I remember being moved by art from a very young age. Perhaps because I have no true artistic ability, it amazes me when someone with skill or talent can produce something beautiful. Art can indeed touch our souls, so I believe it is worthwhile to gaze upon the wondrous things the Lord has made, or the things he has gifted someone to make—leading us to then worship our Lord. Exodus 35:35 tells us that the Lord filled some of the Israelites with a special skill:
He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer.
As we read in this passage, the Israelite’s skill, and any skill we possess, is from God. So, it makes sense to credit the beauty to God, whether or not the person creating the work was a believer.
Seeing the Creator in the Creation
Often, the highlight of my vacations has been seeing famous masterpieces or encountering the Lord’s majestic wonders. I vividly remember the incredible awe I experienced while standing on the top of Mount Pilatus in Switzerland. The air was so clear, and the view was incredible. As I gazed off the mountain, seeing the birds soar effortlessly, I felt awe and wonder at God’s creation. I felt this same awe and wonder hiking in the woods through Brown County State Park as a child. Nature speaks to God’s glory.
Beholding man-made art has a similar effect on me. When I saw a painting by Vermeer, I had a similar awe-filled experience. Rather than looking at the technique of an earthly artist, I found myself amazed at the talent that our Master Artist had gifted this painter. I have no idea if Vermeer was a believer, but I believe the exactness of his work and his understanding of the use of color is something that only God could have provided. The same goes for hearing Handel’s “Messiah” and other such musical scores, which were intended as forms of worship.
Art as Worship
In earlier times, when people couldn’t read Scripture, the art inside a church was meant to tell stories from the Bible. One can sit in many sanctuaries throughout the world and see the stories of the Bible come to life in pieces such as stained glass, mosaics, and sculptures. And you don’t need to travel to a Russian monastery or European Cathedral to see what I’m talking about. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis illustrates the story of the gospel with its walls and ceiling—mosaic tiles depicting Bible stories, something very similar to what you would see in Europe.
In more contemporary structures, artists are sharing the glory of God in still other ways. For example, when I took my first mission trip in middle school, we traveled to Oklahoma City. On the way there, we stopped to visit a newly-constructed church building. I will never forget how a guide explained the symbolism within the structure. Each item in the sanctuary had meaning and I was in awe that God’s people could come together and build a structure for his worship, and where the structure itself seemed to worship him! Even today, it reminds me of the continued building of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. In unique ways, both structures stand as monuments to the worship of God.
After raising my kids, I decided to go back to college. Though art had nothing to do with my major, taking Art 101 was by far the highlight of my entire education. One interesting instance is when we studied The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Carravagio. Our professor shared how, due to the positioning of the people in the painting, if you stood directly in front of the piece, you would feel like you’re in the room with them. It was as though the Carravagio was asking you to see, touch, and feel Christ’s side— that you too would believe.
Art in the Everyday Experience
Just as the masterful art of Carravagio and the musical scores of Messiah point to the awe of our Creator, so too does the art we see in the seemingly mundane. While we do not generally view famous masterpieces every day, we can see masterpieces as a part of our everyday experience. People are indeed masterpieces made by God. We are all created in the image of God, and our walk can reflect Christ’s love and kindness. The same can be said of the physical nature that’s around us. We need only look into the eyes of a friend or out the window at a tree to be reminded that God is everywhere. May we worship him in response!
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.