God’s Glory, Artistic Beauty, and Joyful Longings

Herman Bavinck

Herman Bavinck is one theologian who seems to have mastered the holistic Christian worldview as well as anyone, and it makes for glorious reading. I’m struck by how he weds the beauty of man-made art and the beauty of creation to show them both to be expressions of God’s glory, and then ties all that beauty to our joy, and then follows through to show how the piercing human longing for the re-creation of all things is there in the enjoyment of the created beauty.

One example comes from his excellent collection, Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (page 259):

We cannot express in words what a valuable gift the Creator of all things has granted to his children. He is the Lord of glory and spreads his beauty lavishly before our eyes in all his works. His name is precious in the whole earth, and while he did not leave us without a witness, he also fills our hearts with happiness when we observe that glory. . . .

Truly, awareness of beauty cannot be fully explained as “empathy”; when observing and enjoying true beauty, it is not man who bestows his affections and moods on the observed object, but it is God’s glory that meets and enlightens us in our perceptive spirits through the works of nature and art.

Humanity and the world are related because they are both related to God. The same reason, the same spirit, the same order lives in both. Beauty is the harmony that still shines through the chaos in the world; by God’s grace, beauty is observed, felt, translated by artists; it is prophecy and guarantee that this world is not destined for ruin but for glory — a glory for which there is a longing deep in every human heart.

Bavinck was beautifully wide-hearted, glory-thrilled, eschatologically-pointed.

(Note: You can find a complete list of Bavinck’s writings at hermanbavinck.org.)

Lecrae on Lecrae’s Compromise

lecrae

What would compromise look like in Lecrae’s career?

I asked him.

Last November, while he was in Minneapolis for a concert, Lecrae kindly agreed to answer some questions, and I thought it was the right time to ask the hardest question — the type of question everything inside of me hesitated to ask in the first place, but the type of hard question that ultimately works toward clarity on important issues.

My appreciation for Lecrae and his music was already high at the time, and it increased by his willingness to answer this:

You partner and record with gifted artists who are not Christians. Some fear this trajectory will lead to a compromising of the gospel, and so there’s a level of uncertainty among some Christians about your future. This is an opportunity for you to address the future. (1) What would a compromised message look like in Lecrae’s future? (2) What will a faithful message look like in Lecrae’s future?

Here’s his answer (3-minute audio):

On a related note, Phil Ryken published a helpful post over at TGC: “How to Discourage Artists in the Church.”

Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece

From Tullian Tchividjian’s forthcoming book Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free (October 2012), page 189:

If you’ve taken an art history class, you’ve probably come across Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. Or at least the panel depicting the crucifixion.

Completed in 1515, just before the Protestant Reformation blasted off, the altarpiece was commissioned for the church hospital of St. Anthony in Colmar, France, which specialized in comforting those dying with skin diseases. Grünewald took a radical approach to his subject. While most of his contemporaries were still depicting Calvary with post-Renaissance delicacy, Grünewald’s version was dark and borderline horrific: especially Christ’s smashed feet, His contorted arms, and His twisted hands. The cross is bowed to demonstrate Jesus bearing the sins of the world.

The most shocking part of the piece, however, is that Jesus Himself has a skin disease; His loincloth is the same as the wrappings worn by the hospital’s patients. The altarpiece is a creation of such shocking intensity that many initially — and even today — found it repulsive. Yet the graphic nature served masterfully to define and illustrate the Antonite brothers’ powerful understanding of Christian ministry. Apparently patients were brought before the piece in order to meditate on it as they died. The brothers were a quiet order, so no explanations were provided. There was no awkward chatter, no halfhearted attempts to piously let God off the hook. There was just silence.

Isaiah 53:5:

But he was pierced for our transgressions; / he was crushed for our iniquities; / upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, / and with his wounds we are healed.