Missio on The Tabernacle: The Spiritual Gift of Creating Beauty

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For my whole adult life, I have wrestled with having creative talents.  Some artists know with certainty, early on, what they were made to do.  They delight in the joy of creating just as surely as their creative Heavenly Father delighted in creating them.  But that certainty has not been my story.

My soul comes alive when giving creative expression to truth through singing, making music, and writing, but these have never seemed like “legitimate” callings to me.  Instead, I have focused on teaching the Bible and discipling young women.  I do love teaching Scripture and seeing lives changed through the personal investment of my experiences, life, and love, and I am thankful God has given me the truly great privilege of doing these things.  Instead of embracing both of my callings to teach and be creative, I have tried to banish my longings for more creative expressions of truth; they seemed self-glorifying instead of God-glorifying.  

Recently, the question of why I think creativity is self-glorifying rather than God-glorifying has been haunting me.  Is this desire to create beauty really something from God?  A gift of the Holy Spirit?  Is it a legitimate calling?

To get to the bottom of this question, I’ve had to look at two bigger questions:  What does the Bible say about it, as my clearest source of what God loves?  And if the Bible does affirm that this longing to create beauty is from God himself, then why do I struggle to believe it?

The New Testament is not always given to us in creative ways, like the storytelling and poetry of the Old Testament.  The Epistles especially are primarily communicated as Statements That Are True:  this is who Christ is; {therefore} this is who you are; {therefore} this is how you should live.  Statements That Are True are powerful.  We need to know them.  But sometimes we can get so caught up in our knowledge about them that we don’t allow them to penetrate into the deep places of our souls.  We get the letter, but we miss the Spirit.

For example, when Paul outlines the gifts of the Spirit to the early Church, he gives no mention of craftsmanship, or musicians, or poets, or designers.  Does that mean there is no place in the Church for artists?  (Shoot!  Better pack up and go home, creatives.  Nothing for you to do in the Body of Christ.)

But anyone who is not artistically inclined will tell artists that they are gifted – and rightly so.  For many years, I have loved the Exodus passages that talk about Bezalel and Oholiab.  In their stories, we see that the gifts of the Spirit are broader than the lists that Paul gives in his letters.  I love that God calls Bezalel by name, that God fills him with the Spirit, manifested through skill, intelligence, and craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs for the holy work of building God’s own dwelling place among His people.  And God inspired him to teach others in this holy work of creating beauty.

The tabernacle was a beautiful place.  Every single piece of it – from the ark of the testimony to each clasp of gold that held a portion of linen curtain together – was built skillfully, beautifully, and from the best material, and all at God’s very specific instruction.  Studying the story of Bezalel and Oholiab in Exodus exemplifies why it is so important for us to know the whole counsel of Scripture.  Combined with Paul’s teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, we see that the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to each person in the body of Christ, because “when each part is working properly, … the body grow[s] so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16).  The gift of craftsmanship is therefore necessary to the body of Christ.

So, seeing that God gives the gift of craftsmanship, of creating beauty, why have I struggled so much to believe that this gift in my own life is from God?  I think it’s because there are arguments against creating beauty as a spiritual, or even valuable, endeavor that are constantly part of the Christian and secular cultures in which I live.

The Christian culture that is my world is primarily academic.  I did college ministry at a prestigious university for many years, and now I work in a seminary, where I also earned a Master’s degree.  In this arm of American Christian culture, many people believe that theological knowledge is more important than creating beauty.  Sometimes this belief is stated plainly; sometimes it’s under the radar.  But it is present.  Preachers, teachers, and evangelists are the most important roles in the Church because the people in these roles present the Statements That Are True that inform our faith.  

The secular culture in which we live says that productivity is more important than creating beauty.  Put another way, usefulness trumps beauty.  And so schools revoke money for music and art because kids need to learn math and science.  The church has bought into this cultural conviction as well.  We see it played out in the belief that evangelism and missions are more important than art or music because we’re being productive for the Kingdom of God.

I bought into these false dichotomies for years.  Now approaching 40 years old, I find that I am finally coming to embrace the rich nature of the spiritual gift of craftsmanship – of creating beauty.  I cannot banish what God has given me; that is not my right.  As a gift of the Holy Spirit, creating beauty is necessary to the health of the whole body of Christ.  More and more, I see that our particular arm of Christ’s body desperately needs this gift woven in with the other gifts the Holy Spirit has given us.  

Beauty has a unique way of drawing our hearts to worship God.  When I think of God’s glory, I think it must be astoundingly beautiful.  Craftsmanship, that wonderful spiritual gift of creating beauty in all its forms, reveals God to us in a way that whets our appetites for more of His glory.  More of His beauty.  

“Beauty speaks a language of the soul too sacred for the prosaic. The gift of creating beauty is the farthest thing from self-glorifying.  In its very essence, it is a calling to point people to glorify and worship the most Beautiful One, God Himself.  It is life-giving.”

The soul’s natural response to beauty is to worship.  It makes Statements That Are True come alive in the deep places of our beings.  The Truth can no longer be just information to which we assent, as we are prone to do in our information-driven society.  Beauty speaks a language of the soul too sacred for the prosaic. The gift of creating beauty is the farthest thing from self-glorifying.  In its very essence, it is a calling to point people to glorify and worship the most Beautiful One, God Himself.  It is life-giving.

When creatives create beauty, they are simply preaching, teaching, and healing through other modes of communication than sermons, Bible studies, or healing prayer.  There is a door to the soul that can only be entered through awe, through humility.  Beauty opens that door.  Beauty speaks our soul-language, calling the very depths of our beings to see God and love Him.  

I’ve often heard it said that “faith is not a feeling.”  The underlying teaching in that statement is that our feelings are to be suppressed instead of engaged with the Gospel.  We often dismiss the fact that our emotions are a vital part of our souls.  Our emotions need to be freed by the truth of the Gospel in a language that doesn’t have to be emotionally translated.  That language, often, is beauty.

I think this is why God made His own creation so incredibly beautiful.  Even now, as I look out my window, I see the brilliant colors of fall.  The grey sky gives a neutral canvas for the hues of reds, yellows, and oranges to shine all the brighter.  The creek running through the woods nearby gives the soundtrack of life, of movement, of hope.  Our creativity is just an echo of God’s glorious creative nature.

Crafting gardens, designing architecture, painting pictures, composing music, writing poetry, enacting stories – these are the signs of a flourishing society.  Creating beauty is essential to our humanity.  It softens us, reminds us that we are just imitators of a God who creates life.  It calls us to remember that life is worth capturing, embracing, loving – in all its forms.  

In doing all of that, beauty deposits truth into the deepest places of our beings, whether through music or painting, sculpture or storytelling.  It speaks a language of the soul that gives depth to Statements That Are True, embedding those truths firmly in our beings.  The gifts of creating beauty and teaching Statements That Are True go hand in hand together.  They are part of one body, both necessary for the growth of the Church.

 

Becca Hermes earned her Master of Arts from the Atlanta campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, where she continues to work full-time. She is married to Nagib.

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  • Stephanie Boda

    Becca,
    This comment is months out ,sorry .I just finally sat down to do some on-line reading and came across your heart. Thank you for processing along with us (whoever we are out here!). My husband ,an artist as well, continuously churns with your exact thoughts and has often settled into similar conclusions only to be thrown off track again.The spirit knows ,but the flesh is highly influenced .
    I am excited for you ,when God becomes bigger we tend to experience greater joy!
    Bless you Sister