Is Artistic Expression Essential?


How do finite people have a relational interaction with a Divine God?

Artistic expression, as observed in the biblical record, is essential to life and Christian ministry—especially the worship ministries of the Church. This is because Artistic expression is the essential context wherein humans touch the transcendent realities of life in general, and most importantly, with God. Artistic and “imaginative” expressions—the metaphors, symbols, expressions, rituals, memorials, ceremonies, liturgies—form the amniotic fluid in which life and community grow and mature.

Art is a part of life. It is not something people can choose to omit from their lives. Artistic expressions—imaginative human expressions—are more than a form of human communication. They are the substance, the amniotic fluid, in which human relationships live and grow—human-to-human, and humans-with-God. Therefore, to see the importance the ”amniotic fluid” of God-designed-human-expressions is to the flourishing of human relationships with each other and in worship of God, Church leaders and worship practitioners should maintain a biblical view of “imaginative human expression.”

Evangelical author and philosophy professor Dallas Willard writes, “Sometimes important things can be presented in literature and art that cannot be effectively presented in any other way.” Given the way God has designed the human being and human community, people need all the capacities He created—reason, emotion, imagination, memory, and language, all working together. As mysterious as that transaction is, they need all these capacities so that they may “know” God and not simply know about Him.

In fact, the Bible reveals that people are to know Him so intimately that they ultimately live every minute of each day in a companioning-worship-walk with Him. Jesus pressed this very issue when explaining to the woman at Jacob’s well that, “. . . God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). The Apostle Paul presses the same mandate when he urges Christians to, “. . . present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your logical, reasonable worship-way-of-living” (Rom12:1, author’s rendering).

The Bible reveals that the essence of worship is to find one’s satisfaction in God above all and everyone else. The Apostle Paul boldly declares, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).

But based on these submissions, there exists one important question: If humans and human community are to engage in an intimate and interactive involvement with God, how does this interactive transaction happen?

Most would say that the goal and essence of worship are both wrapped up in a relationship with God. But still, how do finite people have relational interaction with a Divine God? Is not God unique from humans? Of course. He alone is Divine, Holy, Supreme. But how; or in what way, or in what realm, has God created humans to ‘experience’ in transactional reality, relations with Himself?

At this point it is important to note that the mystery of transactional engagement with God happens through environments of imaginative human expressions. When people go to worship, whether in groups or alone, God designed them to exercise their imaginal intellect as much as any other dynamic of their being—including their rational intellect.

When people worship God alone, they “practice” focusing their faith on God through the gate of their imagination. As they couple their imagination with their intellect, they will imagine the unseen realities they know are true in Scripture.

Scripture assures the believer that one approaches God through the work of Jesus. So, when one prays, there is help by imagining Jesus on the Cross; picturing Him on the Cross; picturing their self-bowing before the Cross; seeing with the eyes of their imagination His blood running down the beam, flowing right around their knees. This kind of mental exercise—combining the objective historical truth of the Crucifixion with the eyes of the imagination—helps one draw near to God. Bowing the head, kneeling, closing the eyes, holding a Bible, lifting an arm, looking up to the sky, or any number of other inward/outward practices helps look through the eyes of their imagination into the unseen realities of God.

The mystery is that none of these practices provide in themselves any spiritual merit. But, when worshipers allow their imagination to join their intellect when they worship, they may indeed engage more fully with God.

Dallas Willard

“Sometimes important things can be presented in literature and art that cannot be effectively presented in any other way.”

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