Isaiah 66:2-4: A Christian (Who is an Artist)

Have you ever made a sacrifice to God and later found out it was one in which He didn’t delight? I started to think about that today as I read this section in the book of Isaiah. The Lord is speaking of sacrifices that He finds abominable—human sacrifice among them—but I stopped short when I reached this verse, “…And chose that in which I do not delight.” People were going about the rituals of the day with a laissez-faire attitude, not a heart level gift to God. I want to delight God, don’t you? I’m not planning any human sacrifices, so I don’t think God will find what I give abominable, but I want what I give Him to be good and pleasing.

Okay, I know that Jesus gave Himself as the perfect sacrifice for all my sin, so I don’t have any debt to God that way, but this bit of verse in Isaiah stopped me cold because the Lord pretty clearly and succinctly defined what He wants up in verse 2, “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Clearly the point here is that it isn’t just what you do but how you do it that matters to God. It would be fairly easy to stop there and just think, oh good, I’m okay. I love God. Right?

As an artist, early on I decided that my artwork was to be sacrificed to God. (I hope you see my problem in that sentence alone. It’s there, trust me.) At first I thought it meant my paintings had to look a certain way. If I say “Christian art” to you, what kind of look pops into your mind? Is it figurative work illustrating great stories from the Bible? Usually we think of narratives, not paintings of the landscape. There are certainly some schools of art that have tried to paint ‘moral landscapes’, but I wanted my artwork to show the incredible and overwhelming change that had occurred in my life. I began by writing Scriptural phrases in charcoal beneath my paintings. As I sketched I would scribble words like ‘grace’ or ‘sanctification’ or other godly sounding, high-falutin’ words on my paper, but as I applied pastel to the surface the words were obscured. That didn’t make much impact. I then decided that the look of my work wouldn’t change but I could surely make an impact by witnessing to my faith in what I said, particularly on my web page. I redeemed the work by telling people my beliefs. (Maybe you can see the flaw here, too.) That was good, of course, but I still felt dissatisfied. I wanted what God was doing in my life to show in my work. I decided to try to paint figurative work, which has so far met with modest success. I still find that goal interesting and provocative, but it hasn't made any real impact on my painting, and hasn’t resulted in more overtly Christian looking artwork.

I asked myself over and over why I felt so dissatisfied with what my artwork expressed, why the deep feelings and life-changing truths never seemed to show in my paintings. Art is supposed to be an expression of the soul of the artist, so why was this such a disappointing and unsatisfactory spot in my life? God was making His mark in so many other ways, using me to speak about my beliefs, to minister to women, even to help bring others to a newfound faith, but my art seemed to be an ‘also-ran’, tacked on to the wagon of my life like a rope trailing behind.

I can’t tell you when the realization dawned. There’s no one ‘ah ha’ moment to be shared. It’s just that over the years God has slowly explained this to me through many avenues. Don’t be too shocked when I tell you that my artwork is not the expression of my soul, as I was taught to think. That’s far too narcissistic for a Christian. But one day on the radio a teacher I admire and respect, Haddon Robinson, explained quite clearly something that summed up my understanding. He said that the word Christian should not be used as an adjective but as a noun. Not Christian artist, not Christian prefacing anything—instead it must be ‘a Christian who is…’ The object is to be a Christian, not to be something modified by being a Christian. Do you see the difference here? I’m a Christian who is an artist. He is a Christian who is a businessman. She is a Christian who is a mom. You are a Christian who is…anything you are.

So now you see the problem in those two sentences I pointed out above. I was, in essence, trying to tack Christian onto my work as an adjective, rather than realizing that as a Christian all I do is from and through Him. “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” As a worshiper I come with nothing, understanding that what I have and what I bring to God is nothing. So you see, I was trying to make my art into a sacrifice to God by endowing it with something visible, but in so doing I was the one defining the sacrifice. God, on the other hand, wants all I do, including my art, to be done with a heart for Him. It’s easy to define what I’m willing to sacrifice to God, yet entirely miss what He’s asking of me.

God refuses to be a modifier to my life. He insists on being the sole motivator. Therefore all I am is His, including what I do.

I’m a Christian (who is an artist) and that clearly delights God!

Comments

  1. Deborah - I enjoy your art and have found this Faith & Art site throu Wet Canvas. This entry makes so much clear to me and removes so much baggage of what I am supposed to be. I'll be praying and journalling with this one for awhile. Rita

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  2. I'll keep you in prayer, Rita, that God will continue to clarify and peel away that excesss baggage. Job 23:10 "But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold." He continues to refine us, so that in the end He sees His own image reflected in that gold. --Deborah

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  3. Hi Deborah, I agree so much with what you are saying here, I feel very much the same way, although I don't think I've ever expressed as deep as you just did. I remember at one point deciding that whatever I did, I needed to do for Christ,(I think of 1 Cor. 11:31b ... whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.) whether is it cooking dinner for my family, working at my job, painting, cleaning, talking, my relationships, just to give Him all of me, to try to let every area of my life show Him. I think this is what you are saying, rather than defining ourselves as a Christian artist specifically, just that we are Christians and we belong to Him. I am so thankful that He continues His work in me, that He is patient with me, because it is an ongoing struggle and so easy in the midst of daily life to let my "self" get in the way of Christ.
    Paula O

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