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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Beauty, Art, the Believer and Eternity

Apr 10, 2017

Our God is a God of beauty. One simply has to look at the world he created to see beauty everywhere: majestic mountains, wondrous oceans, incredible sunsets, amazing flowers, thundering waterfalls, and so on. Even in a fallen world we see all around us the beauty of creation, reflecting a Creator of great beauty.

And Scripture speaks of God’s beauty, as in Psalm 27:4: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

vermeer 1Given that we are created in God’s image, human beings are, as Tolkien called them, subcreators. We too can make things of great beauty, be it in works of art, music, literature, poetry, architecture, etc. All Christians should appreciate such artistic efforts, as I have written elsewhere: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/07/28/art-and-the-christian/

And if you do appreciate art and beauty, you may, like me, sometimes think about what has been lost, or never has been. That is, sometimes great works of art are destroyed, for example in times of war, or terrific artists die while quite young. Like me, you may at times wonder what other great works of art might have been produced had these folks lived a longer, fuller life.

Just think of some artists who have died at a rather young age. Consider some renowned painters who died young:
-Raphael (1483–1520), age 37
-Georges Seurat (1859–1891), age 31
-Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), age 37

And think of some great composers who also died quite young:
-Franz Schubert (1797-1828), age 31
-Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January-1791), age 35
-Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), age 39

And think of some famous writers and poets who passed away far too early:
-Emily Bronte (1818-1848), age 30
-John Keats (1795-1821), age 25
-Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), age 29

Plenty of contemporary musicians and rock stars have also died young, such as:
-Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), age 27
-Janis Joplin (1943-1970), age 27
-Kurt Cobain (1967-1994), age 27

And then we can think of Christian musicians such as Keith Green who blessed us with so much wonderful music, only to die at the age of 28 (1953-1982; he was born the same year I was). What sort of songs could he still be producing if he were alive today?

As I sometimes reflect on all this loss, I am reminded of certain possibilities. I am pretty sure that all this talent and all these divine giftings are not lost forever. I am sure that creativity will continue in the next life, so if we are amazed at works of human art in this world, how much more so in the next?

And of course we will live with our glorious and beautiful God forever, so we will be surrounded with all this for all eternity. Works of wonderful beauty and artistry will not be confined to just this life. I would like to think we will see much more of it in the future life.

If we are enthralled with certain works of art, or poems, or pieces of music now, how much more in the life to come? If we see so much amazing creativity in a very fallen world at the hands of finite and flawed human beings, what will we find when we go to be with the Lord?

I for one am excited when I think about our eternal home, and what we will be involved in. Of course worshiping God will be our primary occupation, but there will likely be so much more. We can only imagine what such a life will be like. Speaking of which, consider that song in more detail, “I can only imagine”.

It came about when a Christian musician lost his father, and he contemplated what it would be like to one day see the Lord. A Wiki entry offers some background to this:

“I Can Only Imagine” (sometimes shortened to “Imagine”) is a single recorded by Christian rock band MercyMe. Written and composed by Bart Millard, the song, based around a main piano track, was inspired by the death of Millard’s father and considers what it would be like in Heaven and to be standing before God. The song was first issued as a track on MercyMe’s 1999 album The Worship Project, which was released on an independent record label. The song was re-recorded and included on their 2001 major-label debut album Almost There as the fifth song on the album.
“I Can Only Imagine” was released in 2001 as the album’s lead single. It gained significant airplay on Christian radio formats before crossing over to mainstream radio formats such as adult contemporary and Top 40 in late 2003 and into 2004; to aid in promotion to these markets, a double A-side physical single (combined with “Word of God Speak”) was released in 2003. It charted on several formats, including the Billboard Adult Contemporary (where it peaked at No. 5) and the Hot 100 (where it peaked at No. 71). In 2002, “I Can Only Imagine” earned the Dove Awards for ‘Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year’ and ‘Song of the Year’; Millard earned the Dove Award ‘Songwriter of the Year’ at the same ceremony. The song has been certified 2x platinum RIAA for sales of over two million digital downloads, and is the first (and so far only) Christian single to reach that milestone.
“I Can Only Imagine” was the debut single for United States contemporary Christian and Christian rock band
MercyMe. The father of Bart Millard, the band’s vocalist, died in 1991. Millard was 18 at the time. Millard began writing the words “I can only imagine” on items when he was thinking about his father. During the recording of the band’s 1999 independent album The Worship Project, MercyMe needed one more song to fill out the album. Millard, alone on a bus in the middle of the night, finally wrote the lyrics to the song by drawing on his thoughts and personal faith about what one would experience standing before God in Heaven. Millard attests that “[‘I Can Only Imagine’] is one of the only songs I have ever written where there wasn’t any mistakes, it was just written the way it is and left at that”, and estimated that it took him only ten minutes to write the lyrics.
In writing the music for the song, however, the band faced more difficulty; Millard noted that “at first it was a fast song… it was all these random ideas”. Keyboardist Jim Bryson noted that “we were literally tearing down the stuff… [Millard] and I were talking about arranging it differently and doing a slower version, so we just tried out a piano intro… it was literally the first thing I played. It wasn’t anything to do with me, I think it was just a God thing. [Millard] said ‘here it is, this is what’s going to happen’, and we laid the song down in about five minutes.”

