ART, ENDURANCE AND THE LOVE OF GOD
By Rosanne Hawke
What God Thinks of Art
Did you know that we are all creative? Whenever I tell my students this at the beginning of a semester of creative writing, they stare at me in amazement, a few with a scoff, some with hope. Whether we believe it or not, we are children of a creator God and we are made in his image. To say we are not creative is to reject his craftsmanship. Creativity is a basic aspect of the image of God, the divine image reflected in all people (P. Ryken 2006, p. 24). God created in Genesis, like an artist, looking upon his handiwork and declaring it to be good. And when he made the first man and the first woman, we are told he made them in his own likeness, his own image (Genesis 1:27).
Since God is first and foremost the Creator of all things, it follows that the people he made in his image will also be creative. Having been made male and female, we are of course procreative – a profound miracle indeed. But also, in our ability to think, to speak, to wonder, to imagine, to design, to make, and unmake, we bear God’s creative stamp. It also follows that we live in the midst of an artwork – this world and universe is God’s ongoing work of art, and we are blessed with privilege of working with him as co-creators.
We just need to find our creativity; so many of us bury it under our busy lives or reject it because it doesn’t produce what some other artists seem able to produce. But we all have that creative spark, even though we may not all be called to be artists.
There are many references to art and artists in the Bible. God cares about beauty and truth. Christians are sometimes frightened of the imagination, but it is used as a vehicle for truth in the Bible (L. Ryken, 1989, p. 42). Jesus and other writers of the Bible trusted literary forms to express truth. They were not afraid of metaphor and symbol. Much of the Bible (some say 90%) appeals to the imagination. I often find when I’m writing that it feels like praying – or like a kind of worship. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since art is the work of the imagination, seeing and responding to God’s creation. Like God, we have the capacity both to create something beautiful, and also to delight in it (Kuyper in P. Ryken 2006, p. 24).
The Effects of Art
The power of the arts to move both heart and mind is unquestionable. Theologian and artist Colin Harbinson (2010) believes God is opening the doors of the nations through the arts and imagination, especially those ‘closed’ nations where preaching the Word of God is not accepted. He’s taken three hundred Christian artists into countries like China and Russia to run arts festivals. The artists, whether dancers, musicians, writers or actors, come from different cultures and do not preach the Word but give glory to God through their art.
Harbinson has found that people often ask what makes the artists different, and in this way discussion of Christianity has been opened. Readers can become closer to God by reading books that may not even have Christian content, but which still offer a true portrayal of life and the themes of love and redemption, which begin to settle in their hearts. Likewise, author Madeleine L’Engle (1980) wrote that we draw people to Christ by showing them a light that is so lovely they want with all their hearts to know the source of it (p.122).
William Faulkner once said the work of the artist is to lift up people’s hearts and help them endure (Luz p.147). As Christians we maintain that we would not even exist, let alone endure, without God’s sustaining love and mercy. To endure, we must draw near to God, but art can certainly help us do this. Artistic directors in churches can encourage the arts to help all the parishioners to grow closer to God. I see this happening even here in Kapunda with the Soul Space workshops at Christchurch.
I believe we need to encourage artists in our churches to further develop their art as a spiritual discipline that brings the artist, and the audience, closer to God (Luz, p. 142). Churches should be places where artists are encouraged, nurtured, discipled, and respected (Ephesians 2: 19-22). Thus, the calling of the church as it relates to art is to be: a venue for the art (a place, a way, a time); a biblical community with the artist (offering friendship, encouragement, training, and discipleship); and an audience for the artist (Luz, pp. 117-118).
The Need for Endurance
In Colossians 1 Paul asks God to fill the Colossian believers with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives (Col 1:9). The reason for this request is laid bare in verses 10-11: …that they may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that they may have great endurance and patience.
Pleasing God would result in us having great endurance and patience. These are also qualities that artists need in order to carry on with their craft, often in a culture that doesn’t value art as much as it needs to.
Endurance and patience are close in meaning. Taken together they convey the idea of an ongoing perseverance in a quiet, gentle spirit. The patient endurance of believers and artists will enable them to stand firm in the face of opposition.
