I come from a church background where the creative arts weren’t referenced as part of our service to God, or as part of our gifting from Him. The creative work which I encountered in my teens and twenties was always viewed by me in disjunction from Scripture or ministry at best, or as a distraction from it at worst. Making and ministry were not well matched in my mind.
With the passage of time, and through encounters with people who have used their creative abilities in marvellously God-glorifying ways, my mind has been slowly opened to the powerful practice of creativity to the glory of God. For those of a different background this might sound dreadfully obvious, but for me it has come with the force of a revelation.
Recently I have been reading and re-reading those amazing chapters of the Old Testament book of Exodus which deal with the construction of the Tabernacle. On many of my earlier passes through the Scriptures this section has always seemed somewhat anti-climactic following a bout of the Plagues, a Red Sea crossing and the drama of the newly given Law. But the Spirit has given us this detail in Scripture to show us that the locus of Israel’s wilderness worship was in ruthless conformity to the pattern that God had given to Moses. The people of Israel weren’t guessing at the kind of decor a god might like when they built the Tabernacle, but were following a blueprint given by the LORD Himself.
In among this is a powerful sub-lesson about creativity for the glory of God. All kinds of things are going on around creativity in Exodus. We see creativity in its original autograph through God inscribing the tablets of the Law with his own hand, we see creativity unyoked from God’s glory in the profane construction of the golden calf, and we are introduced to Bezalel and Oholiab who are charged with constructing the fittings and furnishings of the Tabernacle. These men serve as a model for ministry in the making.
Bezalel and Oholiab’s artistic resumé is outlined for us in Exodus 35:30-35. The source of their creative power is their being filled ‘with the Spirit of God’ (v31), and the extent of their skills ranges across a variety of media – gold, silver, bronze, masonry, woodwork and textiles (vv32-33;35). The Tabernacle will be made exactly to pattern, but these men are not paint-by-numbers in their God-given approach; they have manual skills, they have an artistic eye, they are conceptually sophisticated, and have the minds of designers (vv31-32). Moreover, the Spirit has gifted them to form a guild, to teach and train others to develop their gifts and hone their skills (v34).
It is too easy to gloss all of this and utterly lose its impact. The fittings, the gold rings, the tongs, the curtains, the tables, the hangings, the ornate cherubim for the atonement cover, the altar, were all fabricated by the hands or under the eyes of these men. So even such seemingly simple things as the wooden poles covered in gold demanded practiced processes which should make us marvel. And all of this, every minor detail, every major work, was all pointed in the direction of God’s worship. Their making was their ministry, plain and simple, complex and ornate.
This is richly informative for those believers who today find that their eye and their hand has been made for the work of making, who can form and fabricate, see and shape new realities with an innate level of ability. The ear for music, the crafting of the poetic line, the writing of lucid prose, the forging of brilliant fiction, the sculpting and the painting, the weaving and the working of given materials by given gifts should be centred in God’s grace, and celebrated as God’s graces.
I’m deeply grateful for the Bezalels and Oholiabs whom I have met, whose work I have savoured, whose ministry is in the making. Their work has granted me a glimpsed reflection of the sky-pitching, mountain sculpting, colour-giving God who has made all things, including such artists, and who has given them to us for the praise of His glory.