There is an issue that is struggled with constantly in Christian visual artist circles. At least I came to meet this dilemma many times in conversations with fellow schoolmates in university. The issue has to do with a conversation in one’s mind. How much credit can I take for my work?
Let me explain with a personal remembrance of a painting that I created for a painting course. I believe I was in 400 level painting class. This may mean nothing to you other than I was well past the basics, was allowed to experiment with my personal style, and was critiqued more on how to turn out “better” art and less on basics (such as how to hold a brush). I remember working over one painting late at night in the classroom studios. It was a still night and I happened to have the studio all to myself. These were wonderful nights when I could set my music the way I wished and sing without being embarrassed. I was working on a canvas that was approximately four foot by five foot. I tend to paint abstract expressionistic figures. Again, all this information need tell you is that in order to express feeling and emotion on such a large canvas I had to work my arm and body to paint. On a large canvas in this style one cannot merely move the wrist. The atmosphere was set. I had recently been studying the book of Joshua in my quiet times and with the atmosphere of the Christian music and no one to talk to me but God I began to receive a picture of God’s relationship to Joshua. I saw Joshua as a youth and not a mighty man of God. He was but a child that was being asked to take over for God’s previous leader Moses. Like a great and nurturing father God brought Joshua to Himself and told him to be strong and courageous in his future endeavors. I saw God not only nurturing but pointing Joshua to his destiny as a parent coaxes a frightened child to go down a park slide. As I moved paint around the canvas, God showed me how I’m like Joshua.
Before we get off on a tangent dealing with Joshua, let me say that the painting was very much a success. I ended up with a colorful work that expressed the fear of Joshua and the fatherly nature of God. My professor and classmates loved it in our critique time and I was overjoyed that I barely had to defend my work and process to get top marks. Now here is where the dilemma of my fellow Christians comes into play. How much credit do I take for my work and how much honor do I devote to God? I had some classmates and refused to take any credit for any artistic piece that came from their hands. I had others that beg I take all the credit because indirectly it honored God. I personally like to think that there isn’t a definite answer to this question so that this issue is something that MUST be revisited constantly to be sure that God isn’t driven out of the equation. It is a fluid event that one continuely needs to ask: Do I remember where my talent comes from?
In Deuteronomy 8 the Israelites are being told that there wandering in the desert was to prepare them for the good times ahead. I can remember that in the garden of Eden humanity had the problem of forgetting God’s rightful place when they had things good. God was bumped to a lower part of the equation. Later on in history God delivers His people from slavery in Egypt. He gives them signs and wonders so that they would not forget Him. The Israelites were forced through life to make sure God was given the due respect He deserved. Before Moses went up Mt. Sinai to get the ten commandments the people heard the booming voice of God and feared Him. However, later they disregarded God when they built an idol to worship. Now the Israelites are wandering in the desert. They are being reminded of the food and water that had been miraculously given to them. They had to endure poisonous snakes and scorpions. They had to trust God lead them day by day through the fierce conditions of the desert. We are told in chapter 8 that this was a test so that they wouldn’t again drop God out of the equation when they finally arrived to the promised land. From what I’m reading about the promised land it would be easy to forget God. I mean they’re going to a place where they will always have a roof over their heads (no more of the nomad life – woo hoo) and they would always have a good meal. Also, there is the promise of precious metals. Basically, all of their basic needs will always be met and some. They would never have to worry about a thing. Interestingly that sounds similar to the Garden of Eden too and I’m living how that turned out. It’s really no wonder that the Israelites are given a warning that they must not forget that God is giving them the strength that they will use to cultivate this future life. The consequence for their forgetfulness is simple – destruction. The same folly that would befall the enemies of God would also come upon them.
The key lesson that I’m seeing here is that there is folly in being full of myself and forgetting where my strength comes from. In the competitive and busy world that I live in it is easy for me to rely on my own strength. I have food to eat and a roof over my head. It can be easy for my to think that I’m the master artist that provides and creates.
Where in my life is there the need to recognize God’s provision? What do I need to offer Him thanks for? How do I show Him my gratitude?