What separates one artist from another? Why are some people able to look at what’s in front of them and replicate it on a canvas while others look at the same thing, but produce a child-like imitation? Well, practice and technique are heavily involved, but the first thing that separates a good artist from an amateur is their perception.
When we look at objects, we automatically associate them with a general shape. This is why when an amateur or a child is asked to draw a human face, the head and eyes are circles. We see their rounded shape and automatically produce the most familiar rounded shape we know – a circle. The first step in improving as an artist is to learn how to see more complex shapes in the scenery and people around us. As the artist practices, and trains his eyes, he learns how to draw the appropriate shape (see Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces).
Every skill or profession is an art developed through time and conscious effort. Even the things we think of as “natural,” only seem that way because we’ve practiced them for so long. And every skill starts with how we “see” our subject.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ disciples “saw” him as a great teacher and miracle worker, just like the rest of the Jews. But Jesus’ signs and teachings didn’t immediately lead to the disciples’ see Jesus as the Christ. It took time and several incidents before we get to Peter’s confession in Mark 8.
Just before that confession, however, there is a miracle that is only recorded in Mark’s gospel. A blind man is brought to Jesus, and Jesus spits on his eyes, lays his hands on him, and asks if he sees anything. Indeed, the man can now see, but his vision is blurry: “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around” (Mk. 8:24). So Jesus lays his hands on him again, and this time the man “began to see everything clearly” (v.25).
What is going on with this miracle? Was Jesus’ deity only “half-charged,” so that he couldn’t heal the man on the first attempt? All other miracles are instantaneous. Did Jesus mess up, or not hold his mouth right? Of course, Jesus could have given the man clear vision instantaneously, so the manner of healing must be intentional. Upon further reflection, we can see that this miracle is also a parable of sorts.
Again, up to this point in the gospel, the disciples have yet to “see” that Jesus is the Christ. Peter’s confession that follows means that now the disciples can see, but we quickly learn that their vision is fuzzy. Immediately after the confession, Peter is rebuked, because he denies that the Christ must suffer and die. Now that the disciples can see “fuzzily” that Jesus is the Christ, they must learn to see more clearly what that means (thanks to Tom Hamilton for this observation). Their view of the Christ was blurry, and it’s not until he dies and is resurrected that the disciples see precisely what Jesus was up to.
For Christians, God’s desire is for them to see the world as it truly is, not in generic shapes. To be wise is to learn how to make distinctions that the “amateur” person cannot make. The vision of the world without Christ in it is blurry and generic at best, blind at worst. It’s possible to affirm God’s existence through looking at creation (Rom. 1:19-20). It’s even possible to live a generally moral life – albeit not a sinless life – without being a Christian. But it’s not possible to see the world in its true shape without revelation from God. The things we have a faint picture of in the world are made more definite and obvious when we see them through Christ.
This example of gaining sight in stages is not just something the first disciples had to undergo. It’s easy for us to look back in hindsight and criticize them for not understanding. If we were there, we would have grasped it much more quickly, right? Not so fast. The disciples’ gradually improved vision is a pattern for all disciples of Jesus. Even after our confession of Jesus as Christ at baptism we will spend the rest of our lives seeing more and more what that confession really means, just like the first disciples.
Since Christians look at the world through “Christ-colored glasses,” the more clearly they see Christ, the more clearly they see the world. The art that a Christian produces is the art of exalting human nature and the world through Christ. The better we’re able to see things in their true shape, the better beauty we can produce. God wants his people to go beyond seeing simple, fuzzy circles to seeing clear spheres and cubes and beyond.
Even though the brethren at Ephesus have seen enough to come to Christ, Paul doesn’t think their maturation is over. They still need to see things more clearly in order to reproduce the beauty of Christ in their lives. So he prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Eph. 1:18).
God’s not interested in simply saving people from death for the sake of salvation. We are saved so that we can create something beautiful. Christians are the world’s greatest artists, working through God’s greatest medium – humanity. Of course, beauty and glory look much differently than what we’ve been trained to see. Beauty is a lowly Jew shamed on a cross (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). So as Christians continue to create pictures of family, relationships and the world that follow God’s vision, it will look repulsive to worldly critics.
It seems that great artists and visionaries are rarely appreciated in their time. That’s true of Christians as well. Of course, Christians aren’t producing great pictures of humanity because they’re so smart, but because they’ve been blessed with vision from God, just like the blind man in Mark 8. Even the beauty they create will not be fully appreciated until Christ comes again, because as they create their little vignettes, God – THE Artist – is weaving them together for a picture “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).