you might have passed over in haste. Biblical art from other cultures or time periods can especially help you gain a fuller understanding of a passage that you are used to seeing through your own “cultural lenses.”

Scripture engagement through art assists in your spiritual development by letting you share in the wealth of insights God has already given to others.

Tips for Engaging The Bible Through Art

  • Find a good source of quality biblical artwork. The resource page ‘Scripture Engagement Through Art’ on the BibleGateway website is a great help in this process. Look for art that intrigues you personally and helps you to gain a deeper understanding of the Scripture passages depicted.
  • Once you choose a specific piece on which to reflect, begin by familiarizing yourself with its corresponding Scripture passage. Artwork can never substitute for actually reading and experiencing the biblical text for yourself.  Let the work of the artist drive you deeper into your reflection of God’s Word.  The art work is to help you meditate on Scripture, allowing/assisting you to see what is already there.  Art does not replace the Bible, but it can be used as a valuable tool.
  • Ask God to direct your experience with each art piece. Pray that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom and discernment as you seek to discover new truths about Him and how He works in the lives of His people.
  • After doing this, take time to simply reflect on the piece itself before you begin any further studying on the passage, the artist, or the background of the piece itself.
  • As you reflect on the piece of artwork, ask yourself questions. What figures from the account are portrayed?  How do they react to what is going on?  How do they relate to each other?  What figures do I most connect with?  Why do I connect with a particular figure? How does this piece help me to connect with the passage on a deeper level?  How is God at work in this event?
  • Consider journaling about your experience as you practice Scripture engagement though biblical art.
  • Share what God teaches you through the piece of artwork with friends and discuss with them what they see in the piece. Engaging Scripture through art is inherently a meeting of hearts and intellects as the viewer connects with the artist through his or her work.  Inviting others to experience art with you will further broaden your engagement with the Scriptures.
  • Lastly, consider making your own piece of biblical art! You will engage with a passage at a deeper level as you strive to visually represent a Bible passage.

The Abide Bible: Engage Scripture, Engage God.

Do you yearn for life-giving, intimate communion with God? The Abide Bible is designed to help you experience the peace, hope, and growth that come from encountering the voice and presence of God in Scripture. Every feature in Abide is designed to teach and develop Scripture-engagement habits that help you know the power and spiritual nourishment of abiding in Christ. Learn More >

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