Art Shouldn’t Trigger—But Teach
Updated: Jan 2, 2020
In the Bible, monuments serve as reminders—as a way to teach rising generations of important things that occurred in the past. For example, when the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land:
“Joshua said to them, ‘Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:5-7).
We can always learn from the past—from its bad and ugly as well as its good aspects. Thus, there were good monuments such as that erected by Joshua, but the torn down walls of Jericho also served as a teaching tool for future generations. Sadly, however, far too many today are “triggered” by the past and seeking to destroy it.
Recently, students at Georgia State signed onto a student editorial advocating tearing down an 1891 statue of Confederate journalist and orator Henry Grady. Meanwhile, in San Francisco another school voted to cover a mural which includes “scenes of black slaves picking cotton and white settlers urged on by George Washington stepping over a dead American Indian.” But there is as much that can be learned from unfavorable historical images as with those now favorably embraced under today’s standards.
Art has always depicted historic events, not current standards of morality. So what’s to stop students from next advocating the tearing down or covering up of the Sistine Chapel’s depiction of The Crossing of the Red Sea or Rembrandt’s The Descent from the Cross?
Education is just as much about learning from the evil of the past as it is from its good. George Washington properly exhorted:
“There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”
If this generation continues to tear down and cover up the past, it will never learn from it and, God forbid, may therefore be doomed to repeat it. The Bible reminds us that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), so every generation that refuses to learn from its past will find itself repeating lessons it should have learned.
Imagine studying the life of David without learning the lessons his many failures provide, or those from Peter’s shortcomings, or similar opportunities with the story of Paul, Abraham, Moses, and other Biblical heroes. In fact, if we cut all evil from the Bible, we would not even know about what occurred to Jesus leading up to His crucifixion.
God may forget our sins (Isaiah 43:25), but He doesn’t want us to forget the evil from which He saved us:
“Watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord Who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:12 NASB).
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 Stirgus, E. (2019, December 4). Georgia State students demand Atlanta mayor move Henry Grady statue. Retrieved from https://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/georgia-state-students-demand-atlanta-mayor-move-henry-grady-statue/1015332324
 Miller, R. W. (2019, August 14). Mural depicting 'racist history of America' will be covered, not destroyed in San Francisco. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/08/14/george-washington-mural-san-francisco-high-school-covered/2005838001/
 Tucker, J. & Wu, G. (2019, April 30). Offensive or important? Debate flares anew over SF school mural depicting slavery. Retrieved from https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Offensive-or-important-Debate-flares-anew-over-13748800.php
 Rosselli, C. The crossing of the red sea. (1439-1507). Retrieved from https://www.artbible.info/art/large/535.html
 Rembrandt, C. (1650-1652). The descent from the cross. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Descent_from_the_Cross_(Rembrandt,_1650–52)
 Washington, G. (1790, January 8). The first state of the union address. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/first-state-union-address-way-shorter-less-clapping-180953954/