Sistine Chapel

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The Creation of Adam is the centerpiece of one of the world’s most famous paintings.

More than 500 years ago the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo covered the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel with a sweeping artistic vision of Bible history.  Everything seems to swirl around the moment that God reaches out toward the newly created Adam.

It took four Michelangelo four years to complete the ceiling.  It wasn’t easy.

His work was achieved by means of fresco, in which pigments are brushed onto wet plaster.  As soon as the plaster dries, the painting is fixed.  Therefore speed and accuracy – basically, getting things to look right the first time – are essential. 

The Sistine Chapel nearly cost Michelangelo his health.  He spent hours at the top of rickety scaffolding, squinting at dimly lit surfaces, blobs of paint dribbling into his eyes and beard. 

One night the genius felt so discouraged that he wrote just one sentence into his journal:  “I am no painter.”

Anyone who has visited the Sistine Chapel would beg to differ.

You might say that Michelangelo still gets a bit of revenge on the tourists who come to gaze at the ceiling.  There are no chairs in the Sistine Chapel.  You have to crane your neck upwards for long minutes just to take in the scope of his masterpiece.

The image of God the Creator dominates everything.  It can safely be said that this depiction of God is why Western people tend to cherish the assumption that the Supreme Being looks like a grandfather.  Or maybe ZZ Top’s lead guitarist.     

What’s often overlooked, as art historians have pointed out, is the way that Michelangelo endowed the figure of God with such dynamic energy. 

God appears to be rushing toward Adam.  In the 21st century we would say that God is fully engaged.  His resolute gaze and extended finger brilliantly capture a sense of divine purpose.  God is reaching out for Adam.  Something wonderful is about to happen.

Adam, meanwhile, appears to be reaching for the remote.  But it’s just a little bit too far at the end of the couch, so maybe he’ll just keep watching reruns of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies until the end of the week.

God is arriving with power and purpose.  Adam, the representative of humanity, is reclined away from God and is passively extending a single finger, awaiting God’s touch.

Most courses that teach “The Bible as Literature” begin with the premise that Scripture is the account of people looking for God. 

But the Bible itself presents an entirely different picture.  Scripture is the story of God looking for people

God is nearby.  God wants a relationship with us.  So how are we supposed to respond?

All we have to do is lift a finger.

Pray out loud:  “God, I need your touch.”  Resolve that you’re done with that soul-crushing habit – not beginning on the first day of 2021, but right now.  Choose to forgive.  Decide to do the right thing – that decision you’ve been wrestling with for weeks. 

Just lift a finger.

You’ll be astonished to discover that God has never been out the picture.    

He’s been within reach the whole time.