Icons of the True

Walking On Water

Reflections on Faith & Art

Chapter 2

An icon is a symbol, rather than a sign.

~Madeline L’Engle


When Billy Graham was hospitalized for an operation, the doctor who was scheduled to perform it came to the great evangelist’s bedside and said, “Dr. Graham, I want you to know that I am a good Christian.”  Billy Graham replied, “I’m glad for that, but are you a good surgeon?”  The story is funny, but it should make us a bit uncomfortable as well. Whether in the medical arts or otherwise, glory may be better revealed by a pagan rather than a saint.  God’s work is God’s work.

As Madeline L’Engle writes:

A sad fact which nevertheless needs to be faced is that a deeply committed Christian who wants to write stories or paint pictures or compose music to the glory of God simply may not have been given the talent, the gift, which a non-Christian, or even an atheist, may have in abundance. God is no respecter of persons, and this is something we are reluctant to face.

We would like God’s ways to be like our ways, his judgments to be like our judgments. It is hard for us to understand that he lavishly gives enormous talents to people we would consider unworthy, that he chooses his artists with as calm a disregard of surface moral qualifications as he chooses his saints.

Do you find this statement challenging: “Christ has always worked in ways which have seemed peculiar to many men, even his closest followers. Frequently the disciples failed to understand him. So we need not feel that we have to understand how he works through artists who do not consciously recognize him. Neither should our lack of understanding cause us to assume that he cannot be present in their work”? Do you agree with this? Is an artist’s personal faith, or lack thereof, relevant to the message of Christ in his or her work? Why or why not?

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