A Work-in-Progress Theology of God's Beauty and Art
More importantly, I hope that as this site works towards its mission, that Redemption Studio would develop its capabilities to glorify the one true God. I believe that glorifying God comes through worshiping him through the means he provides and has revealed; one of these means is through art and practicing creativity. The works of creation are vitally important to our society, culture, and world. These are expressive and reach out for ideas that transverse the walls mankind uses to separate itself. The Apostle Paul put it well in Rom 1:18-22, when he wrote:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles (Rom 1:18-22, NIV, emphasis mine).
While Paul may not be laying out a theology for creation, he does express one of the greatest purposes creativity has been used for, and by God no less: to display God’s “eternal power and divine nature”. Later, in Romans 1, Paul writes about the way sin originates from the heart’s of men and women in verses 28 through 32. He condemns the actions, originating from those who suppress truth revealed in the creation, which result in people who “invent ways of doing evil”, “continue to do evil”, and “approve of those” who do so.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:28-32, NIV, emphasis mine).
Paul here is laying out a doctrine of sin and God’s holiness and righteousness, but we can derive a principle for a doctrine of artwork. Here we see that people “exchanged the glory” of God for “images”, which I am taking to mean a crafted idol and invent and encourage evil. (Though I should add that the image doesn’t need to be a physical object in Paul’s argument.) Naturally then, it would be better for people to neither replace God’s glory, nor to invent ancient evil, with their own works. This doesn’t mean people should not create, but rather when we create, we should do it for the right purpose: namely, God’s glory, not our own. Psalm 150:1ff expresses that people should praise the Lord with instruments and dancing. In the construction of the tabernacle and the temple in Exodus and 1st Kings, we see the details the Lord demands for his dwelling and he expects nothing less than the best according to specific direction. In Exodus 31:1-6, the Lord says the following.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, NIV).
The Lord reveals that he filled two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, with the Holy Spirit. He says he has given them wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. One might expect this is a revelation of God’s nature, but instead the Lord says he filled them with this knowledge of “all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs… and to engage in all kinds of crafts”. He even further clarifies that he has “given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded them” and that these artists are to make the tabernacle in accordance with the way he has commanded them. So we can then see that these skills, talents, crafts, and art are a gift from God and God wants them to be used in the way he has specified. Jesus tells us in Matt 25:14-30 the parable of the talents or bags of gold. In this, Christ describes how a master has given his servants money to work with and invest; his servants who invested and earned more are blessed, and those who didn’t have wasted his investment and should be considered worthless. I’m not attempting to express that a man’s justification or salvation is based on his performing of art, for that would contradict Eph 2:8-10, but I would assert then that a man’s artistic talent is an investment by God and should be used for God’s glory, and that these can also be gifts from the Holy Spirit “to engage in all kinds of crafts”. While these gifts may not be those laid out in 1st Cor 12:1ff, they are at the very least derived from God and not man, and so to not use them for God’s glory would be wasting them, and to use them for one’s own glory would be sinful, as they belong to God and have been given by him.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question, “How did God create man?” and answers that question with: “God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.”
The New City Catechism asks, “How and why did God create us?” and answers that question with: “God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.”
These Catechisms point to a very important part of our humanity, and a doctrine of artwork would not be complete without referencing, making mention, or in some way relying upon the first created works.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…
‘So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them’" (Gen 1:26-27, NIV).
I believe that one of the greatest gifts mankind has been given is the image of God. That image manifests itself in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Earlier, in Gen 1:2, we learned that the earth was “formless [תֹ֙הוּ֙ , tōhû] and void [וָבֹ֔הוּ , vâ bōhû]” and through the following days, the Lord created order and filled the earth with His creations. When He finally made mankind, He gave them His image and told them to subdue the earth, to bring about rule and to fill it with creation. In particular, I put forth that the knowledge He has given us and part of the direction He has given us would include our ability and a command to make new things (often called the Cultural Mandate). I believe that we were made to worship, and one of the most profound ways we have to offer worship is found in art. Our ability to create and make new things reflects back the glory of God in His creation of all things. Thus if we are to be a community creating artwork, the crafts and skills cannot be used for one’s own glory, to invent evil, to express evil, and to condone evil without committing grievous sin. Our skills must be used for exalting the Lord, thanking the Lord for giving them to us, and in following with the commands he has given us, which will not contradict his revealed words in scripture. Thus the most ideal, practical, and greatest method we can utilize to achieve our mission is based in practicing our gifts for God’s glory.
Not to undermine what has been detailed above, I think it is important to remember King David’s words in Ps 51:1ff.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise (Ps 51:16-17, NIV).
Ultimately, it is not our art, craft, or skill God desires, but a “broken” and “contrite”, or humble, “heart”. If we forget this, we might find ourselves on the other side, faced against the Lord, performing and creating for our own glory, and thus we’d miss the entire point of our talents. This site doesn’t persist for the sole sake of making things, for that would be rather pointless. Is a novel written for joking? Is a painting conceived for dust? I will not deny the value of art for expression, but if such great works are meant merely for expression, I must put down my pencil (or keyboard in this case) and find something else to give my time with true value. For art is designed, as are we by our Creator, with a purpose. In service to that purpose, we commend everyone to work at their craft with all their passion as working for the Lord (Col 3:22-24; Eph 6:7; 1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 5:9). We also maintain this site where people are welcome to discuss, critique, and share ideas revolving around the works created and published with Redemption Studio, that people may be built up and encouraged. To that end, neither Redemption Studio nor T. H. Wright makes claim of copyright over an artist’s work submitted on its pages and never will beyond the right to display what is submitted on portions of the website and to discuss its contents. We exist as a place to get works out in the public sphere and as a place to form community and to encourage those who partake in it.
While I am sure more can be said, I find I am constantly modifying what I have submitted, especially on this page, and welcome further discussion to happen on the forums regarding this work-in-progress doctrine.