The Holy Spirit is the member of the Triune God whose role is hardest to define. Can it be that part of his job description includes creating art?
He convicts us of sin, guides us into truth, draws us toward Christ, transforms us, and hides the Word in our hearts. He is our comforter, strengthener, and encourager. As we grow, his fruit—love, joy, peace—develops in us. He imparts spiritual gifts—things like teaching and faith and mercy—to build up the body.
What the Holy Spirit does is so vital that, at the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7 NIV).
The Holy Spirit wears all those important hats. Does he also don an artist’s beret?
My Experience with the Holy Artist
Sometimes I hesitate to admit that I majored in art in college since I’ve now relegated the visual arts to a hobby. But during one evening in my senior year, I got home about 10:00, after a full day of class, work, and my campus fellowship meeting. Nothing unusual there. I had a painting due first thing the next morning—also not unusual.
My creative well had run dry, mostly through exhaustion. I had no idea what to paint or how I’d drum up the energy to do it, so I started by praying. I asked God to give me an idea and to help me paint so that my art might bring him glory. Immediately, I knew what I’d paint: my kitchen sink, with my reflection in the faucet.
The painting came together so quickly, I had a sense that the Holy Spirit not only put his ideas into my imagination, but he was the one moving my arm. I even finished in time to sleep for a few hours before I carted my wet painting to class. That painting (titled “Everything But . . .”) got me an “A” and a first-place award in the tri-state amateur art contest.
I know the Holy Spirit helped me execute that painting.
God cares about beauty; beauty reflects his character. Details matter to him.
You know those chapters in Exodus, the ones most of us skim over, where God meticulously outlines the plans for his tabernacle? Those chapters reveal the importance of every nitpicky detail. He chose specific colors for his dwelling place: purple, blue, scarlet. He picked the textures: metals, woods, precious stones.
He spared no cost. He didn’t hold back. Frugality is not one of God’s attributes.
He also gave the Holy Spirit a vital role in the design of the temple. The Holy Spirit was to endow certain artisans—Bezalel and Oholiab—with skills to carry out God’s designs. The first time I noticed this, I was astounded. God didn’t reserve the Holy Spirit solely for more “spiritual” and visible up-front roles.
“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you” Exodus 31:2-6, NIV (italics mine).
When I first started to see the Holy Spirit as an Artist who gives skills and abilities to other (lowercase) artists, it revolutionized my world. By then, I had graduated with my art degree and begun working in a college ministry. For the most part, my co-workers didn’t seem to value art. They’d laugh about modern art and say their toddler could do a better job. I soon learned that many Christ-followers see art as less-than. Certainly, studying painting does not carry the spiritual weight of a seminary class in Greek or a secular course in counseling. Being an art major doesn’t equip you to debate the finer points of theology or know how to run a soup kitchen. But creativity matters to God. Whatever gift he gave you, he wants you to use. It’s good stewardship. The more you use your gift, the more that talent grows.
Tapped or untapped, we all have creativity inside. We can make beauty from words, music, visual art, drama, dance, or just thinking outside the box. The Holy Spirit can inspire anyone—followers of his or not—in the mysterious work of making art. We are his handiwork, formed by the Potter’s skilled fingers. As vessels, we reflect his glory, beauty, and creativity to the world.
Madeleine L’Engle writes, in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art: “In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.”
All art is produced by someone. By the act of creating, we communicate meaning beyond words and attempt to grasp the ungraspable. Everyone is born with the potential to be creative.
Children start out creative but soon that gets squelched, even ridiculed, until it dies. Finley Eversole, in The Politics of Creativity, writes: “In our society, at the age of five, 90 percent of the population measures ‘high creativity.’” Then a child starts school. Two years later, by the age of seven, only 10 percent test as highly creative.
Eversole concludes: “And the percentage of adults with high creativity is only two percent!”
The Holy Artist in Creation
I imagine the Holy Spirit, present in creation as part of the Trinity, leaning over God the Father’s shoulder. He watches as God dips his brush and strokes vivid colors of sunsets, a cacophony of riotous flowers. He mutes the tones of the Southwestern desert. Washes the aurora borealis over the northern sky. Tints the Caribbean waters deep turquoise.
The Holy Artist wields his palette knife to bring texture. With the blade’s edge, he makes bristles on the golden wheat stand up in wind-kissed fields. He piles thick coats of paint from the flat of his knife to sculpt hard crags of cold rock. With the tip, he speckles brilliant stars on the black fabric of a night sky.
With broad strokes, he creates shapes, adding layer upon layer to the Smokies, each one bluer than the last. He punctuates his scenes with curvy lines of tangled tree roots, jumbled cactus, or jagged fjords. He smears the horizon where gray sea greets gray sky with his great thumb.
God could have created a boring black-and-white world with sharp edges. Instead, we have variety in colors, shapes, and textures. Diversity in nature and in people.
We don’t need beauty. It’s all bonus. We can survive without it. But who wants to?
When I moved to Romania, one of the hardest things for me to deal with was the ugliness of the gray, Communist-era cityscape. The sameness of miles of unadorned concrete block buildings stretched in every direction, no end in sight.
When I found a tucked-away garden with my favorite deep-purple flowering bush, I received it as a gift from God. In that garden halfway across the globe, God caused my princess bush to thrive. A coincidence? To me, it was a mark of God’s deep love and tender mercy toward me.
He gave me something I didn’t need. He gave, for no other reason than my delight. He gives generously.
I believe beauty in nature is his gift, lavished for our pleasure. The Holy Spirit takes that beauty and sanctifies it to aid in our worship of the One True God. We are formed as creative beings, filled with the Holy Spirit to make art and express the creativity we have as God’s image-bearers.