Seeing the Gospel in works of art?

In ‘The Bruised Reed’ by Richard Sibbes, I find a beautiful understanding of God’s mercy towards mankind. Sibbes published this work in 1630, and provides a refreshing look at what Christ has done for the sinner as he examines what Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah in Isaiah 42:1-3, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgement unto truth”. Whilst reading this book, I happened to visit an art gallery, where I saw the scene called ‘The Expulsion of Adam and Eve’ by Arthur Trevethin Nowell (1897). This painting impacted me greatly as I pondered on Sibbes’ work and I wanted to share a few thoughts on it.

In this oil on canvas scene, the figure of Eve in particular moved me, because of the sheer helplessness and shame with which she seems to be walking away, banished, from Eden. There was something about her posture that connected with my own past recognition of sin in my life – her head cowed towards Adam, and the need to be led out by another’s hand because of the weight of shame. Even her copious head of hair doesn’t cover her shame, as portrayed by her nakedness. Behind them are depicted four angels blocking their re-entry into Eden, but what I also found moving was that it didn’t display the dramatic anger of a God who rejects humanity, as some artistic portrayals of this Biblical scene do. In fact, there was something gracious despite the expulsion that Adam and Eve faced. There’s something in the angels’ faces that reflect how God sees sin – that He cannot abide it, yet He tenderly loves those who struggle with it.

In his work, Richard Sibbes writes,

“The bruised reed is a man that for the most part is in some misery, as those were that came to Christ for help, and by misery he is brought to see sin as the cause of it, for whatever pretences sin makes, they come to an end when we are bruised and broken. He is sensible of sin and misery, even unto bruising; and, seeing no help in himself, is carried with restless desire to have supply from another, with some hope, which a little raises him out of himself to Christ, though he dare not claim any present interest of mercy. This spark of hope being opposed by doubtings and fears rising from corruption makes him as smoking flax, make up the state of a poor distressed man. This is such an one as our Saviour Christ terms ‘poor in spirit’ (Matt. 5:3) who see his wants, and also sees himself indebted to divine justice”.

For me, Nowell’s depiction of Adam and Eve looks very much like this bruised reed, where an awareness of their sin, and their incapacity to save themselves require them to find someone else to draw them out, and ‘to have supply from another’. And yet, God uses this realisation of sin to point us to the Saviour, who came in flesh to redeem us back to God. In our misery, we realise that we need the Saviour, and He alone can carry us out. As Sibbes also writes,

“Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig-leaves of morality will do us no good. And it makes us more thankful, and, from thankfulness, more fruitful in our lives; for what makes many so cold and barren, but that bruising for sin never endeared God’s grace to them?”

I stood in this art gallery for so long, looking up to Adam and Eve with a strong sense of sorrow and compassion, until I realised I was looking up to myself, and every other person on this planet. This is the reason we can be all the more thankful for what Christ has done. Sibbes offers his response to this universal need:

“In Christ all perfections of mercy and love meet. How great then must that mercy be that lodges in so gracious a heart?.. We are weak, but we are his; we are deformed, but yet carry his image upon us. A father looks not so much at the blemishes of his child as at his own nature in him; so Christ finds matter of love from that which is his own in us. He sees his own nature in us: we are diseased, but yet his members… We are his fulness, as he is ours.”

In a discussion today, I was thinking about how we are conformed to Christ’s likeness (Romans 8:29) and that our identity becomes bound with that of Christ. I feel like we live in a world where too many of us walk like Adam and Eve do in this painting, but we have the invitation to step back into the presence of the loving Father through the tender mercies of Jesus Christ, holding onto Him as we step forward in confidence.

This all led me to wonder how God has used works of art to speak to others about the truth of the Gospel, whether in paintings, music, sculptures, architecture or more? I’d be interested to know your experiences and thoughts. Perhaps if we can articulate some of this, it can be another way to share with people the good news of Jesus.


Hi @alison :wave:

I am not an artist of any form or degree, but I love artistic works and really enjoy them in its various expressions.

I remember a portion of the book Star of Light by Patricia St. John where a character was drawn to Jesus by a painting in the mission house. It was an art with an art in my mind; the artful storytelling way of the writer and the art depicted in the painting being described in the story.

I remember having instinctively memorized the 5-stanza gospel song At Calvary because of the story-like pattern of the lyrics. I even used it to share the gospel message the first time I tried sharing it with an LGBT high school friend. Also, many times gospel songs and sacred music has brought me to tears and prayer not mainly by the music but by the message.

During children storytelling opportunities, which is also an art in itself, I often use music / songs to emphasize a point, or reinforce the message.

Also, artworks can lead us to ponder about the presence of the Creator… And the whole of creation is His wonderful work of art and mankind His masterpiece.

