The Value of Art and Story In The Christian Life

Lately I’ve been meditating on the power of a well-told story. I know that the truths of Scripture are to be clearly related, preached with authority and wisdom. But there is something to the beauty of a parable.

Who can read the parable of the prodigal son and not be overwhelmed by the compassion of the father? Who can listen to the rich man in the flames of hell and not be horrified? Seeds, fish, servants, masters, workers, the rich, and the poor: the parables are filled with very real objects and very real storylines.

When Jesus came He did many things. He healed the sick, raised the dead, preached the truth, and in the midst of all this, told parables. As disciples of Christ (His students), we are called to follow the example of our Teacher. The ultimate parable that we tell is through our own lives. We are each part of God’s grand purpose. He is the Author, writing out the events and happenings of our world.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)

The Christian can take comfort in the fact that his life is not a coincidence. His life is guided by providence (the hand of God). He is not lucky or unlucky. He is not left up to chance. All exists from the glory of the Author, all happens according to the counsel of God’s will.

How then do we imitate such a wonderful and mighty Author? Not by trying to take His place. The builders of the Tower of Babel thought they could be the masters of their fate, the steerers of their destiny. In one fell swoop, the Lord God put them in their place and told us all that He is the Author of language and story. He is the Potter, we are the clay.

With that said, we are indeed invited by our Creator to be miniature creators. We are told to “be fruitful and multiply, subdue the earth and fill it” (Genesis 1:28). In one sense, the Lord put humanity in a great art studio, with paints, pencils, markers, chisels, marble, paper etc. and said, “Take the raw material I have given you and create! Create in my image.”

We subdue the earth for the glory of God. We do not destroy, we cultivate. We take the land and clear it of weeds. We plant crops and build houses. We harness electricity and use it to power machines we have invented. But we do even more than that.

We create art and beauty. Think of this, animals multiply. They clear land and create homes. Plants harness the energy of the sun and make food. What sets humanity apart? Art. We are more than high functioning animals. We are created in the image of God. We have language and thought. We write stories and compose music. We paint and draw. We bring order to creation, not just through subduing it, but by beautifying it. Like God, we are authors, painters, builders, crafters, writers etc.

Just as Christ, we are supposed to tell stories. Deep, meaningful stories, but stories nonetheless. When we fail to recognize the importance of creating modern-day parables (whether it is through books, films, or plays) then we invalidate a very real service to God, the church, and even the world. Among God’s people I have seen two extremes dominate our view of the fine arts. On the one hand, we have those who consider anything that does not present the gospel as a waste of time and resources. On the other, those who create art for the sake of art, who don’t wish to have their art labelled as Christian or any other supposedly “niche” market. Each of these extremes miss the divine balance found in Christ.

Christ told parables that many times He did not explain the meaning to. Parables that talk about dishonest managers, farmers, employers, employees, and kind foreigners. Not distinctly “Christian” subjects to be sure. But does Jesus leave these stories as just nice little pieces of art for His audience to decipher? Perhaps at first, but later He explains their meaning to His disciples, and then tells His disciples to shout His teaching from the rooftops.

If we are to be Christians (those who follow Christ and His example) then our stories must resemble His. What does that look like? Unlike some modern art that isn’t “Christian” but only made by Christians, Jesus’ stories all had deeper spiritual truths, truths that He openly preached. And here we see the balance I was hinting at earlier. Our stories must be deeply spiritual, with a meaning that reflects the Christian worldview. They don’t have to present an overt gospel message to do this. Instead, our stories, whether told in book, film, or play form must be a platform for us to share the gospel. They are a way to speak truth in a riddle, and then to explain that riddle with force and authority. Our movies should be the most powerful and effective parables, ones that grab the attention of every unbeliever. And as they are blown away by our stories, thinking about the characters, plot, cinematography, dialogue, and acting, we will then explain to them the meaning of what they’ve just heard and seen.

The actor must be willing to declare boldly why his character in a play or film relates to the gospel. The writer must explain the meaning of his story, the depth of Christ and His glory as presented within it. The artist, in painting or drawing his picture, must be willing to tell those who gaze on his work that nature itself, the beauty of humanity, and the gift of being able to capture such, all of these tell of an ultimate Creator who sent His Son to redeem and reconcile us to Himself.

We do not create art for the sake of art. We create art to glorify God. And when asked about the skill and excellency of these works, we point to the Author of heaven and earth, saying that we are but poor imitators of the Master. My prayer is that we may reclaim the beauty of art as believers, while still testifying of Christ in our words and actions.

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