Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Friday, December 21, 2007

    Art, Faith, and the Gospel

    I recently viewed the exhibition entitled "God and Man: Angels in Italian Art" at the Mississippi Museum of Art. Of interest was a bronze sculpture entitled "Single Winged Angel" by Sandro Chia featuring a single winged angel looking toward the heavens. There have been two explanations given for the sculpture.

    First, at the museum, the audio tape given to viewers described the artwork as an representing the quest and longing of man to hear and know if God exists. It was described as a single winged angel demonstrating it could not fly, with it's feet firmly planted on the ground, looking up as if it were waiting and continuing to wait, not receiving an answer but perhaps asking the question "God, if you are really there, can we know you and how can we be sure?" And it continues to wait as if waiting for an answer, all the while holding out what's most precious to him, his own heart. What made this more striking was the explanation that artwork such as this one, made in 2000, was no longer being made for the church, but for society, in order to get man to think. Here, the explanation of the sculpture deals with man's quest to know God, and struggle for answers and assurance, even depicted by the dark bronze and the continuing to wait.

    The second explanation is found in a description of a display which includes this work which suggests the three works (Triumph of Reason (painting, 2003), Table Flanked by Two Angels (iron statue, 2003), and a sculpture of a single-winged bronze angel raising a golden heart to the sky) signify that "freedom may only be achieved by mankind through unity and solidarity."

    In either case, the message though it may accurately describe the thinking of many, is incorrect, as exhibited even through the events and message of Christmas. First, man is not left in a quandry, nor is he left simply to stare up into the heavens. Does not the Scripture state "But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." The righteous will live by faith, not by sight. The truth is God has revealed himself through his word, both physically in the incarnation but verbally through the inspired word as he speaks a living word even today. Don't simply stare off into space like a single winged angel, but look to the Son (Jesus Christ) through whom God has parted the heavens and come down, that we might possess the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins, and soar on wings like eagle, run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint.

    In the second case the prophet Isaiah has shown that man's freedom and hope cannot be achieved even through man's unity and solidarity (Isaiah 11). In describing the hope of mankind, the Messiah who was to come, the prophet speaks of both the special anointing and unique abilities needed by one who would govern and provide in such a way as to bring true and lasting righteousness and peace. In stating the "the Spirit OF THE LORD will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord", he shows that righteousness and peace cannot and will not be achieved by even the best of mankind, but a supernatural gift, even that of the Spirit himself is needed to bring about the revealed hope. This is seen more clearly when the prophet states concerning the Messiah that "He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth." Man, even when doing his best, can only judge and govern based on externals, but Christ is not limited to the external but bases his judgments on truth. Indeed "Rightgeousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist." "He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips will he slay the wicked." The point is that not only does man not possess himself a "golden heart" to present to the Lord, nor will mankind as a whole ever achieve this, nor would the best we have to offer be presentable and acceptable to God, but God himself must provide in order for the hope to be accomplished, which he has done, and is doing, and will continue to bring to completion and consumation through the spirutal kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, which began small but continues to grow without end.

    We can give thanks to artists such as Sandro Chia for raising the questions for man to think about, but as we enter into the Christmas season, we much understand that the answers are found only in God!

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