I have come to the end of my time at Dallas Theological Seminary. Yet as I walk in my last semester, looking to that day of Graduation, alas my refrain is “already-not yet.” It is then, with no little satisfaction, that I am taking the Bible Exposition class that includes Revelation, and the theology course looking into Eschatology. The Eschaton is already a big theological baseline always playing in the background of my creative works, both in the visual arts and my writing. Many of my paintings and stories are seeding from that first second where I picture the protagonists in their
The Eschaton is already a big theological baseline always playing in the background of my creative works, both in the visual arts and my writing. Many of my paintings and stories are seeding from that first second where I picture the protagonists in their abyss, reaching for the resurrection, and the new self that emerges after this figurative death. The reach itself, the stretching of the arms and limbs towards a thing just out of grasp but not distant, and tangible in the face of utter darkness, this is a gesture that fascinates me. I know I will write it and paint it again and again for most of my life. Understanding that gesture through the lens of God’s word is reason enough to consider Revelation: a mortal being’s reach towards the au-temporal and indescribable, granted by the grace and deliberate intent of a loving, living God. But since a sentence is rarely accepted as graduate level work, here follows a fuller account of why Eschatology is relevant both to my own spiritual formation and
But since a sentence is rarely accepted as graduate level work, here follows a fuller account of why Eschatology is relevant both to my own spiritual formation and faith, and as some of the lifeblood to my calling as an Artist.
My Eschatological Journey
Since I was a kid that apocalyptic book with its imagery that dances before the apostle’s eyes as prophecy and poetry incarnate, carnage and glory, justice and restoration has romanced my imagination. Revelation and Romans frequently duked it out as my favorite book of the Bible, but John was always the human author I most loved, for his gospel, letters, and apocalyptic literature. I grew up singing the old blues refrain, “Tell me who’s that writing? John the Revelator. Wrote the book of the seven seals.” My cronies knew the book of Daniel for the lion’s den and the fiery furnace, but I knew it for chapter nine and the musings of Sir Robert Anderson. I plowed through Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth at age twelve
In eighth grade I spent most of my recess time on the classroom computer, penning a science fiction tale where a man accidentally blips to the future and beholds, in a crumbling airport, live footage of the two witnesses resurrecting on a TV monitor. All the clocks stop and go blank. Back in the present, he lives his life in paranoia that he will reach that future day that matches the technology he saw, and again he will witness the end of time. He wears seven synchronized watches, but when their batteries fail all at once he assumes the end has come, and dies prematurely from a heart attack. It was only semi-decent SciFi, but reading it now I don’t have to wonder at the emotive and cultural wavelengths surrounding “the end” in small town Evangelicalism that my eleven-year-old spidey-sense tingled with.
I sang DC talk’s remake of Larry Norman’s “I wish we’d all been ready” (I know the original too, and like UFO more). I hung a poster on my walls all pop-neon greens, a man looking through luminous black binoculars, the block print urging me to WATCH for His coming. And I nerded out like so many other evangelicals over the changes in nations and technologies that draw us closer and closer to “those days.” My Dad and I laughed and discussed the late-night access television of Jack Van Impe presents, treating each broadcast like a tray of bittersweet desserts snuck from the kitchen in dinner’s after hourss. Yet in all of this my Dad modeled and taught me that looking into such things requires both with sobriety and a large dose of levity. Our “theoreticals” we always set in the clear context of speculation, never throwing our lot in with any one scholar or commentator with slightest permanence, lest we follow in the footsteps of the Pharisees who could not see Christ in His appearance because they had learned to love their interpretations more the undeniable will God. We nay-sayed date-namers, and the confident declarations of the coming antichrist’s nationality, and had fun at our guesswork too.
This is probably why I never got into The Left Behind series even though I loved fiction. The level of obsession my friends displayed in discussing it, the fervency with which each new book was lauded by adults in my home church raised red flags for me. Reading between the lines, it seemed to me like a whole lot of people I knew and loved were getting off on fear, and that was no picture of grace to the world. Maybe it was the equivalent of the horror movies they’d never see, I don’t know, but something was rotten in the state of the fellowship hall.
