Beholding the Beauty of the Lord
I was reading a verse this morning, one of my favorites in the Scriptures.
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” Psalm 27:4 (ESV)
Recently my wife and I were blessed to see some beautiful cathedrals and Christian art in Europe. I remember that when I first saw some of these places as a student, forty-nine years ago, that the sheer beauty of these Christian edifices got my attention spiritually during what was otherwise largely a time of spiritual wandering and significant doubt. I want to share two accounts of how Christian art has brought people to Christ.
Last year in the Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, Olivia Rudgard, religious affairs correspondent wrote an article entitled, “One in six young people are practising Christians, new figures show, as research suggests thousands convert after visiting church buildings.” She continues: “Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures. The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith.”
Another person who was brought to Jesus partially by Christian art and magnificent cathedrals was MITALI PERKINS, an author of children’s books. She is a Bengali American who was not raised Christian. He father’s work brought her to many places. She went to college in the US but studied a year in Austria
Of her time there, she writes, “When the snowfall grew heavy, I ducked into cathedrals. Stained glass glowed in soft patterns of mustard, saffron, indigo, and coral. Arches and vaults soared so high I could hardly see where they intersected. Always, the twisted, half-naked figure on the cross at the front shone as if he were sweating.”
“Most of the art that caught my eye, whether in cathedrals or museums, seemed to be about Jesus….During midwinter break, a few students invited me to join them in Russia, and I agreed. Maybe I would regain some perspective in the famously atheistic country. The Russian tour led us through prisons, cemeteries, and churches with histories of massacres and torture, where ancient icons displayed the Crucifixion. I felt overwhelmed by evil. How could God—if God existed—leave humanity alone to endure so much?”
“One afternoon, we headed to the Hermitage, the world-renowned museum in St. Petersburg. The regular English-speaking guide was ill, so a higher-up museum official was assigned to take us from room to room. Again, many of the paintings depicted Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I stood at the edge of the group, questions racing through my mind. As our group was about to leave, the museum official pulled me aside. “What are you thinking about so deeply?” he asked in a low voice. I was surprised into telling the truth. “A loving God. Human suffering. How can both exist?” “You are at an intersection of choice,” he said. “Either you decide that Jesus is the Son of God, or you turn your back on him forever. You must choose.”
I felt a shiver that had nothing to do with the icy Russian winter. Was there nowhere to go without confronting the man on the cross?” (Mitali eventually came to faith in Christ. She writes children’s books and is married to a Presbyterian minister.) God used Christian art and church buildings to touch her.
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor