In Exodus 28:2, God tells Moses “And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.”
The epic story of the gospel contains poetry, songs, architectural design, ark plans, textile design, and stories about people who made their own idols to worship. Scripture tells us a lot about what kind of creator God is and what kind of creators we should be.
Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created us “in His own image”. But, that doesn’t mean we’re exactly like Him. Some of His characteristics He passes on to us (intelligent and relational), some are unique to Him (omnipresent and omniscient), and still others are imparted to us through our restoration and sanctification (righteous and patient). One aspect of God’s character that I think about a lot is His awe-inspiring creativity. This is a character trait that we have the amazing privilege of receiving from Him.
Throughout scripture, we see that God creates, He designs things for man to create, and He allows man to honor him by creating. In Genesis 1-3, God creates out of nothing (the Hebrew words “ex nihilo”) as well as forming pre-existing things into something functional or beautiful. We can only forming pre-existing things. As artists, designers, craftsmen and musicians, we often have the feeling that everything has been done. Nothing is new. Solomon, in his great God-given wisdom said “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9) Humility is good and part of our nature as created beings, but we can reflect God’s character to the world by forming existing things into something beautiful that glorifies God.
What the Bible has to say about honoring God through creativity:
1. God cares deeply about design and expression.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German-American Modernist architect said “God is in the details.” When I read the detailed plans God gives Moses for constructing a temple fit for God’s presence to dwell, I realize that God is a very detailed and intentional designer. In Exodus 24 & 25, God invites Moses up to Mt. Sinai, where the glory of God dwells and he tells Moses to let the Israelites “make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and all of its furniture, so you shall make it.” (Exodus 25:8-9). God goes on to tell Moses to assign certain projects to “all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill.”(Exodus 28:3). During this conversation between God and Moses in Exodus, we see that God cares deeply about the dimensions, materials, colors and craftsmen of this project.
Elsewhere, in 1 Chronicles 28, we see God again, specifying who should be part of building His dwelling. King David tells his people,
“I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.” (v. 2-3)
”It is Solomon your son who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he continues strong in keeping my commandments and my rules, as he is today.” (v. 6-7)
Sometimes I wonder why God would go to such lengths of specifying exactly who would work on certain projects or to describe in such detail the materials, colors and dimensions of the Tabernacle and its furniture in Exodus 25-30. But, then I realize… as a designer, I would care. I have a Master’s Degree in Architecture, so I have spent years studying buildings, thinking about buildings and engaging with buildings. I know that proportion, spatial layout, materials, colors, light, sounds, smells can all drastically shape a person’s experience of a built space. I’ve read books, written papers, sat in seminars, built models, drawn meticulously detailed plans, watched documentaries and traveled around the world to learn about architecture and how it can move people. I consider some of the best architects to be geniuses, who deeply connect with the human experience. I’ve heard several of my architecture professors suggest that psychology is a field strongly tied to architecture.
So, as talented and experienced as the best architects are, how much more does God understand how people will interact with something He’s designing? It makes perfect sense why He would be so concerned with each minute detail. He gets how humans operate. He knows we have senses and we experience so many thoughts and emotions that are informed by our surroundings. And since we are talking about the meticulous detail of the design of God’s own dwelling place, I wonder if some of His design decisions were also for His own experience? So, as we express creativity, we should always have a humble reverence to the one who inspires and allows all creativity, our Maker, the only one who totally understands how everything in the universe operates and connects.
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” -Isaiah 64:8 (ESV)
2. Our creativity is for His glory.
Everything we create communicates something about what we believe. Creating is an opportunity to display to the world that we serve a glorious God. As image-bearers of God, we are given the opportunity to create things that are worthy of a great God. But we are also simply God’s creation, who should regularly humble ourselves and give credit to our Maker for anything we create.
In 2 Chronicles 2:4-7, Solomon says,
“Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the Lord my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the Lord our God, as ordained forever for Israel. The house that I am to build will be great, for our God is greater than all gods. But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him? Who am I to build a house for him, except as a place to make offerings before him? So now send me a man skilled to work in gold, silver, bronze, and iron, and in purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, trained also in engraving, to be with the skilled workers who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem, whom David my father provided.”
What Solomon knew is that we have the opportunity to glorify God by dedicating our work to Him, by striving for greatness, by humbling ourselves, and by collaborating with skilled partners.
3. Work is something God intended for us even before the fall and He is honored when we do it diligently and excellently.
“‘Let us rise up and build’. So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” -Nehemiah 2:18
In the book of Nehemiah, we read about a man whose passion to demonstrate God’s glory causes Him to take on a giant task. Jerusalem had been torn apart by war and the walls of the city were destroyed. Nehemiah was so heart broken about this because God had chosen these people and this city through which to display His character to the rest of the world. A city in ruins was a disgrace to God and the destroyed wall left God’s people unsafe, scattered and belittled. The book of Nehemiah describes the people’s willingness to work diligently to restore God’s honorable reputation.
“For the people had a mind to work.” -Nehemiah 4:6
“Each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other.” -Nehemiah 4:17
Throughout this wall reconstruction in Nehemiah we see lots of hard work. But, we also see many moments of God’s provision and protection as the people pray and rely on Him. A lot of times we see prayer and faith as an opposite strategy to hard work and drive. We either rely on God’s provision or our own diligence, right? I think the book of Nehemiah suggests a different way. We read that God is most glorified when we work hard and have faith in God’s provision.
When I read Nehemiah 3 where the whole chapter is dedicated to a detailed, section-by-section description of the work and names of each worker, It makes me wonder why so much detail is necessary. I think it is because God sees this effort as worshipful work on His behalf. There is an inseparable connection between what we put our hands to and to whom our hearts are devoted.
The Shakers (a sect of Quaker Christians in colonial America) had a motto, “Put your hands to work, and your hearts to God.” This meant that as they worked hard in the fields or mills, they were to devote their hearts to God as if the work of their hands was worship. Consequently, the Shakers were known for some of the most excellent craftsmanship, architecture, crops, and textiles. They were also known for working long hours but having a very peaceful, spiritual countenance. As Christ-followers, if we all put our hands to such skillful work and put our hearts to such passionate worship, what a beautiful picture of God we would display to the world! Let’s strive to be more and more like that in our work everyday.
4. God takes it very seriously when we dishonor Him with the things we make.
“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols!” – Habakkuk 2:18 (ESV)
Some of the most harsh reprimands in scripture are to men who decided to craft their own idols to worship. Something deep within God is enraged and hurt when we betray Him in this way. Just sit down, take a deep breath, and read Isaiah 44:9-20 sometime. Wow! When I read words like that from God, I remember that we should treat Him with the absolute highest of respect, awe, and fear.
True, most of us in modern western society aren’t regularly tempted to form an idol with our hands and bow down to worship it. But, we still should be just as careful to keep more subtle versions of idolatry far from our hearts. So often, we skate through life, flippantly rearranging priorities to fit our comforts, forgetting that nothing should ever take God’s place or fill a role He should have in our lives.
Throughout the New Testament, we see the vastness of God’s power playing out in the Israelites’ story. As God is teaching them what it means to be His people, He uses strict rules to preserve their relationship and His glory. Some of the most serious laws are concerning the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant. God required holiness and reverence from anyone who would come near to His dwelling place. So when Israel began taking the Ark of the covenant into battle with them to ensure victory, wrath was imminent. They had lost their sense of awe of the presence of the Lord. Eventually, the Ark was captured by the Philistines, who consequently experienced seven months of plagues everywhere it went until they returned it to the Israelites.
Likewise, it is healthy to have a dose of reverence while imaging God through creativity. In scripture, we read about men like Solomon, Ezra and Paul realizing that God deserves the credit for anything we put our hands to (whether ministry or tasks; whether grand or modest). During Paul’s ministry and during the temple constructions of Solomon and Ezra, we see humble men who realize that success is only through the provision of God, and that as created beings we owe everything to our Maker!
5. Created and built things are not just for this world.
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.” – Revelation 11:19 (ESV)
The fact that Revelation describes what seem to be tangible, real built objects and structures is so fascinating to me. Sometimes I wrongly think of design and artistic expression as something we superficial humans vainly place too much importance on. But the fact that there are designed objects and buildings in Heaven makes me think that the way humans sensuously experience our environment is more of a soul thing than a body thing.
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2-3 (ESV)
So, as we seek to honor God through creativity, let’s recognizing His absolute magnificence as a designer on Earth and in Heaven. As creative people who image Him, lets endeavor to make things worthy of a great God – things that display to the world that we serve a God of beauty and restoration. And let’s humble our hearts as we worshipfully work on His behalf, always giving credit to Him.