The world’s largest art competition has been going on for the past few weeks in….Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids? Not Venice or Paris or Greenwich Village? Grand Rapids, Michigan?

Yes, that’s right. Conservative, Reformed, traditional Grand Rapids has just hosted Artprize, the world’s largest art competition. This annual event has cash prizes totaling $450,000, with first prize receiving $250,000 (do I hear the sound of old paintbrushes being cleaned up?), most of it coming out of the generous pockets of Dick and Betsy DeVos. You can see the winners here.

I’m not much of an art buff, but even I took my family on to the streets of Grand Rapids to view some of the 1400 exhibits showing in strategic places throughout the town. Much to my surprise, we had a really great time. The streets were packed with young and old. And most people looked kind of “normal”; not the usual arty crowd. And the pieces of art were (mainly) understandable; not the usual weird, incomprehensible, abstract stuff.

Part of the reason for that was that the winners were all decided by public vote (you texted or voted online), and this clearly motivated the artists to produce works that would impress “ordinary” people. And most of the work was hugely impressive. The creativity, imagination, and ingenuity was fantastic. I found myself wishing I had more time to see more and appreciate more. Not quite sure what came over me.

God’s image
But I also found myself thinking of how God’s image was being so clearly displayed in and through the art and the artists. In these beautiful, stunning, and eye-popping paintings, sculptures, and all sorts of varied constructions, I could see a bright shadow of God’s own creative genius and awesome creativity in the Garden.

Some of the most impressive pieces were constructed out of waste metal and other assorted pieces of junk. How could so much ugliness be transformed into such loveliness! In the same way God is making old and junky creatures new and beautiful in His powerful work of sanctification.

The streets of Grand Rapids are back to their familiar drabness now. But in the memory of these temporarily beautified public spaces and crossings, surely we can get a little foretaste of how God will yet renew and beautify the earth with His works of grace.

So many of the pieces could form the basis of sermons and blog posts. But I’d like to leave you with one that was brought to my attention by Charissa Romens at the Acton Institute’s Powerblog. She writes:

Confess is a large board where people can anonymously write their confessions. Everything from the dark, to deeply personal, to lighthearted, to witty is posted on this public wall for anyone to peruse.

As I watched people write their messages for strangers to read, my first reaction was: “This is dumb and not even art. Why would anyone write something so personal in public for anyone to see?!” However, as I stood observing many people come and go, furtively writing their secrets and lingering over those of others, I was struck by the universal desire for interpersonal connection and communication.

As I thought about this, I was also struck by the universal desire for confession. Wherever we look in the world we find this urge, this “instinct,” this compulsion to admit sin in a public way. No matter how hard we may try to forget, to hide, to cover-up, to deny, to blame others, to balance with good works, that sin or these sins keep bubbling up to the surface of our consciousness.

But even when confession is made, most of the time it is misdirected to priests, counselors, psychologists, walls! As a result, there is no lasting sense of peace or forgiveness. And there is no power to change.

The greatest prize
This is where true Christianity has such a powerful and relevant message. If we confess our sins to Christ, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). I sometimes wonder if we underplay this basic and fundamental promise of Christianity. We can get so caught up in doctrinal controversies about justification, etc., that sin-burdened souls do not hear this simply profound promise. Confess your sins to Christ and you will receive full, free, felt, and forever forgiveness from all your sins.

What greater prize can there be?