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We have been indoctrinated by our culture in two great lies when it comes to creativity and the arts. The first lie is that there is no standard — beauty is purely in the eye of the beholder. The second lie is the flip side of the first one — you can create anything. But both lies deny God.
And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the LORD hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. Them hath he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work, of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer, in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work (Exodus 35:30–35).
OBJECTIVITY IN BEAUTY
Faithful Christians have largely held their ground on the objectivity of truth, and to some extent the objectivity of goodness, but we have largely sold the farm when it comes to beauty. We see the evidence of this in many discussions of worship, music, dress, jewelry, and it isn’t five minutes before the most staunch defender of the objectivity of truth, comes back with that great relativistic retort: “Who’s to say?” But the Bible teaches that God is to say. This applies to what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful. He is the ultimate standard. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined” (50:2). We must begin here or else all the other discussions will devolve into pure subjectivism. We do not need to begin by insisting that we know exactly what is beautiful, what is less beautiful, and what is ugly. Rather, we must begin by insisting that there is a standard, and that the living God is that standard.
The next step is still not having some kind of exhaustive decoder ring or reference manual where you can look up “dissonance,” “color wheels,” and “pink hair.” No, maturity means giving some thought to what God has said and done to reveal to us what true beauty is. The first great revelation of that beauty is His creation. He created the world with all of its beauty and glory, and this means that all human creativity and artistry is fundamentally an act of discovery: finding what God has already put in the world. As JRR Tolkien put it, we are always “sub-creators” under the great Creator. Or else we are blasphemously competing for the job. As sub-creators, we certainly can discover and invent and create in ways that have not been seen or enjoyed before, but anything truly beautiful is merely discovering something that God already invented, something He already thought of. In other words, creativity and artistic skills are fundamentally a humble enterprise not an arrogant one, submission not rebellion.
THE SPIRIT OF CREATION
Darwinism teaches that beauty is random, accidental, and the result of millions of mutations. And that in turn drives a philosophy of creativity that is antithetical to Christ. This is the genesis of modern art, flinging paint, random musical notes, and dumpster diving fashionistas. All of this is the complete opposite of Christian maturity. Random accidents are not things you practice or study or learn (even though people try). But God’s artistic skill can be taught/learned (Ex. 35:34). This skill is not merely an emotional high or some kind of Zen, it comes from “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge” driven and informed by the Spirit of God — the same Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation (Ex. 35:31, Gen. 1:2).
One way Christians have added to their confusion on these topics is through a sub-biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit. While it is true that sometimes the Spirit works in extraordinary and miraculous ways, that isn’t the way the Spirit usually works. The Spirit was the breath of God that weaved the whole world together (Gen. 1:2). The Spirit groans in us for the redemption of all of creation, the restoration of the natural order (Rom. 8:22-26). The Spirit is all about the restoration of our bodies and souls, reason and senses. The Spirit is not irrational; the Spirit breathed out the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16).
Closely related to these themes is the notion of fittingness. Just because something is good and beautiful objectively does not mean that it is fitting in any context. The Spirit created the universe in an orderly way, and part of our discovery and submission to His wisdom is the task of understanding what fits best where. “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion” (Prov. 11:22). “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Prov. 25:11).
CONCLUSION: STRONG MEAT
It ought to be firmly fixed in our hearts and minds the difference between refugees from the world and apostles of the world. We should have all kinds of grace and patience for the former and none for the latter. Refugees from the world will have habits, preferences, and tastes that were formed by their former lives in the world, as we all do. But when we come to Christ, we are crucified with Him (Col. 2:20). Your favorite movies, music, clothes, jewelry, fashion – all of it is crucified with Christ and raise back up in Him. The point is not that God doesn’t want you to enjoy the world, or be beautiful, or make anything lovely. He is the God of all beauty, all glory, and at His right hand is the fullness of joy and pleasures forever more (Ps. 16:11).
Our problem is that our tastes have been badly damaged by the Fall. What we think is beautiful and pleasing and lovely is often badly twisted. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Our desires are not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” So we must trust God and His word, learn from our fathers and forefathers, those who have exercised their senses to discern both good and evil (Heb. 5:14). And at the center of it all must be Christ and His glorious cross. It isn’t what you expected or what you were looking for. But it is so good, so true, and so lovely.