Glory of God | Beauty of the Church | Good of the World
The idea of creating art for the glory of God is not a new thing.
Cranach, Caravaggio, Durer, and Da Vinci are just a few of the talented believers whose work has blessed the church and the world for centuries. We have a rich and diverse history to draw from.
Come, let’s hop aboard this time machine and travel back a bit further. I'll point out some of the sights as we go.
As we begin our ascent, we can make out the architects of the great European cathedrals and the master painters of the renaissance. And now coming into view are the medieval monks painstakingly copying God’s word by hand. If you squint, you can see some of the more adventurous sketching illustrations in the margins. These robed figures up ahead are the great Ambrose and Augustine, displaying their rousing oratory in the late 300s.
We are halfway through our journey, and you are free to stand up and lean against the window now as we cross into the scriptures. There below us in chains is the apostle Paul weaving divine metaphors and word-pictures into his letters to the early church, and of course there is Dr. Luke narrating the wonders of the Spirit’s work in the Acts of the Apostles.
Now let us quiet down and watch in hushed reverence our Lord Jesus speaking from a hillside, using rich, piercing parables to teach the masses about God’s already/not-yet kingdom.
Ah, we are picking up speed now, and here is splendorous King Solomon creating both pithy proverbs and one epic (if risqué!) love poem, and there in the meadow, just under the shade of that olive tree, is the warrior-poet David playing his lyre.
Okay, please step back from the windows, return to your seats and fasten your belts. Attendants, prepare for landing. The wheels are down, and we are descending rapidly. On the horizon now is our final destination.
The machine has come to a full and complete stop in the arid desert east of Egypt. We unboard. As we shade our eyes from the bright sun, the dust begins to clear, and we spot our ancestors, the Israelites. It's 1445 B.C., just after the Exodus.
We are in the wilderness of Sinai.
Frogs. Locusts. Pestilence. Fire and ice.
The Red Sea.
Manna and water from the rock.
The Lord has just done amazing, mind-bending things for his people. Through his miraculous grace, they have been freed from Egyptian bondage.
We have arrived just as the celebrations are dying down, and a new realization is settling in. After four hundred years of slavery, with the Egyptians controlling their every move, the Israelites wonder: what should we do with this liberty? How ought we spend our time? What can we do to remember these things—to pass on this great story to our children?
In other words: Now what?
All eyes look to their leader, Moses. And Moses looks to the mountain.
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction...Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Exodus 24: 12, 17-18
In this unprecedented meeting, God instructs Moses about how the people should live now, in light of their great salvation. He gives Israel's new leader specific, detailed instructions about the law and about a special, sacred place where his people will encounter him: the Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle’s architecture is to be intricately designed, and its accoutrements—a bread table, a golden lampstand, curtains, garments for the priests, a bronze altar—are to be of the highest quality and craftsmanship.
And Moses must wonder—who will make these things?
The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.”
Yahweh answers his wondering with the first clear-cut description of an artist in the Bible, as well as a name—Bezalel. This man and his fellow craftsmen have been called, filled with the Spirit, and gifted by God to fill the Tabernacle with beautiful things the mind of the Lord has envisioned.
And now it's you who must be wondering, "Okay, you've dragged us all the way out here to the desert to show us this. Now what?"
We're almost there, I promise.
Being that this is an Old Testament passage, we can't interpret it as directly prescriptive. Through the work of Jesus, God's presence no longer dwells in the Tabernacle but, incredibly, in his people. However, we believe this story does reveal two important things about God's view of art:
He is the source of it. And he enjoys it.
The Lord wants men and women to create beautiful things, and their skill in doing so is given by Him. The one who carved the mountains, cultivated the first vegetable garden, and formed us from dust has called us to be makers.
By grace he has blessed his church with an abundance of gifts and filled us with his Spirit. We believe he’s given artists gifts of singing, writing, painting, and making things in order to beautify the church, to help his people remember their great deliverance by the one true God.
This is how we glorify him.
Three ways we at A|C hope to glorify God through our work:
1| Love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength
2| Use our gifts to make things pleasant to the sight and good for (spiritual) food
3| Communicate his transcendent glory through the senses
Note: This is Part Two of the Glory | Beauty | Good series. Read Part One here.