I totally agree :+1::+1:


This is great and exactly what is spoken about in Romans 1 where it says God has displayed His glory through creation. I really enjoy the idea that the Creator has given mankind the enjoyment and ability for creating too. He shows His glory in creation, and we reflect His glory in our creations. It leaves endless opportunity to point to the Gospel. Another way that I can be impacted is by a full orchestra working harmoniously together, or choir singing in harmony. I remember when I was young, I went on a choir trip to Italy, and we sang an old hymn called Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck when we reached the top of a mountain. We had no audience, except for the landscape before us. The music, coupled with creation was spine tingling and was an amazing way to get a glimpse of God’s glory.


As a contrast to your (@alison) being moved by compassion and @dennis being inspired by story I thought that I would share this, from Rage Against God, Peter Hitchens’s experience when he visited the Hotel-Dieu in Beaune, France, where a painting by Rogier van Weyden is on display, The Last Judgement. He makes a point that the trip was to enjoy the food and the wine of the town not to visit or take in any art. He had this to say about his encounter which he states in his book was one of disgust and ridicule (it might be helpful to point out that Peter is the brother of Christopher Hitchens, at this time they were both atheists; Christopher was a "rock star’ for the cause.)

I peered at the naked figures fleeing toward the pit of hell, out of my usual faintly morbid interest in the alleged terrors of damnation. But this time I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open. These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions. On the contrary, their hair and, in an odd way, the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time. They were me and the people I knew.

He goes on to say that he did not have a “religious experience” no trance or visions or the like but he did have an uncomfortable connection to the people in the painting.

But I had a sudden, strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. A large catalogue of misdeeds, ranging from the embarrassing to the appalling, replayed themselves rapidly in my head. I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned.

What struck me was the role of fear and embarrassment in his coming under conviction. He described the fear as proper and even called it a “gift” that help us to think clearly in time of danger.

I have felt it when Soviet soldiers fired on a crowd rather near me, and so I lay flat on my back in the filthy snow, quite untroubled by my ridiculous position because I had concluded, wisely, that being wounded would be much worse than being embarrassed.
I went away chastened, and the effect has not worn off in nearly three decades. I have been back to look at the painting since then, and it remains a great and powerful work. But it cannot do the same thing to me twice. I am no longer shocked by the realization that I may be judged, because it has ever after been obvious to me. And once again I have concluded that embarrassment was much the lesser of the two evils I faced.

All quotes are from, Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens, his journey from atheism to Faith.


Hi @Alison,

I’ve been meditating on your question since you asked it.

What’s surprised me is how vulnerable I can feel when contemplating great art.

Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son is one of those paintings. As religious art, depicting a scene from one of Jesus’ parables, I’m not surprised that it points to the gospel!

Reading Henri Nouwen’s book on the painting and the parable itself was a tender and healing experience for me.

The lighting of the painting draws my eye to notice, again and again, the embrace. This is the experience we all need to feel safe, secure, accepted, beloved.

There are so many distorted images of who God is. But I feel this painting reveals the heart of God in a beautiful way.


Thanks @jimmy , what a powerful testimony from Peter Hitchens! I must read that book. I looked up Weyden’s painting and read that it was completed in 1450. It blows my mind that an artist of over 500 years ago created something that was an important stage of the journey for a 20th century atheist to find Jesus. When God inspired the Northern Renaissance artist to depict this key part of the Biblical narrative, He had a very large audience in mind!

Yes! I think art is particularly effective for removing our ‘fig leaves’ and allowing all our humanity to be on display with its blemishes, shame, poverty, sickness, frailty, and desperate need for love, healing, and acceptance. Like Peter Hitchens said in his book that Jimmy quoted, we see ourselves and all mankind in those pictures. It can be like looking in a really large honest mirror!


Hi Alison! Thank you for sharing your experiences, this came at a right time as I’ve been contemplating on whether to further my studies in the arts😂

I really relate with your experience on this, I believe that art allows people to reflect and see things from a perspective that other forms of evangelism cannot provide. It would be a bit embarrsing to admit that majority of my life decisions have been influenced by some form of art. :sweat_smile: An art piece conveys the worldview of the artist and just as God uses preachers and writers to convey his holiness and love, he does the same through paintings, sculptures and illustrations.
Our innate ability to create is something that seperates us from other life forms and I do think it is a precious.

A painting that caught my eye recently while I was doing some research for a project was this painting titled “Christ falling on the way to Calvary” by the Italiam artist Raphael. The look on Christ’s face and the chaotic scene around him really made me consider how stressful the actuality of the scene really was. The humanity of Christ and his relationship with the people around him in this painting somehow made me feel as if I could picture myself in the scene as well.

gift from God.


Hi Jimmy, that’s an amazing testimony. I’ve heard of Peter Hitchen’s story as well and it really testifies to the power art holds. It’s amazing how God really uses what one would not usually consider as a usual form of evangelism to reach out to his people🙏


That’s a moving picture, thanks for sharing! I noticed the little cluster of people on the right all have halos over their heads and have light shining on their faces. In contrast, Christ’s face is mostly in shadow as he carries the burden of the cross. I think it’s incredible how artists use light and shadow to convey, at times, deep theological truths. Here, I imagine that the shadow over Christ shows how much He bears for mankind, allowing those by him to be seen as innocent and holy.