|Visual Arts and the Bible|
Pop Quiz: Who is the first person that Scripture tells us was filled with the Spirit? (The answer appears below.)
A Trip to the Museum
When we got to the museum, we took the elevator up and began walking down. One of the first exhibits was a shopping cart made of fluorescent tubes. A video that accompanied it said that it was a statement about the inability of the homeless to get free electricity. Another was an exhibit that was supposed to imitate moonlight. It was a darkened room with a lit light bulb suspended from the ceiling. Others were abstract or random jumbles of different kinds of objects and materials.
At the risk of sounding like a cretin, after making the first loop of the spiral, my wife asked me what I thought. I told her I was ready to put on roller skates.
I am sure that someone who understood modern art would have appreciated the exhibits far more than I did. But I am equally sure that the majority of people in the country would have responded to the art in much the same way that I did. And I strongly suspect this is one of the reasons why Christians avoid the world of visual arts.
A Trip to Church
Then we went into the auditorium, where services are held. It was a large space with stadium seating, cup holders on the seats, and a stage in front where the worship band would play and the pastor preach. It had audio-visual equipment to project words to songs and videos on screens. It was modern, cleanly designed, and looked like a lot of new theaters I’ve been in.
My wife hated it, demonstrating that I’m not the only curmudgeon in the family.
The problem was that for her, it screamed “performance space” rather than “worship space.” It had a cross, but other than that there was nothing about it that marked it as a place to worship God.
The Death of Aesthetics
Both ancient Greek philosophers and many Christian theologians considered the Transcendent (i.e. God, for Christians) to be characterized by the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. This means that beauty is objective and is anchored in God’s very nature. God not only creates beauty, but the beauty of the world is a reflection of the beauty of God himself.
In other words, the modern idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that beauty is purely subjective, is false. The problem is, this idea has permeated the culture and the church.
In the Guggenheim, art, which is intended to be a non-verbal exploration of truth, no longer has any connection to beauty. This may be because beauty is seen as subjective and therefore not “true” in any hard sense of the word, or because both truth and beauty have been relativized to such a degree that the artist sees no point in trying to create beauty. But one way or another, the connection between art and beauty has been severed.
And in churches, utilitarianism has replaced aesthetics as the foundation for design. The goal is far more to create a pleasant environment in which the service can take place rather than to create a space that displays the beauty and grandeur of God.
The Beauty of the Holy
For example, in the description of the Garden of Eden, the very first thing we are told about the trees is not that they provided food, but that they were a delight to the eyes (Gen. 2:9).
Or consider the instructions for building the Tabernacle in Exodus. God gave Moses a pattern that he was to follow exactly (Ex. 25:9), and God expected people to contribute precious materials to the building of the Tabernacle. The furniture was made of high quality wood and covered in gold. The tent itself was made out of multicolored woven fabric with cherubim embroidered on it. The frames were made of the same high quality wood and their bases of solid silver. On and on the description goes, including even the robes worn by the priests. It is hard to escape the conclusion that God wanted his people to worship in a place filled with color and beauty. (Exodus chs. 25-28, 30)
The Answer to the Quiz
Beauty is so important to God that the very first person he names as being filled with the Spirit was not Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, or Aaron; it was an artist.
But What About...
There are, of course, objections that can be raised to this conclusion.
The bottom line here is that for Christians, being an artist is a high and sacred calling and can be a means of honoring and glorifying God in profound and powerful ways. And for those of us who are not artists, we should be learning to appreciate beauty ourselves, recognizing it as a reflection of the beauty of our Creator, and should do what we can to bring beauty into the world. It is a delight to God, and is meant by him to be a delight to us as well.
 “God gave Adam two jobs, a topic to which we will return in later articles. First, Adam was “to work and keep” the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). The Garden is specifically described not just as a place where food grew, but as a place of beauty and delight (Gen. 2:9); we may thus infer that working and keeping the Garden involved not simply food production, but cultivating beauty as well. In other words, the arts have been part of God’s mandate to humanity from the very beginning.” ("The Image of God and Creativity)
Have you, like many, given up on the visual arts as part of your esthetic diet? Suggestion: with this article in mind, visit an art museum in your city with a view to discerning beauty in the things on display.