Here we have a number of themes I discuss in this article nicely tied together: Works of art and beauty, Christianity and eternity. It is certainly a beautiful and soul-inspiring song. You can listen to the song with lyrics here – enjoy: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xwzItqYmII 

So let me encourage you: if you are easily depressed, discouraged, bummed out (as I can often be), and/or facing hardships and difficulties, keep your heart and mind fixed fully on eternity. And if you are a Christian who greatly appreciates art and beauty, you have plenty to look forward to in the life to come. Stand strong Christian!

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7 Responses to Beauty, Art, the Believer and Eternity

  • Hi Bill, some really good theology, and beautiful examples of art & music to tie it all together. In the concluding paragraph of your article, you highlight amongst other conditions, “being bummed out”. Did you instead mean “being burnt out” ???. If you get an opportunity could you clarify that phrase for me. Regards, Kel.

  • Hi Bill, Mr Google clarified ” bummed out” for me, I’ve never heard of the phrase before, guess I’m getting old! Anyhow, I can see that it is very descriptive of how you must feel, given some of the material that you have to deal within in the course of your Ministry, regards Kel.

  • As a writer of poetry i know too well that feeling when God pours words into you and you scribble like crazy, under the influence, to get them down on paper. You spend hours through the day thinking of ‘God stuff’ then suddenly it comes to you. And sometimes it feels like God is that bit closer as you write…you can even feel the thermals.
    God moves in people to write what others need. The best spiritual medicine is a good book, poem, song….and the Spirit of God working with it in our hearts. The Devil as never had all the good music….and never will.

  • Being creative is something that has been highly important to me for most of my life; in my case, in the world of art and a few favourite crafts. There is a sense of deep connection with God when studying the landscape, or flowers on a table; perceptions are sharpened, observation is improved, and then comes the exquisite pleasure of process, in creating a picture or a piece of pottery. At such a time, the mind is usually totally at peace and you can almost feel God’s hand guiding the way. I too have often wondered if God will have even more possibilities for us in creativity, in our new lives; I find it hard to believe that such things are only for this earthly period.

  • I have always loved Christian art. As a 4 year old child I remember loving the artwork in ‘Through the Bible’ by Theodora Wilson Wilson. I still have it on my bookshelf – dilapidated, falling apart, and attacked by silverfish, but I cannot bear to part with it – unless I can maybe get hold of a replacement copy. My parents had this and many other such books laden with colour illustrations that shaped my thought and Biblical understanding. My favourite pictures in these books were those with navy night skies with billowing creamy yellow clouds often with the angelic hosts in the background, or casting atmosphere over other Biblical scenes. These images had such a deep impact on me as a child that they often come to me in recurring dreams of the second coming of the Lord – so disappointed when I wake up. My current favourite art book is ‘The Lion Companion to Christian Art’ by Michelle Brown – should be on every Christian’s bookshelf, I think. My own artistic endeavours are of a calligraphic nature. The challenge of completing a single verse with illuminated letters and borders to some degree of consistency gives me some appreciation of the painstaking work involved in copying the entire Bible, as done by the scribes of old.

  • The Bible society has just published ‘Our Mob, God’s Story’ which has over 100 Aboriginal paintings illustrating the bible. The first run sold out so I haven’t seen it yet but it sounds inspiring. Another good book is ’75 Masterpieces every Christian should know’ by Terry Glaspey, which is not just about art but music, film and literature inspired by faith.

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