I’ve started writing a bit because I want people to know me as a person. I want to develop a relationship with you, and I welcome and value your comments.
Have you ever thought about where our ability to make art comes from, or why we create representations of, likenesses of, paintings of, photographs of, drawings of, things in the world? These likenesses that we create of things that we see and experience in the world serve no biological or survival purposes. They are purely nostalgic, emotional, and aesthetic. Think of how weird this is, it seems like such a waste of time. Sure, a bird can construct a nest, but it doesn’t represent something else in the world. What does a birds nest mimic other than itself? Nothing. It also serves a purpose fundamental to the bird’s survival.
I’m not saying that art doesn’t serve any purpose at all. I’m saying it doesn’t serve a biological one. Art’s purpose seems to be the fulfillment of our longing to be in the presence of beauty, to marvel at aesthetics, or repress sentimental values. We indulge in useless objects (that have no biological or survival purposes) for our own pleasure and sentiment. Such object relation implies that we have a spirit, or a human essence. It’s also interesting that an artist doesn’t seek to create a full, complete representation of something. If your likeness of say, a hammer, was too good, you’d just end up with another hammer. An artist is able to achieve resemblances, choosing what we want to leave out or add in, or re-arrange in 2D form.
Interestingly, we are the only species who can make likenesses and we are the only species who were created in a likeness. Specifically, we were created in the likeness of God. (Genesis 1:26). We can only create content in art that we have already seen. For example, we can only paint or draw with colors that already exist. Can you invent a new color? Try, it’s impossible. The colors that God created are the only ones that we have to work with, and they’re the only ones we’ll ever be able to fathom in our minds. In a sense, we re-arrange, abstract, or accurately portray what God has put in front of us- what He created.
So if man was created in God’s image, enduing us with His divine attributes and making us different from the animals, surely art is a divine ability. We were created with a separateness from the animals and given the most dynamic form of communication of all species- symbolic language (written, verbal, and visual). This perhaps represents the sharpest break between man and animals. Our ability to communicate in these ways is only possible through our ability to think and reason, which is also above that of animals. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom. Anytime someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image.
Maybe I think too much, especially about photography, but…
There must be a reason why Jesus came before photography was invented. God creates the context of life: the truth. Can you imagine the paparazzi constantly following Jesus around and constantly altering the context of events? We would be so confused about the truth if we based our faith on imagery. I have to believe God protected us from that, and chose purposefully not to give us depictions of Jesus, or depictions of events that occurred as described in the Bible. But what about art?
Why weren’t the first depictions of Jesus created until hundreds of years after his death and resurrection?
God could have easily inspired one of his disciples to not only write about the life of Jesus, but create an image of him also. Were some of these images later created as idols of Jesus?
My first thought is: Visual representations of Jesus can never represent his full glory and purpose of coming to earth. For example, if I see a painting of Jesus hanging on a cross, it does not tell me that he is hanging there to pay for my sins. Only the Word of God does that. The image wouldn’t save souls, because we wouldn’t be able to conclude that Jesus was saving us by dying on the cross.
Jesus was the most beautiful person to ever walk the earth because he gave himself up for us; the eye isn’t capable of beholding such perfect beauty. Our human nature often causes us to judge outwardly.
Speaking of which, Jesus didn’t seem to be one for outward appearances. He advises women not to adorn themselves with fine clothing and jewelry, telling them that their beauty is within the heart. He rode in on a donkey. He used little David to defeat Goliath. Jesus came to establish his kingdom, that is, to draw the hearts of mankind, who God created for Himself, and establish followers dedicated to his Word (not physical image). He didn’t establish the members of His kingdom based on anything external- blonde hair, white teeth, tall, thin- many of the traits we judge each other for as sinful humans born through Adam.
I don’t think that Jesus was fully declaring that outward appearance has nothing to do with the inward condition of our heart. After all, women who choose not to adorn themselves are outwardly saying that glamor, wealth, envy of others, is of high importance to them. But again, this example also diminishes the importance of physical appearance. Jesus also tells us not to worry about what we’ll eat and drink or what to wear.
Going back to my previous point- none of us have any control over what we look like at birth. Blonde hair or brown, tall or short, etc. Neither did Jesus. Most of us think he had long hair, but 1 Corinthians 11:14 says “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” This makes me wonder if Jesus actually had short hair! Isaiah 53:2 says “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should ever desire him.” He was a carpenter and builder- I wonder if he was muscular? He spent a lot of time outdoors- I wonder if he was darker skinned than most people?
But would it really matter or make a difference? God has given us all of the truths about His Son that we wants us to have, period. It is all we need for our own good and for the glory of God. Perhaps God left out images of Jesus in the Bible to prevent us from constructing idols. When we capture an image of someone, we separate their physical appearance from their attributes and personality. Neither represents the whole person. Of the two options, the image does not represent the person as well or thoroughly as their attributes. Maybe God wanted to leave the whole person of Jesus in tact, so we worship Him fully for who he is and nothing less.
What do you think?