Salvador Dali, Marriage, and the God Who is There

In his book The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer points to Salvador Dali as an example of someone whose world reshaped his worldview.  Unlike many whose lives are marked by inconsistency, promoting one system of thought but living out another, Salvador Dali, the twentieth century painter, readjusted his artwork to accord with his home life.  Describing this transformation, Schaeffer remarks that Dali’s loving tribute to his wife marks the time in which his paintings took on a more humane and sensible form.  He says, “So on this particular day [describing the day he painted his wife] Dali gave up his surrealism and began his new series of mystical paintings.” (71).

In his later artwork, Dali turned to Christian symbols and figures to express his non-Christian mysticism. For instance in The Sacrament of the Last Supper, he depicts a vaporous savior seated with his disciples overshadowed by a human figured on a cross, presumably Jesus, but whose head is unseen, cut off by the top of the painting.  Thus his paintings have Christian motifs but ignore the historic Christian message.  The painting that Schaeffer points to most and the one that he attributes to his remarkable “conversion” is that of his wife.   In the painting Dali depicts his wife with one breast exposed, her name prominently on the picture, and great artistic emphasis on the ring on her finger, unashamedly supporting their marital vows.  Schaeffer’s assessment is that, “his loved jarred him into a modern type of mysticism” (71). 

But if marital love moved him to some kind of transcedent mysticism, it, by implication, saved him from the suicidal nihilism of a worldview devoid of love and meaning–the worldview that accompanies surrealist art.  Dali named this painting of his wife, “A Basket of Bread.”  Interestingly, this is the same name he gave to two other “eucharistic” paintings.   It seems by such a title that he is applying eucharistic overtones to and deriving spiritual elements from his marriage.  And though Dali does not have the categories or the definitions to understand what he is seeing, in his marriage he sees something transcedent and spiritual.  In short, in his marriage he is given a picture of a greater reality–that is the mystery now revealed of Christ and the church (cf. Eph. 5:32).  Sadly Dali never embraced this greater reality, but it is apparent that his marriage made him thirst for more.  His marital union, it appears, allured him to long for more of Christ, though in the end he ignorantly revolted against the one who drew him near.

Dali’s artistry and life are illuminating.  They remind of us of the impact marriage can have and is designed to have.  It was made to awaken our senses for God.  More specifically, marriage was made by God as a witness to Jesus and his bride, the church.  It is a mystery, but every marriage–Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Wickan, or otherwise that unites one man to one woman–portrays Christ and the church.  Even those like Dali, who reject the Bible, taste and see something eternal, holy, and true in their own marriages, but without Spiritual illumination they will never comprehend that which they experience.  

Salvador Dali’s life and art is a helpful reminder that marriage beckons us to the God who is there.  Even in the lives of agnostics and atheists, marriage serves as divinely-crafted institution to assist the Great Commission and to bring unbelievers to Christ.  Consequently, Christians should see marriages as evangelistic weapons in the spiritual warfare we wage.  As we point married men and women to Christ, we can call on their own marriages to testify to their need and desire for the heavenly marriagee.  Marriage is a personally authenticating reality that testifies to the world and to those who are married (or those who long for marriage) that there is a God who is there, and that he is not silent, and that his message is a wedding invitation for all those who are willing to wear his ring (cf. Matthew 22:1-14).

May we like John the Baptist (John 3:27-30), be faithful groomsmen, calling people to come to the wedding to which all weddings foreshadow.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

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