How Artists Remind Us To Love Our Neighbors

One of the ways God uniquely calls people to use their gifts and skills is through artisan talents. This is documented in Exodus 31 as the Israelites build the tabernacle. The goal of the tabernacle was to design a place for God’s presence to dwell with the Israelites rather than separate from them. (Exodus 25:8-9) But to create this space God instructed that his dwelling place needed to be constructed very specifically. It was a community effort to build a space for their God to dwell with them, similar to the image Paul paints in 1 Corinthians 12:15-26.

God tells Moses in Exodus 31 that he has filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, wisdom, understanding, and skills specific to complete the tabernacle. Bezalel had a team including Oholiam and “all the skilled workers” who were given the ability to make everything God commanded.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “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: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.” Exodus 31: 1-11 (NIV)

Van Gough’s Art is Beautiful

Artists today partner with God to reveal the beauty all around us in nature, humanity, and the overlooked details the less observant among us miss. When we pause to look at an artist’s work, most of us realize their talent far surpasses the average person’s ability to replicate, design, or create. Recently while standing in the middle of Vincent Van Gogh’s greatest works, I was reminded that even when we see the beauty of creation through the artist’s work, we can still get the story wrong.

The Starry Night is More Than a Pretty Picture

One of Vincent van Gogh’s most recognizable works is The Starry Night (represented in the bottom two images). This beautiful view of a sky lit with stars elicits so much delight. I adore the evening sky. But when the full story is presented, the story shifts. The Starry Night was inspired by the view from his window at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, where van Gogh sought reprieve from his mental illness for twelve months from 1889–90.

Artists are Accurate with Personal Application

The first image in the top left also has a very interesting story. Portrait of Pere Tanguy is the second picture in a series of three. It was preferred by most because it represents his character and traits. It shows his calmness, cordial confidence, stoicism, and the goodness of his nature. Van Gogh’s portrait depicts Pere Tanguy in a stern frontal pose, lost in thoughts, immobile, and holding his hands over his stomach. Because he knew Pere, van Gogh captures the sitter’s personality traits of kindliness and self-consciousness in a way others recognize as true.

We Won’t Get the Story Correct if We Remain Distant

Standing in the middle of Vincent van Gogh’s works I was reminded that it doesn’t matter how close I am to the creation of an artist if I’m unwilling to stop and hear the story. It’s always our choice to move forward in partnership with God or to make up a story that fits a narrative we’re comfortable with. Just like The Starry Night, we can choose to view the painting as a beautiful depiction of van Gogh staring out his window, content, and joyful, as he paints the evening sky. If this is the story we tell, we are lying. It may make us feel better, but it’s disingenuous.

This same application is true for every scenario we choose. For example, when we decide to send Samaritan’s Shoe Boxes overseas to make ourselves feel better at Christmas rather than pausing to research. The research reveals (among other things) that this choice disrupts the local economy and, in many cases, the boxes don’t reach the intended locations and sit in warehouses. At the same time, in-country shipping officers wait to be bribed.

Another example is when we decide a donation to a local crisis pregnancy center is saving the lives of pregnant women and providing them with all of their needs as well as the needs of children when time and again women state that they need housing, food, and access to medical care that includes mental health support. None of which a crisis pregnancy center offers, even though some advertise that they do!

What is the Lesson Artists Teach Us?

Artists remind us to love our neighbors by showing us that the better they know their subject, the more clearly they reflect the image to future viewers. We cannot truly know someone without loving them because knowing someone requires trust. Who in your life do you assume you know well? Do you think there are things you could ask them about themselves to get to know them better? What might those questions be?

Here’s a challenge for you: Consider the story you’ve written in your head about someone. Now, go ask them intentional questions about themselves to get to know them and see if your preconceived story is accurate. You are likely to discover that the full story has way more depth than the story you’ve written.

Do you know who else this challenge works with? Jesus. Consider the stories you’ve heard about Jesus. Now, open up the book of Matthew or Luke and start reading. I think you might be surprised to learn that the Savior you’ve learned about doesn’t match the one in the Bible.

Are you Thriving in the Fullness of Your Calling?

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