Art and Design are Essential…and God Thinks So Too!

Spokane AirportI grew up in Colorado.

Most often when Colorado comes up in conversation people think of ski slopes or mountains and snow. Colorado is synonymous with nature and the outdoors.

Nature scenes filled with mountains or waterfalls, without a hint of humanity…not even a footprint or bridge in sight fill highways, magazines, and even textbooks. This observation, coupled with the fundamentalist church my family attended when I was growing up pressed deep into my psychology that untouched nature, or God, is good and humans and anything they do to or on the earth is evil.

What I have discovered, however, is that this is deeply false.

Human design is beautiful and God thinks so too!

At the center of Christian and Jewish worship for thousands of years have been the bread and the cup. The Passover and the Eucharist. One is an Old Testament symbol the other a reinterpretation of an Old Testament symbol.

What is fascinating about bread and wine is that neither bread nor wine grows on trees.

In order to make bread one has to grow and harvest the grain, and then mix other ingredients and bake it.

For wine, the grapes have to be grown and then smashed and aged and fermented.

What are these?

These are examples of human design and industry. And God chooses to use these two symbols as aids in worship!

As old as these symbols are, they are linked to a tradition far older. An oral tale that was later written down and makes up Genesis 1 of the Bible.

In Genesis 1 God creates humans in his image. They are given dominion over the earth and everything in it.

They are supposed to work it, explore it, name it, grow it, study it, and multiply it.

Their calling is be just like God. God ordered chaos, and humans have been called to order God’s creation.

The plan hits a snag. Sin.

Sin does not turn the physical creation bad. It corrupts humanity. It is about human rebellion and not the evil of the physical world.

Despite sin, humans are still supposed to manage the earth, although now it is going to be much harder.

The calling is the same. The purpose was never altered. God did not give up. At no point does God say, “If you can’t play with my creation the right way, then no one gets to…I’m taking it and going home!”

No.

God still has a plan for creation. God tells his people to spread out and fill the earth. The Genesis one plan is still underway.

If you fast-forward a few chapters in Genesis to chapter eleven there is a story that explores how seriously God takes the calling he has given humanity. In chapter eleven the writers record the scene at the Tower of Babel.

This is a story about humanity building a tall tower to the heavens. At first brush it seems that God apparently has a bad case of vertigo, or envy, or is perhaps legitimately threatened by his creation and their exploration of altitudes above a certain level.

Though counterintuitive, this story unlocks exactly why design is important.

In verse three of chapter eleven it says, “they said to one another (all humanity apparently) ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone and tar for mortar.”

Why is this significant?

In a world that only builds with stone…bricks are new technology! Bricks are the iPod.

And what do they do with their newfound technology? “Then they said, ‘Come let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

You can read what follows this as God coming down and smiting human growth. That argument might go: why are cities bad? What’s wrong with building and a common culture?

What is missed by that is that this is a kind of death. The creation of a “mono-culture” that cowers in one tall tower afraid of the world God created for them is not in the interest of human flourishing.

This is not beautiful. This is Nazi Germany.

God condescends (the Hebrew is loaded with sarcasm) to see what the humans have created.

And He scatters their language.

Is this punishment?

Or is this liberation?

Humanity had created a monoculture of cowards. God gives them different languages so that they will have to spread out and fill the earth (the original intent) and leave their mini tower.

God gives them the gift of diversity. The gift of multiculturalism. The gift of liberation. God sets them free from the arbitrary boundaries that they drew for themselves, and from the empire they wanted to create.

In effect God says that humans were made for so much more.

He wants them to explore creation and fill it. Not cower in the dark.

God does not want one design. God wants a diversity of designs. For God creation is about depth and diversity and intricate detail.

If humans do not do the same, they will fail to be aware of the divine image they carry.

So when an artist boldly steps forward steps outside the bound of the accepted “tower of babel” culture and paints, draws, writes, or envisions something that awakens a whole new view of the world…though they may come under fire, what they are actually doing is the same thing God did in Genesis eleven.

They are destroying the walls that hold people in the darkness.

They are imagining a more complicated world than had previously been considered.

When an architect applies shapes and textures and depth to the spaces humans inhabit and wonders anew about how best to live…she is responding to the God given impulse within her to manage and explore creation.

With this in view, the Eucharist makes more sense. The Eucharist is not beamed down from heaven (thought I will be the first to admit that would be pretty sweet) it a picture of what God has been up to all the time.

God provided the earth and humans have worked within it to make bread and wine. God uses this as a picture of what he is working towards. God and humans occupying the same place and participating together in creation!

This is why design and art are important. They are central to our calling as humans and central to teaching us about the God who created everything!

And so begins this blog…

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9 Comments on “Art and Design are Essential…and God Thinks So Too!

  1. Good job. Interesting perspective on the tower and the scattering. This makes much more sense than the picture/story I’ve always been given about what God was up to. That story made God out to be anxious and insecure, threatened by our ingenuity and then flinging folks all over tarnation in the midst of his tantrum. Not a very inviting story. I find your take much more liberating. Well done. Keep writing. Ryan is awesome.

  2. Nice! I agree! Stewarding is supposed to have a positive effect, not no effect. Maybe the reason we see no affect as good is because it is better than the negative effect we see most often.

    Also, remember that sin did not only effect humans but it effected the earth as well. The earth (not including humans) is not without fault within itself. Romans 8.20-21: For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

    🙂

  3. That was great Ryan! I really enjoyed they our perspective on the Tower of Babel. I had never really thought of it that way before.

  4. Love it – Great blog post. I look forward to reading your future posts. This one is pretty near and dear to my heart. I’ve always felt that if God created – then I should too. God who can come up with zebras and giraffes can’t have a problem with creative expression.

  5. “So when an artist boldly steps forward steps outside the bound of the accepted “tower of babel” culture and paints, draws, writes, or envisions something that awakens a whole new view of the world” – I particularly enjoy this line.
    Why else would we have minds and feelings and hands and feet? Human creativity in the way we dance, write music, design, cook etc. etc. is beautiful and I can’t imagine following a God who wouldn’t rejoice in these things.
    At the same time, some of the loveliest moments I’ve experienced is being out in the mountains or forests where it looks as though it is still untouched by humans. When we destroy those beautiful places out of greed or money (sin, as you mentioned) that’s another story.
    Nicely written!

    • I completely agree! Perhaps there is more to be said regarding exactly how God judged the Tower of Babel!

  6. Awesome Post brother! Thanks for opening up my perspective in seeing just how much God cherishes us!

  7. Nice. Without a doubt our God is a God of creative expression. His artistic expression seen in all of the created order is merely the fridges of what lies within His heart to show us. Every aspect of His intricately diverse identity is fantastically captivating! It is not shocking for us to observe wonder in natural creation or even in, for example, how the human body operates. The beauty of His ‘art and design’ is ever before us and as you stated we are made in his likeness, yet in Christendom our innate calling to create has been basically ignored except for musical expression. Although many like you are beginning to change that!

    Thank you for exploring what God has for us in the arts and design. I believe it is needed in our day as Jesus desires to influence every sphere of society with a witness of His beauty.

    The question is how can we partner with the Divine Heart and reveal Jesus to the world?

    The possibilities are very exciting for me to think about….

    Love your heart bro!
    Looking forward to hearing more!

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