My Grandfather was an inventor and a brilliant man. He also was a survivor of a major stroke and so his language was reduced to small groupings of words. Spoken communication was always strained. I had tried, with little success, to overcome the perception that had been thrust on him over decades that Christian faith and evolutionary science were somehow mutually exclusive. He had been told by both the Church and the science community that he had to make a choice between the two—that it had to be one or the other. I wanted to communicate another perspective: that one could look at evolutionary science and give credit to God for the handiwork. Being a visual artist, I don’t know why I didn’t come to these paintings sooner.
Body – Soul – Spirit (above)
The first of these paintings examines our unique place in creation. The composition of the painting places mankind as the centerpiece of creation. Angels do not have a body, and animals do not have a Spirit, but humans have both. Angels, Animals and people all have souls, but it seems that only humans occupy all three spaces. We are created a little lower than the Angels, but are given dominion over the animals. We are called to a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9); a priest has the place of being in both Heaven and on Earth, and is in the ministry of reconciling the two. I’ll break it down a bit more here:
Central in this painting is the form of a man—mankind. We, like the animals, have a body made of earth. This is our flesh and bones and our DNA. We are made of clay, our bodies return to the dust we are made of (Genesis 2:7, Job 10:9); yet we are more than just what is physical. Here we see man in his calling of reconciliation, as ambassadors of peace on earth. His feet are on the ground. He shares the lower third of the painting, the “earthly” section, with his fellow earthlings, kingdom animalia. Reading the painting from left to the center, we see a direct reference to fellow primates—a hint at a familiar diagram. At his feet are both wild and domesticated animals. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes,
it is also worth considering whether man, at his first coming into the world, had not already a redemptive function, to perform. Man, even now, can do wonders to animals: my cat and dog live together in my house and seem to like it. It may have been one of man’s functions to restore peace to the animal world, and, if he had not joined the enemy he might have succeeded in doing so to an extent now hardly imaginable.1
The mind, will and emotions—this is the place of dreams, of longing, of relationships, of play and of art (communication through material)—all these together are the soul. It is different than Spirit (Heb 4:12). This soul is common to all of us. Birds and angels sing, dogs and people dream, even bees dance. We all rejoice, have relationships, loyalties, and fears. In this way it can be seen we also share the same breath, the same soulish-nature (Ecc 3:19). If you think of this painting as a Venn diagram turned on its side, then the soul is the common shared space in the middle.
To me, to have a spirit is to make choices with eternal consequence. Humans are the only animals who have the choice of whether to obey or reject their Creator. We have this in common with the creatures above us (angels) but not the ones below. In Matthew 12:30, Jesus said that we are either for or against him. Angels were portrayed as having this choice as well (Isaiah 14:12-17). Mankind was given this Spiritual choice as well (John 3:36). There is no indication that animals are given this realm of choice. The Spirit is either dead or alive; either cursing Christ or calling out “Abba Father” because of his love and kindness.
Holy and Homologous
As a follower of Christ and a learner, I am very interested in understanding evolution from a Christian point of view. As an artist, it makes more sense for me to imagine God, the preeminent Artist, having an amazing creative process reflecting His patience, beauty, generosity and expansive character. Theories of evolutionary biological process do not threaten Scriptural authority, Christ’s superiority, nor the creative sovereignty of God. Instead, I find such exploration both enhances my knowledge the material world, and increases my understanding of the depth of the Gospel. Let the bones say what they say and let the blood also speak for itself.
In this reinterpretation of the classic textbook illustration of homologous structures, I wanted to explore the idea of the incarnation of Christ, His supremacy over all creation, and His role as Savior of the World (1 John 2:2).
When I applied the thinned warm-red acrylic paint to the nail-hole in the wrist, and watched it spill down over the painting and cover the other bones in the display, something hit me in a way that it never had before. When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), he made himself out of the most primal material. He brought himself down to the very lowest common denominator. He came as an earthling, sharing a body, common to all earth-creatures, made of earth. His DNA was like ours; it was only percentage points different from the chimpanzee! The depth and richness of what Christ did became even deeper to me upon this realization. he came as a human, a priest, a mediator between Heaven and Earth, and so much more than that, and all of Creation groans in hopes for redemption (2 Cor. 5: 18-21). The salvation he brought to humans extends His ministry, through and beyond us, to other suffering creatures that share the planet with us. This painting explores our role in reconciliation.
I wanted this piece to be fleshly, so I painted dirt, blood and bones. It is true that God spoke all of creation into existence, but his approach was not at all distant or conceptual or even hands-off. He spoke, but the Word also actually became flesh and hands. It was flesh that was formed, and just like all of us. It was and is flesh that is both Holy and homologous.
I was able to finally have that conversation with my Grandpa. It was one of the last conversations I had with him. Speaking with him in words was always difficult for us (his stroke had rendered him a visual communicator) but when I presented my paintings to him, and after he took some time considering them and my explanations of them, he responded with the longest sentence that I can remember him saying to me. “Yes, Yes,” he said, “I know exactly what you mean.” At the end of his life on earth, and after a standoff lasting more than 6 decades between the conflicting messages of Christian and scientific communities, my Grandfather finally took his liberty to approach God as His Creator, Savior and Redeemer. I am thankful for that and I believe that these works had some part in it.