When I was a kid, our small-town congregation ended every church service with the doxology: Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise him all creatures here below…
I remember standing hand-in-hand with my dad, singing these words of worship to the one who created me. I knew that God deserved worship and honour, but as a little child I hardly knew why, beyond the fact that he had given me two loving parents, that he had rescued Noah on that big boat that I always heard about in Sunday school, and that he had sent baby Jesus into the world.
But as I got older and began to know him more, I started to come to a new understanding of the words that I was singing. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. I started to notice the sound of wind blowing through the giant, ancient trees on our place growing up. I wasn’t much of a fisherman or explorer like my brother, but I would spread an old camping quilt under those enormous trees and lie down, closing my eyes to listen to nothing but that sound – God’s mysterious wind coming from who knows where, rustling thousands of leaves in a sort of symphony that’s only for those who are still enough to hear it.
I grew in my understanding of God as the creator and as the one who keeps all the stars in the sky. I marvelled at all the small evidences of his goodness: armadillos sniffing around our backyard, tiny silver fish shimmering just beneath the surface of the tank by our house, wobbly newborn kittens in the barn. It all pointed to who he is: the God who gives good gifts to his children. He is a creative God, and we are the beneficiaries of his creativity.
I grew up and moved away from my country home. Grown-up life proved to be a challenge. All of the time that I used to spend listening to and looking at what God created seemed to melt away into work hours and responsibilities. City noises and ticking clocks replaced the slow way that I used to relish all of God’s creation. Amid the stresses of everyday life and the bill paying and then the chaos of tiny children, I began to forget some of the things that God taught Job:
But, ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
The birds of the air, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fishes of the sea will declare to you.
Who among these does not know what the hand of the Lord has done?
In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. (Job 12:7-10)
But one day I met an artist who took a particular interest in me as I was her pastor’s wife. Well into her 80s now, she asked me to become a student of God’s creation. She taught me to notice that one single tree has endless shades of green in its leaves. That bird feathers are like snowflakes – no two being exactly alike.
Her love for beautiful things was contagious. She encouraged me to paint, always insisting that my current project was my ‘masterpiece’. It was the first time since I was a kid that I slowed down and marvelled at God’s creation.
Creating art is not just making copies of what God has already done. It is, in some way, honouring who he is just by slowing down enough to really see and appreciate the beauty of his world.
To spend an hour or two at a time astonished by the intricate centre of a tiny flower, and trying to capture that delicate detail on canvas – that can be a true act of worship. Francis Schaeffer said that artwork can be a doxology. When are we ever more like God than when we are being creative, enjoying beauty as he evidently does (just consider the beauty apparent throughout all creation)?
When we make art, we glorify God, howsoever small and meagre our endeavours with paints and brushes, musical notes, or poetic words may be.
God didn’t limit our artistic possibilities, either. Once I was in a craft store where a middle-aged woman was arranging silk flowers in a vase. She was a humble employee of the store, paid an hourly wage to sweep the floor, answer customer’s enquiries and, sometimes, to arrange flowers.
I was amazed by the beauty of the arrangement she made. When I commented on it, she simply said, ‘I give all the glory to God.’ It made an impression on me. We all have creative tendencies, whether in the kitchen, in the garden, in the music room, at work, in our parenting, or any arena of life where ideas and beauty merge. And in all of this, we can bring glory to our creator.
In Romans, Paul writes that through everything God has made, we can clearly see his invisible qualities, namely his eternal power and divine nature. He even says that when we are surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation, it’s impossible to claim that he isn’t real.
Maybe, when we make art with his glory in mind, and when we strive to be his image-bearers by creating beautiful things, we are really just proclaiming to the world what we know is true: God is real. We creatures here below will praise him, not just with our words or our actions, but with our art.