There are moments in our lives that require a full stop. Encounters with the creative or artistic that drill down into a center that we didn’t know we had. Happenings that show us life with a clarity and fullness that gives meaning and order to the chaos and unknown.
II. I. It’s the poem that takes our breath away. The film that leaves us with a sense of “I didn’t know you could do it like that.” Songs that make us feel something momentous and deep in our bones. This is the kind of art that is made of the things that tear up the soil so that the new things can grow. It’s a death and a birth. It’s a clearing out and a making way. It’s generative, even if it’s a bit messy.
In scripture, there are prophets and poets who create moments that shake the foundations of the earth. They catch lightning in a bottle and show it to us. They do what all good artists do: they catch the weird, transcendent parts of eternity and channel it into a moment. They take the scroll of the universe and ground it in our common experience.
And good artists do this, even if it’s uncomfortable. Even if it challenges our collective assumptions about truth and justice and beauty and goodness. The artists of the Bible give us symbols that force us to reconsider what it means to be human.
To have a view of art that’s informed by the whole of scripture means understanding that art is not just about aesthetic enjoyment. It can’t be. When our creative efforts are self-indulgent or disconnected from the dirt of creation we lose the plot. We disconnect from our place in history, and we forget that all is not yet set right. That injustice still runs a deep fracture in our human communities. That the oppressed still require liberation. That Jesus is still coming.
In the Bible, art is the symbols that move us toward restoration. It is subversive, guerilla and unexpected.
Goats confront us with alternative ways of living that look more like God's Kingdom. Sheep frame the narrative arc of the universe. (Matthew 25:31–46)
It's the naked human body used as performance art to protest the people of God partnering with oppressive empires for protection instead of relying on the Lord. (Isaiah 20:1-6)
It’s the process of death put into reverse to animate life into our existence. The impossible used to inspire possibility. The things that have unraveled, raveling back up. (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
It’s words that peel back the scales over our eyes to show the ways we are complicit in injustice and call forth the righteous river of God to make all things new. (Amos 5:24)
It's the tools of death and division reformed into tools of life and fruitfulness. (Isaiah 2:4)
It’s refusing the things that masquerade as shalom but are actually greed, oppression, and malice. (Jeremiah 6:14)
It’s songs that move us toward something inspired. It’s the way our forgiveness sounds. (Psalm 39)
This kind of art, Biblical art, is subversive. And it’s found in the landscape of scripture.
Jesus curses a fig tree as a prophetic illustration of the ways that Israel had failed to live out its calling to usher in the reign and rule of God’s shalom within humanity. (Mark 11:12-25)
John of Patmos verbally spray paints over Caesar’s face by reimagining the praises and titles of Domitian as words of worship to Jesus. All of the words used to communicate Caesar’s rule over the known world are reinterpreted to talk about God’s reign over the whole of the cosmos. (Revelation 5:11-14)
III. There is a physicality and a prophetic edge to our artistic tradition. It’s more than pastoral images of fields and rivers. In the Bible, art and protest hold hands. There are movements and motions.
It gets in your face. It’s got a message that needs to be heard. It’s massive and urgent and compelling.
The Bible is full of inspired moments where for some reason God uses people as conduits to fill the earth with the kinds of creative motions, movements, and art that shake us awake to the new, counter-culture thing God wants to do to restore peace to the whole of creation.
Good art subverts empire.
It runs counter to the narratives of greed, dehumanization, stockpile, consumerism and the power that enforces them.
It brings us into an awareness that there is more going on, just below the surface.
The guerilla art of Jesus and the movement of God’s people throughout history is more than pretty images in a vacuum.
The art of the scriptures announces that a new world is breaking forth. It expands our understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God. It moves us towards the peace, justice, and presence of God. It is creative. It is prophetic. It is art that shakes the foundations of the earth. And it is good.
Words: Geoff Gentry
Photos: Bryan Chung, Jessica Ruscello, and Sean Thomas