A Treasure that Transcends: A beautiful new Bible inspires lavish generosity in a time of scarcity
Artist Makoto Fujimura has followed his own advice (as reported by my co-author, Kelly Kullberg): “In the midst of fear. In the midst of material and emotional scarcity. In the midst of the world’s collapsing idols, Mako encourages the Church to draw on the Giver / Artist, and to let His creative Spirit spill over into a hurting world. Creating living art, out of love, in the form of kindnesses (whether friendship, food, hospitality, music, dance, painting, flower-arranging, whatever our gifts…). Spiritual, emotional and material generosity is surprising in an age of perceived scarcity; therefore, we, the Church, can rise to the occasion. We create art not as commodity, but as a gift. Just as the Gospel is not commodity, but Gift.
Mako has has created a wondrous gift out of the Gift of the gospel. It is the most beautiful book I have ever owned. This Thanksgiving I am giving thanks for an extraordinary Bible. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible published in 1611, Crossway Books commissioned Mako, one of my favorite artists, to produce the first illuminated manuscript since Robert Blake’s in the late 18th/early 19th century.
With illumined letters at the beginning of each chapter, hand-embellished drawings on each page and full-page reproductions of his paintings representing the four gospel evangelists, it feels like a contemporary Book of Kells. If someone you know loves God’s Word and enjoys art, The Four Holy Gospels (English Standard Version) would be an extravagant Christmas gift.
On the fabric-over-board cover Mako has “sprinkled” the blood of Christ and in counterpoint a gold foil wash of the glory of God runs down to mingle with it. Mako’s artistic expression is more abstract than representative, but he communicates with great meaning and beauty, no matter which vocabulary he chooses.
Schooled in the ancient Japanese art of “Nihonga,” Mako creates his paints out of ground minerals and applies them on the canvass in layers of translucent washes. The richness of ground malachite, lapiz, vermillian as well as gold and silver, both in powder and foil, offer tribute to the incomparable richness of God’s Word.
On the page where Jesus heals the man at the pool of Bethesda Mako entertwines his colors into a graceful double helix of DNA, startling the reader into thinking of the anatomical repurcussions of that miraculous moment. A subtle, fragile stem of lillies on an azure blue background introduces the reader to the Gospel of Matthew, compelling us to consider their exquisite glory which pales beside our King’s loving care of us. Below the story of the Garasene demoniac broken shackles tinged with red, then black, then blue evoke the demoniac's battle with the Legion of evil and the washing of Jesus' healing. The shackles finally dissolve into ribbons of red. The bondage to sorrow, rage, nakedness, cutting and misery is broken by the blood of a Savior who loves and redeems.
Over the last several months I have been reading the words and stories of Jesus in this large (11” x 16”) volume. It fills my entire lap. Takes me back to the large preaching Bibles published in multiple volumes to help pastors see their texts in dimly lit pulpits. The thick, high quality art-paper pages rimmed with gold feel glossy smooth and heavy. Large 13-point font makes for a seamless experience of reading, gazing away to meditate and reading again.
Together, the beauty of the gold, lapiz and hand-embellishments, the rich fabric and paper invite me in to a more transcendent experience of reading God’s Word—very different from reading pixels on a screen surrounded by little software operating icons. God can meet us in a cathedral or a store front. But as my son said when he walked in Saint Paul's in London, "You can't help but think, God is God and you are not."
Thank you God for giving Lane Dennis and his Crossway team the vision to create such a Kingdom masterpiece of truth and beauty. Thank you for, as you put it in Ezekiel, “my” gold and silver. For Mako's lavishing your deep-earth treasures on this work. Thank you for giving him the ability to worship you through his art. Your words are life because they connect us to your beauty and your glory. May we be channels of your extravagant generosity this Thanksgiving as we create the art of good food, beautiful tables, kind conversation and gentle touches...all from the overflow of the riches of your heart.