Art and the Bible: Addressing Hard Topics
Christians in creative fields need to be confident when they are addressing the hard topics and the tough questions, which requires understanding the relationship between art and the bible. This is especially true if they are going to influence the culture around them.
It is easy to stay away from the fray, but we must remember that our sole model for our content and calling is the word of God. Sure, there are artists who don’t create art that engages culture directly. That’s perfectly fine, but we need to make sure that we don’t avoid tough topics due to fear or a lack of understanding about how God engaged hard issues throughout Scripture.
This means that we should not avoid topics that God freely addressed. It also means we ought to look carefully at the manner in which God addresses difficult topics, so that we follow His example carefully. This article was written in order to help you as an artist or creative professional to think Christianly about these topics and to engage them with boldness and wisdom.
Art & Violence
The bible never shies away from violence. From the first homicide in Genesis 4, to the graphic, blood splattering death of Jezebel in 2 Kings 9:30-37. Violence is one of the awful consequences of the fall. Every period in history encounters evil and violence. There are evil people who are quick to oppress and shed blood of others, and there is a time for justice when evil must be punished, and justice must be served.
The only key distinction here is that the Bible does not glorify violence, it does not describe in detail the deaths of kings and traitors. The details are used only in certain texts to make clear the cost of our sin and the price evil-doers must pay for their sins. So, including violence in your stories, films, music, etc., is legitimate for a Christian.
The key question is this: Are you glamorizing or inviting your audience/patrons to relish the violence, or to see violence as a heart-breaking part of living in a broken world?
No matter the context, violence in art created by a Christian should either be used to show the tragic nature of men and women who commit evil acts, or to show the grace of God who can forgive and redeem any of us, no matter how evil our sins.
The most obvious example of this is the Apostle Paul. He began as a zealot against the Christians, bent on persecuting and even killing Christians. But God transformed his heart, and mind so that he understood that Jesus was God. This empowered him to endure persecution as a Christian, and to take the good news of the gospel wherever God called him to go – whether it was by free choice, or because he was in chains. To minimize his early life of hatred toward God would be to minimize the power of God to redeem and regenerate the heart of anyone -even a murderer who once hated followers of Christ.
Art & Sex
The Bible never shies away from the topic of sex. From Genesis 2 we see the call of Adam and Eve to experience oneness through sexual intercourse and to have children. In fact, it may be the one commandment God has given us that we have largely obeyed throughout all ages. But sex is not only hinted at, but explored in the book, Song of Solomon. Here an entire book is about a young man’s desire for his wife, and her desire for him. It is complete with body parts, poetic imagery and sensual yearnings. If you think the Bible does not talk about sex, you haven’t read the Bible.
Sex is seen as a powerful and profound part of life. It is so powerful that God compares the idolatry of his people to adultery. The book of Hosea describes how God called a prophet to marry a woman who was prone to wander and cheat on her husband with other men. But the shocking part of the story is how God calls Hosea to play the role of God himself and to chase after and purchase back his wife, Gomer. Here we see not only the pain of a cheating spouse, but the never-ending love of God that is willing to redeem you and I even though our hearts wander away from Him, and though we lose sight of His love for us.
Sex In Media
Sexuality in media and art can be powerful. This is why some artists use it to shock their audience, and why some film producers include nudity and seduction in their films. They know it tugs at something profound and universal within the human heart.
Sex is powerful precisely because God designed sex to be a foretaste of heaven – where we will be known fully, completely vulnerable, and completely loved. In fact, the metaphor for heaven in God’s word is that of Christ as the bridegroom, and the members of the church being His bride. It is a picture of a long-awaited celebration and union with God where we will finally experience the joy and peace we have not tasted since Adam and Eve walked in the garden with God in Genesis.
Sex in Art
Therefore, sex is acceptable for Christians to explore in their art, because God’s word models it for us. The freedom comes in not needing to avoid the topic, but there are responsibilities within that freedom. We must not expose children to ideas about sexuality before they are of the age where it is appropriate. We also must not explore the topic of sex in such a way as to entice people to covet or lust after someone who is not their spouse, or to encourage sex outside of marriage.
Thus, affairs, like that of Gomer, can be explored, but should be shown in a creative manner so the affair is not glamorized. We can show the destructiveness of affairs to the marriage and the brokenness that causes someone to be tempted to run into the arms of someone who is not their spouse.
We can do it with compassion where that is appropriate, but we should follow the model of biblical descriptions of sex. It is meant to be within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. And it should be noted, that even though our culture has very strong opinions that do not match the Bible, that does not give us any freedom to despise them or engender bitterness in our hearts toward people with whom we disagree.
Art & Race
The Bible is clear that His people are to have loving and gracious hearts towards people very different from them. In the Old Testament, God always instructed his people to be gracious to the foreigner among them.
“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” – Leviticus 19:34 (NIV)
In ancient Israel, “foreigners” was a term used to refer to both immigrants from another country (other nationalities and languages), and of a different race (non-Israelite). Thus the term foreigner covers both dynamics in our culture. The Bible makes no such distinctions. Just as they were called to care for the widow and the orphan, they were also commanded to be considerate of the foreigner. Very few people groups today resemble Ancient Israel (politically, theologically or culturally).
In the New Testament, we are all considered aliens and foreigners (1 Peter 2:11-12). No matter our heritage, our skin color or our history, our primary identity is in Christ. Thus our ‘family’ is the family of God first. My brothers and sisters of every tribe and nation who follow Christ are closer to me than my own country, my own genetic history and my own cultural traditions. This is not up for debate. It is clear.
There is no place for hate.
There is no place for puffing ourselves up. If we are blessed to live in a city, or country with greater blessings than others, then we are called to be generous to others. But true generosity cannot be created by government. It cannot be fabricated by force. It must be driven by a generous heart, renewed by God’s love.
The solution to racism, according to the gospel, is never found in hatred. It is never truly found in exercising the power of the state – whether it is the Chinese camps today where they quarantine the Islamic Uyghurs, or activists demanding careers and lives be destroyed today over past mistakes.
The gospel always calls us to love those who do not share our views, our creeds, or our skin color. There are no exceptions. This is what is so beautiful and unique about Christianity – we are even called to love our enemies – those who hate Jesus.
Indeed, we must pray for those who harbor racist beliefs, and we must oppose laws that promote racist ideas.
Our goal is to build a city that honors God.
Unfortunately, we will never fully reach that goal. Jesus told us the poor will always be with us, and sinful men and women will continue to do evil. Our only real hope is not in our actions, or the laws of the state, but in the grace of God. Our only true vision of a world without racism, poverty, or prejudice remains a vision of the city of God, which is Heaven.
Heaven will be filled with people of all races. It is part of what will make heaven more lovely and something that brings even more glory to God. We can experience a foretaste of this now – in churches where people of all ages, skin colors, and backgrounds can break bread together and embrace each other as brothers and sisters in Christ – because that is what we are.
Christ died to give us freedom – not only in our heart and in our spiritual life, but also in our careers.
You are free to address these issues or not.
You are free to be more provocative or not.
The key question is whether you are doing it out of a desire to honor God, and whether you are doing it from a heart to love God and to love your neighbor.
But we should never shrink back in fear. God has given us hope, and will be faithful to us no matter how much applause or offense our art may bring if we are focused on honoring Him, and loving our neighbor.
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Copyright © 2021 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
Tell us in the comments below how you address hard topics in your art, we’d love to hear from you!