The Bible as art
This is primarily a post from a previous collaborative blog I was a part of many moons ago. I’ve changed it around a bit here or there to reflect changes to the internet (dead links) and my current thoughts. But largely it is the same.
I’ve been thinking about one of my notions for a long time, the idea of art as epistemology. In that line I’ve also been pondering the Bible as art and what that could mean.
Just the facts, ma'am
Art is often viewed with the same disdain Modern man shows emotion. I’m not sure how either got placed in such low esteem. Somehow we believe that emotions can lie, but somehow facts are true and Truth. Jesus wept, got angry, got frustrated—Jesus showed emotion. Yet somehow most movies and plays depict Jesus as some sort of logistician, speaking in some cold “just the facts” fashion. I do have issues with this portrayal. Modern man has deemed that only the cold scientific method is valuable in terms of learning and knowing. As such we have adopted that code in the Modern Church.
We microscopically examine and research scripture to find the “hidden” meaning, the ideas that can only be deduced or implied, not just what is explicit (or even deprecate what is explicit).
Or in another direction, because fact and scientific methodology is so important, then scripture must be viewed likewise. Thus we reduce what is important about Genesis to a description of facts, the commandments are a list of sins, the Bible is our Life “How-To” guide, as if all we needed to do was change out the right washers and pipes in our plumbing and we would see the Truth. I do understand this approach. I’ve been described as methodical. I understand the need to sort and parse things within an issue to find the best or most efficient way to handle a situation.
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts
But as an artist (and I also think being an art lover is equivalent to being an artist—so for all you out there who say you aren’t an artist, if you love art, I think you are an artist, too) I also see how this can diminish a greater understanding. Great art is always more than what makes up the composition, it is always greater than the sum of its parts. There is more to the Mona Lisa than a picture of a woman. There is more to great architecture than the steel and stone that the building is made of.
How I view the Bible as art. On an analogous level it isn’t difficult to think of the human writers of scripture as the brushes God used to “paint” scripture. Some were bristle brushes, others were sable brushes, some were palette knives, still others were probably “drips”, ala Jackson Pollock.
But there is also a more artistic critique approach. At another forum I started a thread on having a relationship with an artist through his work. I narrowed down (in my own modern methodical fashion) my thought process as there is the story one work tells, there is the story the body of works tell, and there is the story of the artist as told by his life. To ignore any one aspect is to leave out an important part of the story of art. Scripture is similar. There is the story of each passage, the story of each book, and the story of scripture over all. And all that is taken in context of the relationship we have with God.
Sin has a point? Or, the devil is in the details!
I think to focus on only some aspect of one part of scripture (in one discussion it was concerning sin) is to miss the greater point or truth, to be known. Focusing on what is or isn’t a sin is missing the point that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God and we are all in need of Jesus and the redemption he provides. When Jesus says that to lust after a woman is as sinful as actually having sex with her is a way of pointing out self-righteousness in those who think they are sinless because they haven’t physically committed adultery.
When asked which command is the greatest, he not only tells the questioners, but also goes on to say all those other commands are subjected to the two greatest commands. Because of this he can tell those who accuse him of sin by breaking the Sabbath that healing or feeding your neighbour is more important or, even, more to the point. Even risking touching something/someone unclean to help them is more important than remaining pure, as when he explains who is our neighbour. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In all this I think Jesus is saying sin is never what we think it is if we are trying to view sin as a list of do’s and don’t.
Focusing on the details instead of what the details convey together is like, as I illustrated in previous threads, focusing on paint strokes or the fruit in the still life instead of looking at what is being conveyed by those elements together. If you are focusing on the sky or the hill or the town in Van Gogh’s Starry Night, you are missing the beauty of all those things together. The precision of the realists was only an attempt and a means to convey the beauty or the story that was before them. It isn’t that the details aren’t important, but that they all add to build a greater vision.
This is beauty
The beauty of scripture is not that we love God, but that God first loved us, even as we did all that we could to avoid him. Or maybe worse that we purposely tried to hurt him, or even worse we forgot him. The beauty is that God loves us even as we are in sin. And as God loves us, he expects us to love each other, to be Holy as he is Holy.
This was a weak (and typically for me, far too verbose) attempt to put together a lot of thoughts I have had, again my modern propensity to be methodical. I have no doubt that I have left out important thoughts that I have had or failed to adequately explain myself. And I have no doubt I have neglected to consider other ideas and thoughts. So, at the risk of being banned from the community, I submit this to the community for your review and to hear your thoughts.