Is God glorified when a sincere Christian makes a bad work of art?
An intriguing question which may not be as easy to answer as we assume. Consider these two paintings—one depicting Christ and the other a serene landscape:
Which is the better work of Art? Which brings God the most glory? The one illustrating the beauty of His creation or the one in which Jesus is grotesque and inhuman?
Does the answer change when we learn that the frightening, surrealist portrait of Jesus was the handiwork of a gentle 80-year-old woman who, out of good will, attempted to restore a deteriorating painting in her church? (You can see the “restoration” process below).
In contrast, the serene landscape painting was done by a young, aspiring German artist made famous for his non-artistic deeds. A man by the name of Adolf Hitler.
Wouldn’t most people affirm that God obviously receives more glory from a creative act born from a sincere and worshipful heart, despite its dreadful quality, then He does from an artwork birthed from a vile and evil heart, even one of superior craftsmanship?
After all, we’ve all heard that “God only looks at the heart.” A sentiment perhaps captured best in the story of the poor widow who could only give 2 copper coins, but whom Jesus counted above the rich who gave much (Mark 12).
I’ve found that while many Christians affirm with their lips that God only cares about the condition and beauty of the heart, our actions often suggest that outward appearance, beauty, and competency do matter. We sing the hymn “Come Just As You Are,” but then proceed to dress in our nicest garments and will spend more time on outward appearances and cosmetics then we will any other day that week.
We proclaim that our worship is judged and accepted solely on the merit of our heart’s condition when offering it. Yet, if this were the case, wouldn’t it make far more sense for Church praise bands to keep their instruments locked in their cases and spend every moment of band practice in meditative prayer and fasting? Why waste time mastering the key changes, chord progressions, and song transitions? By the same token, the congregation is probably relieved when the soloist providing a special music song can carry a tune, rather than a godly, but utterly tone-deaf, prayer-warrior.
God does care about our hearts and “inner beauty,” but this doesn’t mean He is indifferent to outer beauty and expert craftsmanship.
Interestingly, the Tabernacle, the Ark, and the Temple—the three physical structures which served as God’s symbolic dwelling and physical representation to man—were all personally designed by God himself.
For example, God commanded Moses, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make the tabernacle and all its furnishing exactly like the pattern I will show you” (Exodus 25:8-9). The Bible then provides 4 entire chapters of an exhaustingly detailed account of those divine blueprints. At least 6 different times God clarifies that the work must be “skillfully done” or by “a skilled craftsman” (not merely by “a well-meaning and sincere believer”).
Later, when King David passes the blueprints for the Temple to his son Solomon, the Biblical author notes, “He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind” (1 Chronicles 1:12). Immediately after pondering how to construct the Temple in a manner worthy of God’s grandeur and instructions, Solomon sends a message to the King of Tyre asking for skilled workers. Interestingly, in order to reached a proper level of outward excellence prescribed by God himself, the Temple was built, in part, by pagans (from a city where the prophet Ezekiel would eventually pronounce God’s judgment and destruction over).
The question, then, is this: why did God care so much? Why not simply allow the most faithful and sincere Israelites to “do their best” and come up with their own designs? Also, why does the inspired Bible contain chapter after boring chapter of these detailed blueprints? I’m obviously not God, so I don’t know; but I think the Bible offers some hints.
In Hebrews, the Tabernacle’s design is described as “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (8:5). It seems that, in some mysterious way, the outward appearances reflected the glory of heaven, and God wasn’t willing to have such an important representation left up to chance. And before we just ascribe symbolic or metaphorical functions, the Bible also notes that several of the divinely-given designs were specifically “for beauty” (2 Chronicles 3:6). God cared that the physical constructions were worthy of the spiritual reality they represented, and outward beauty was an important part of that.
Final Food for Thought
So, is God glorified when a sincere Christian makes a bad work of art? The answer, I believe, is both Yes and No.
Worship is obviously not off-limits to tone-deaf or rhythmically challenged Christians. Yet, at the same time, God cares deeply about excellence and outward beauty. That God looks at the inner condition of our heart is not an excuse to neglect striving for outer excellence as well. God is pleased when we offer him our best. At the same time, if we continue to remain at the same level of proficiency and skill then we probably aren’t giving our best. As a father, I won’t be pinning my kids scribbled doodles on my fridge when they’re 16, regardless of how much they love me. “Doing our best” is not just about giving all we can with our abilities; it’s also about expanding and increasing those abilities so that we can offer even more.
Scripture goes out of its way to establish God’s majestic standards for his Temple. The Bible also declares that our bodies are now the new temples of God (1 Corinthians 6:19). I think this means that Christians should be at the forefront of health and fitness. They should be the most disciplined to practice and improve their skills and talents, and the most driven to strive for excellence. We should support and celebrate when Christians make Art, but we shouldn’t give that art a “free pass” simply because it was well-intentioned.
God may look at our hearts, but what we offer to the world on the outside is a reflection and representation of Him. As Christians, let’s make sure that, just like the majestic architecture of Solomon’s Temple, it’s an image worthy of the one we represent.
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