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God’s Imagination & the Incarnation

“The Word became Flesh” –John 1:14

“We cannot begin to live a life we cannot first imagine, and images stock the imagination’s repertoire.” –Margaret Miles, Seeing is Believing: Religion and Values in the Movies.

If God has an imagination, then Christ in human form is the ultimate expression of that imagination, and the incarnation itself is the ultimate inspiration for artists.  Trust me.

Let us suppose we can refer to Christ as a work of art.  I don’t know if he would be considered live performance art (storyteller, healer, teacher, and resurrection artist) or mixed media(dirt breathed into by the Creator).  Though he honestly defies all other classifications, is he really a work of art?  Is that a biblical reference or are we skating all too close to some heresy?

There are several reasons why I believe it is good, just, and appropriate to refer to Christ as a work of art.  Just as all artists seek to express something in the most poignant and perfect manner, Christ himself is the most poignant and  perfect expression and representation of the reality of God’s truth and love.  He is not simply the best expression of God’s love, but also the fulfillment of that which countless laws, symbols, characters, and stories have spoken of in imperfect metaphor.(Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1)  We ought to note that Christ is described by Paul as being the very Image, or Icon (εἰκών ) of God (Col. 1:15).  Not only is Christ described as an image, but the process of becoming holy and becoming ‘Christ-like’ is described as being, “conformed to the image of His Son”(Rom. 8:29).

Though many conservative Christians may wince at referring to Christ as artwork, it never bothered God himself; for we see the scriptures find no such aversion. Gospel writers did not share the low view of art which many 21st century Christians have.  Art was commanded by God to be built only three months after the Israelites fled from Egypt, and God chose an artist to be the first man in the Bible who is described as being “filled with the Spirit of God”(Ex 31).  To a religious Jew, artwork would have a clear connection with worship. Symbols would be seen as a visible means for pointing to the invisible.  Christ fits this model and as such, was compared to an icon or image of the Invisible God.  Even though the biblical symbols and artifacts found in the temple and in the tabernacle were always imperfect, that was never a reason to belittle or reject art as a legitimate vehicle for truth.

When Rembrandt painted, his view of God often permeated his work.

When Bach composed, his concepts of God found expression in the symphony.

When Christ took on flesh, God himself expressed his nature in the form of a man.

Before Christ took on flesh and bone, he was The Word (logos- John 1:1), and through a process which made him no less righteous, just, or holy, he became a physical representation of the Godhead.

Just as artists seek to give a visual expression of  the ideas and concepts within their mind, so Christ is the expression of God’s mind and heart for us.  But like much great art, Christ himself was misunderstood, attacked, rejected by the religious, and embraced by very few.  He did not look like the king Jews or Greeks expected.  Like many other great works of art, Christ himself was an enigma.  In fact, the incarnation is probably the best archetype we have for revolutionary art.  His life changed the course of history forever and is still causing controversy today.  He refused to fit the expectations of the masses. However, His life and love were shocking not because they were unconventional, but because they were authentic and true in a way that makes impure humanity shudder with shame.  His life was so radically authentic and pure in it’s ‘truth-telling’ it continues to make people uncomfortable.

The truth itself was shocking art.  That God would become a baby and become helpless in a mother’s arms is ‘unbelievable’.  That he would later submit to death on a cross so we could receive salvation. . . simply shocking!  If our hearts believed for even a moment that such a radical love was demonstrated on our behalf we would either faint or leap with joy.

So how do we become more like the image of Christ?  It only happens by becoming a masterpiece in the hands of The Great Artist.  Just as Christ is the very image of God, we are also described as being the craftsmanship (poiema -ποίημα) of God (Eph 2:10).  He is molding us and shaping us as he develops our gifts, our character, and our own very lives.  To be an artist is do something which is very near to God’s own character.  To use our imagination to create something which communicates truths to others is absolutely part of the Image of God placed within the design of men and women.

If we simply pause and think, it becomes clear our imagination has always been part of the picture.  Through the stories in the Bible we are able to ‘see’ what it looks like to have faith, hope and love.  There are stories of shepherd boys defeating giants, the redemption of an entire nation and countless parables. Our imagination is stocked with pictures of the “kingdom of God”.  Anyone who has gone to Sunday School cannot forget the images in their mind of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, the tragic slaughter of baby boys as King Herod sought to kill the infant Jesus and the beauty of Eden and the New Jerusalem.

If one does not believe God to be creative, I would question his perception or his sanity.  To see a world which is home to buffaloes, giraffes, narwhals, and platypuses and believe the one who made them is uncreative is preposterous.  To think God’s plan of  redeeming us would not exhibit the twists and turns of a great screenwriter also belies our misunderstanding of who God is.

Though some think God is distant or uncaring, I think they simply lack a greater imagination.  God was never content to remain distant from His people.  His fellowship with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was always his desire. However, the entrance of sin awakened a tremor which destroyed the purity of our relationship with God.  God is pure and true and cannot exist in true unfiltered fellowship with anything which is unjust or untrue.  Yet, even in the garden, God spoke of a way to restore this fellowship.  He spoke of one who would one day “crush the serpent’s head” and bring reconciliation.

This took great creative imagination required in epic tales.  Through the challenges of seemingly immovable obstacles and unstoppable foes, God created a way for us to once again find peace in a relationship with Him.

He made his words on the page come alive in the historical figure of Jesus Christ, so he might die for our sins and give us life.  A paradox which astounds people even today.  For some, it is the scent of a flower they have longed for and it delivers a freedom they had not thought possible.  For others, it remains a mystery hidden from their eyes.

May those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, understand, rejoice, and celebrate the reality of words becoming flesh, speaking to our hearts, and leading us home.

Copyright © 2007 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

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