“Oh, do you still make art?”
Kind people commonly ask that when they hear I am now a pastor, but have a degree in painting. The easy answer is, “Not much, these days.” The implication, that a pastor’s life is busy—who has time to break out the acrylics?—is true enough. The conclusion that my being a pastor is unrelated to art, however, is false.
The longer answer, which I don’t always inflict on people, is that there is a clear logic to God’s calling me from painter to pastor. When I was an unbeliever, I desperately longed to be ravished by beauty. Making art was a diagnostic tool to find a beauty that would satisfy the eye, the mind, and the heart. Struggling to create a painting was an immersion of the bodily senses in color, shape, texture, line, and space, but also a pursuit of something bigger than myself. It offered purpose and hope.
Of course, art utterly failed me.
But it worked according to its intended limitations. There was too much ugliness in me (never mind the world): hurt, hatred, fear, guilt. What beauty can fill a broken heart? What is the beauty behind all beauty, of which every glimpse in a shattered mirror leaves more yearning than satisfaction?
He came to me when I was crying. The Beauty. The Glory. The Love. It had been a rough patch. I hadn’t been making art for a while because, well … why? My eyes were bleary. He came to Mary Magdalene in a moment like that. She thought he was the gardener. For a long time, I also had seen him standing there before my dawn, and had mistaken his identity.
He called me by name, and I looked at him, the Beauty so perfect that it had long terrified me, the original that is glimpsed in everything pleasing to the eyes and desirable, whose image was borne in every model I sketched. The beauty of all beauties, whose light beckons through everything he makes, whose glory is revealed in every vessel he shapes.
Jesus Christ is the end of the aesthetic quest.
I had loathed him as the death of all I desired. When Jesus sovereignly summoned me to turn to him and live, I saw that he himself is the fulfillment of every longing for life, joy, love, light, and beauty.
“Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty. Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
He is the creator of the primordial splendor. But now, with an artfulness that no eye has seen nor ear heard, he is the beautifier of all that is ugly. On the cross, he comprehended all that, with his own visage marred more than all the sons of men, having been made sin for us, so that the original critique at the end of God’s work may sound again with deeper appreciation: “And, behold, it was very good.” For we are his craftsmanship, created in Christ Jesus.
Of course, Christians should still make art to the glory of God.
For me, Christ simply had another vocation, employing other gifts that had lain dormant in sin’s sleep. As a minister of the gospel, I work in a different medium and on a vaster canvas. The God-breathed words of Scripture are the heavenly hues, the new and more beautiful palette of the pastor’s work. I do not wish to preach artistic sermons, but sermons about the Artist. As Christ is preached scripturally, people and pastor rejoice together to see his glory. Serving Christ, the Beauty, in this way, I wait for and hasten the coming day when all his people and even the universe itself will shine out visibly in his loveliness. The Christian life and hope are thus inescapably aesthetic.
The author is pastor of New Life OPC in Williamsport, Pa. New Horizons, March 2015.