I considered briefly writing a “rapture letter” like so many of my friends were at the time. You seal it and give it to your unsaved friends with instructions not to open it unless you and a whole lot of people suddenly vanished. Inside you detailed what was going on for them so they wouldn’t be lost as to what was happening on the day the church disappeared. But it never sat right with me. Something in the tone of the thing said “Believe or else” and this is not how nor why I wanted my friends to come to my beloved savior. Instead, I wrote them notes in the here and now, telling them I loved them and was praying for them. It felt better to pray for them and to trust them to God, who would surely be faithful to present them the gospel and the way of escape even in the thick of a cultural mindset cowed to deception. I realize now that I believed this because it is how my Dad came to the Biblical texts detailing the rapture, the millennium, and the tribulation, with a quiet confidence in the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand. He is a strong-armed introvert with faith like Daniel, who will fast and pray, but also is content to receive and not understand, because he is a friend of God.
Even while fighting hard seasons of disappointment, he modeled for me an anticipation that bordered on rejoicing. While the judgments of Revelation are surely terrible, it was not these I longed to see with excitement as I looked towards the end. I didn’t need the wrathful judgments to marvel at the power of God, a trip to the ocean serves just as well. Rather, I longed to see the restoration, and justice of the martyrs, the saints from throughout the globe gathered together, and Israel all being restored to the presence of the living God. I waited to dwell before the tree of life whose leaves are healing for the nations. At the end of a summer camp in high school, the final night around the campfire, I waited to be last to share and read Revelation 22 aloud to my peers, the lovely and life-giving conclusion to the story that we are meant to draw hope from.
Eschatology and an Artist’s Calling
This is how my journey with Eschatology has formed my spiritual walk, but how then shall we consider Eschatology relevant to my ministry and calling as a storyteller and artist? As a storyteller, every fiction I write echoes the three-part patterning of God’s grand narrative, creation, fall, re-creation. While how I weight these in length, and which element of the three I conclude in (for example I recently wrote
As a storyteller, every fiction I write echoes the three-part patterning of God’s grand narrative, creation, fall, re-creation. While how I weight these in length, and which element of the three I conclude in (for example I recently wrote this creative non-fiction piece which closes in hints of real-time recreation but ends with the narrator grieving the fall), all three elements are always present. This is true even in my poems running ten lines or less. Therefore, if I do not understand how creation, the fall, and re-creation all play out in the Biblical texts personating the Eschaton to readers and hearers of the word then I cannot do my job well as a writer. God is the king of story arcs as well as of kings, and he works on the micro into the macro, for creation, fall, and re-creation are all present within Revelation. It’s not merely the crescendo, though we often read and teach it with more emphasis on one of the grand narrative’s three elements instead of the noting the necessary union and interplay between all three.
As a writer and a visual artist, my mediums differ, but my calling as an Artist is the same: to create a new space for my audience and invite them into it. This is also how I embody Christ to others because He invited and invites us who are sinners into His presence both now and eternally. He did so and does so at no little cost to Himself. The space that all three members of the Trinity invite us into is the gospel: it is the beauty, truth, and love that all have their absolute essence and origin in Him. God invites us into these three, when they are painful and when they are a balm to weariness. He invites us in when we are angry, afraid, disgusted, and sorrowful. So, when I am walking in the Spirit and creating art, it is no wonder that He instructs me in hospitality that He is modeling to humanity. He invites me to invite others, that we may go together with Him.
All four of my years at DTS I have created art in real-time I meditate upon what I am learning. I am a kinetic learner, so it is impossible for me not to do this. The margins of my class notes are chalk-full of poetry fragments, the premises of short stories, and sketches of installation pieces that physically flesh out the theological concept or Biblical theme my brain is grappling with. When I took up visual art, I didn’t see it as a calling at first. I began to do it before I understood it. I am still working out my calling with fear and trembling, coming to understand more what an artist is called to in Christ. Currently, I only have the painful aspects of this calling: overcoming shame, being misunderstood, and being critiqued. I am still drafting through the joyful aspects of this calling, dancing with the Spirit, making spaces and invitation, and gifting your work to others. When I have practiced these things more, then I know shall be ready to write about them. In the meantime, I must do to learn, and so rather than tell you more about the crux where my artistry and Eschatology meet, I will show you a better way.
