I have developed a certain tendency to use the phrases “changing the world” or “taking over the world” when speaking with creative friends. I usually leave this without any particular explanation, a seeming little absurdity thrown into a comment or conversation, but I actually mean what I say. I fully intend a lifelong conspiracy with these friends. You see, these friends understand and create beauty, and beauty changes the world.
This is actually a key element of the Church’s calling, whether we realize it or not. Remember this: God is the source of all beauty and is the perfection of beauty. We have broken the beauty that once was in the world, however, there is still a remnant of beauty left, a shadow that still points to God’s greatness. Furthermore, our command to tend and subdue the earth was not revoked by the Fall. Lastly, Jesus himself began to turn back the Fall during his incarnation on earth, shown in miracles and other undoings of the curse (climaxing in his triumph over death), and left the Church to carry forth that effort with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand and proceeded to break that world into this one, so we are commissioned to keep spreading this gospel, both in word and action, until he returns. Part of that is keeping up our task of creating, cultivating, preserving, and experiencing beauty in the world. Indeed, it moves us towards the day when Christ and his Church will reign triumphant in the world.
It is unfortunate, then, when we within Christianity (particularly Protestant Christianity) oftentimes treat beauty as unimportant and the arts as a non-profession. However, art and beauty have a key place within our historic existence. All one needs to do is look at everything from the cathedrals of Europe to works from Rembrandt to Rouault to see that Christians have, in fact, produced some of the most remarkable art ever assembled. And that is just speaking of visual art! If one moves on into things like music, compositions from Bach to Pärt come to mind. Not only are these examples great art, but they are profoundly moving in a spiritual sense. They were created, by and large, by artists and composers who had a firm grasp of their faith, and they rooted much of their work in reflections on their beliefs.
Some within the Church still see the importance, though they have often lost something of the source message in the meantime. Certain rare evangelical churches like Sojourn aside, the majority of the modern artistic voice comes from Mainline Protestantism. I went to a gallery show and concert a few nights ago with friends, hosted by an Episcopal Church in Louisville and focused around the theme Lux Aeterna (eternal light). There were a handful of pieces of artwork loosely related to the subject matter and mostly mediocre, but the concert was more successful, featuring a wide range of Christian choral pieces in various styles from across the centuries. These were, with the exception of a lyrically bizarre introductory piece by a German mystic, sound and sometimes inspiring reflections on the gospel. Performed by a choir, soprano soloist, and small chamber ensemble, the evening refreshed me with a small bit of beauty and with a bit of hope that one day the Church’s appreciation of the arts might be more widespread.
The experience of beauty is something worth seeking out and fighting for. The implications of this aesthetic doctrine stretch into everything from the arts to ecology, acknowledging both the creative gift that God has given us to produce beauty and also the fact that God is the ultimate source of beauty, which he has shown us in the natural world. N.D. Wilson states, “Ultimately, Christians should have a philosophy of artists and art appreciators. That’s our philosophy. And it’s a philosophy that we can continue to apply through the end and never exhaust it because the art is never exhausted because the Artist is never exhausted.” We have a great task before us. Liberated by the work of Christ, we are carrying his message forth and working against the curse in the world in preparation for his second coming. One of the ways we can do that is to reflect the beauty of God in the world through the wonderful creativity he has given us, breaking more and more of it in by the day.
Let’s change the world.
(Cover image: George Rouault, Landscape)