Depicting God in Art

Pillar of Fire

The pillar of fire that protected the Israelites from the Egyptians

How do you depict God in art? I’ve wrestled with this for years now… ever since I created my first Progress of Redemption Pictorial Bible Chart for a college class at Columbia International University.

I needed to show God as active and involved in the events in the artwork for each story, but–how?

In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God hovers over the water in Genesis 1:1. But…how would you depict the Holy Spirit? As a rushing wind?

God appears in the Garden of Eden, walking in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). He appears to Abraham as a smoking firepot and a flaming torch. If I used those two together, no one would draw a connection from that to God.

He comes to Moses as fire burning–yet not consuming–the bush in the wilderness.

And God appears as a pillar of fire, protecting the trapped Israelites from the Egyptians; a pillar of fire that traveled with Israel and rested above the tabernacle when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness.

He speaks from the top of the mountain when He gives the Ten Commandments to Moses, he whispers to Elijah… but how do you show a whisper or a shout.

No one ever said it would be easy, but…depicting God in art is hard!

There are all those appearances of ‘the angel of the Lord’ to Abraham, to Hagar, to Joshua, to Samson’s parents, to– Is the ‘angel of the Lord’ another instance of God making Himself physically present? Or…not?

And then there’s the Old Testament command not to make any graven images…

God is hidden from view for most of the people in the Old Testament. The Israelites in the desert saw the cloud on the mountain, but couldn’t come up to see Him. Even Moses couldn’t look upon His face.

Depict God in art–how?

To quote Jan Verhoeff, “God in art shows up as a relevant depiction of the artist’s symbolic representation of concepts. Often this symbolic representation is a sort of signature of the artist, in much of their work.”

I wanted my depiction of God in my artwork to be relevant and respectful. I also wanted the depiction I settled on to be consistent for each Testament.

Going back over the list, I realized that aside from appearing as a person, as wind, and a whisper, God seems to like appearing as fire. I’m pretty good at drawing fire…

For the Old Testament story-line, I decided to depict God as holy fire.

But… What does holy fire look like?

I wanted my design to be recognizable as fire, and not look creepy or weird–like something out of a science fiction movie.

Holy fireI settled on this design, with golden yellow, blue, and red flames coming up from a fluffy white cloud for several reasons:

I figured that holy fire would burn really hot. The hottest flames are blue, even almost white. I added the red and yellow to make it recognizable as fire, so it wouldn’t look like a cloud pretending to be fire. These are also colors God ordered the Israelites to use in the construction of the Temple (gold covered altars, posts, walls, and utensils), the red dyed covering of skins, the curtain protecting the Holy of Holies).

I also wanted the fire to be a symbol of the Trinity, three Persons in One, and the three main colors work for that too.

The fluffy white cloud also shows that this flame is self-sustaining, like our Creator.

Not everyone likes my depiction. I think Mom was even a little offended by it because she didn’t understand it. But it isn’t intended to be one hundred percent historically accurate. It’s intended only to be a picture-symbol. But I think it works!

And that, my friends, is how this artist depicts God in art…

 

I’m redoing my Progress of Redemption pictorial Bible story chart. As I finish the new artwork, you’ll be able to find it here. When the artwork is all updated, I plan to turn it into a book.

Check out my other books here.


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