We can pray Colossians 1: 3-14 for persecuted Christians too. May the Lord give us and also those who are persecuted, strength and courage to endure. Pray their faith won’t fail but that their suffering will draw them closer to him and increase their faith. Patience is usually accompanied by two other themes in the Bible – the theme of suffering and the theme of love. Love is patient (I Cor 13:4) but we are to be patient in affliction too (Romans 12:12). Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:12 to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Our hope is in God, even though we will face difficulties; knowing he is in control enables us to rejoice. Our hope and our patient endurance, or our steadfastness, must be bathed in prayer, faithful prayer. We need to persevere in prayer. How often do we secretly believe that perhaps it doesn’t work? Once I was very ill in Pakistan and during that time was plagued by thoughts I didn’t want in my mind. I cried out to the Lord in my head, please help, I can’t shrug this off. And I saw in my head, just as if it was a neon placard across the wall, the words of 1 Peter 5:9 – resist the devil and he will flee. I prayed in Jesus’ name that the thoughts would go, and they did. Also my health began to recover. A letter came a week later from a friend in Australia. She wrote, Are you okay? I was woken in the middle of the night and felt the Lord telling me to pray for you. It had been the same night.
Remember the 80s when Christians everywhere were praying collectively for the Berlin Wall to come down, for China to open its doors, for Russia to relinquish its power over all the states under its control? That all happened.
How comforting and what a privilege to be able to hand everything over to the Lord in prayer as part of our relationship with him. We don’t pray to change God’s mind; prayer changes us. Even when prayers don’t seem to be answered, or not in the way we wish, we can remain trusting, knowing God cares, he hears, and he responds.
As we look at what is happening today on the news – wars, conflicts, abductions, persecution, corruption etc – some wonder where God is and if he cares. See what Peter says about this (2 Peter 3:9): The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. I know the most hardened Islamic State soldier is not beyond God’s loving influence. We can ask our Lord Jesus to appear to them in dreams, as is happening now in many countries closed to the gospel, like Saudi Arabia; we can ask him to appear to members and leaders of extremist groups like Al Qaeda and Boko Haram.
When creative people see the news, they may think of ways to portray what they’ve seen, often so that we can better understand what it all means. Some of my books, like Marrying Ameera and Mountain Wolf, may be brutally honest in their depiction of the cruel realities of a sinful world, but they also show the possibility of redemption, something that we hope all Christian art will do. A Year 10 girl once wrote to me saying that Soraya the Storyteller changed her attitude towards ‘boat people’. My book The Truth about Peacock Blue was inspired by real-life cases of Christian girls in Pakistan accused of blasphemy, including Asia Bibi who was on death row. I hope this type of book can inform readers, help them to empathise, and inspire them to pray. Maybe the story will help someone endure.
Art is Love Without Borders
Artists are often counter-cultural (like Jesus was and is). People who use their creativity – artists, writers, musicians – usually take an active role in expressing art with excellence and help shape the culture around them. We can be salt and light in a society that thinks God is dead. We can call on others to change their outlook and thought patterns by the way we live and speak and relate kindly to others. We can immerse ourselves in the Word of God, get to know him better, so we’ll better know his will and purposes. Knowing that God will act according to his Word enables us to wait patiently and expectantly. And have endurance.
Let’s discover our own creativity again, to see the world in a new light. Let’s be shaken from our comfort zone. Let’s be patient and endure hardship as we grow closer to God and each other in unity and pray in perseverance for others. Let’s humbly serve others and love our neighbours as ourselves.
If we truly know and appreciate what Jesus has done for us, we will follow in his footsteps, always remembering:
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17
Harbinson, C. 2010, Theology and the arts, lecture at Tabor Adelaide, SA.
L’Engle, M. 1980, Walking on water, Harold Shaw, Wheaton, Illinois.
Luz, M. 2009, Imagine that: discovering your unique role as a Christian artist, Moody, Chicago, Illinois.
Ryken, L. 1989, The liberated imagination: Thinking Christianly about the arts, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Oregon.
Ryken, P.G. 2006, Art for God’s sake, P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
Rosanne Hawke is an award-winning author of 30 books for young people, including Marrying Ameera, The Truth about Peacock Blue, Beyond Borders, The Tales of Jahani and Taj and the Great Camel Trek. Her most recent title is Riding the Wind, on writing for children. Rosanne is a Cornish Bard and writes in an underground room. For more information visit www.rosannehawke.com