The Eschaton Series
The majority of art depicting the Revelation of Christ that I have seen is very literal and even prescriptive. I have had friends tell me of a massive mural they saw exhibited once at the Museum of Biblical Art, which depicts believers in white robes on white horses riding into battle behind Christ, wearing cowboy hats and flying the American flag. This kind of narcissistic and nationalistic appropriation of the themes of this book of scripture is exactly what I wish to avoid in my own work.
The challenges thrown before me are these: to signify literal moments visually with symbolism complimentary to John’s testimony, to signify the presence of the Trinity throughout, to signify a gender and global inclusiveness when depicting the saints, and the imago dei of humanity as we respond in worship to our new shared presence with God in the eternal state. And to do all this while resisting the tonal norms that come with eschatology in my own tradition of Evangelicalism, such as escapism or duck and cover fear.
So you know, light stuff.
Thank God I only have to make suggestions and invite beholders into a space that hints at these times. Thank God, the Holy Spirit takes over once it goes up on a wall for an audience, which is also why I keep my mouth shut during most showings of my work. If the Holy Spirit is going to speak to hearts about my paintings, He doesn’t need me talking over Him. There’s a fine line between orienting your audience well towards a series of works and controlling their perception of it by verbal acuity. Which is also why I only choose to include a single artist’s statement for the series below and titles for each work. I want the beholder to have the joy of discovering for themselves, and I want to gain the riches of hearing what they find within that shared space that entirely escaped me. I think I agree with theologian Robert L. Short in the view that just as the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues are separate offices in the
I want the beholder to have the joy of discovering for themselves, and I want to gain the riches of hearing what they find within that shared space that entirely escaped me. I think I agree with theologian Robert L. Short in the view that just as the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues are separate offices in the first-century church, so an artist should not always be expected to explain his or her own work. I do not mean that an artist should not own or be held accountable for his or her work. But because much of what artists begin as education transforms that is micro-management of how their work is perceived. Or worse, marketing and not invitation. Rather your work should be gifted freely as an act of hospitality that personates Christ.
These six paintings I have made while meditating in the Spirit on what I am studying academically. I do think there is one more painting yet to be added, the Tree of Life, but I did not want to rush it just to include it in this presentation. I need to mull that seed over for longer before I start painting. Yet even when I finish a painting, the work is not complete. Each piece of art takes on a life beyond my hands and my thoughts once these pieces are hung. I don’t wish to preach at my audience my own interpretations of these events any more than I would name an unknowable date.
Instead, it is my intention to say to my audience and my peers, “Draw near with me to those times that are drawing near, at which the whole of creation will wonder. Let us imagine them together, and being attentive to details discover what the Spirit has to us to strengthen our weary hearts.”
This is my invitation to hope, and I hope much more as the Spirit wills to reveal.
Why is are these paintings a space of hope? I need it. I will have to fight my own ‘bouts with my own depression my whole life. Making this art is but the beginnings of my hope. I need the body of Christ to behold with me and for us to see these things together for my hope to be made whole. I need you to see what I do not see, even in the things I have formed with my own hands, that I may be spiritually formed by what you note.
It is for this reason that the Church needs to look into these things. Why study the Eschaton? Because to do so would be to refuse a gift of God, that we receive gladly in our study of any other book in Scripture. God gave John the Revelation of Jesus Christ not to grant us power nor specialized knowledge, for so much of it remains a mystery. But that we should have hope in Him who loves us and who draws us from all nations to Himself. And when we draw together to look into these things, we are a type of that sea of glass, of the saints in worship before the throne.
We accept His invitation, and the Spirt and the Bride say “Come!”