Sharing in Splendor

By Guestblogger Ed Tuttle

In the beginning God declared that creation was good. But something went terribly wrong. We broke what we were called to cultivate. We threw out of order that which we were called to keep in order. We brought death to what we were called to prepare for life. And art and creativity broke with it.

Jesus gave His life to purchase it all back, to redeem it. Peter tells us that we are privileged, called, set apart as ones purchased out of that darkness and into His marvelous light—light that arrests our attention, fills us with awe and wonder, and exceeds all natural power.

Yet as broken creatives we are easily tempted to pretend that there’s beauty in the darkness. Like a sick family system or old friends who want you back in their lifestyle, that darkness beckons that it is profoundly worth embracing. When we do that, we glory in what we have destroyed, not in the One who redeemed it all.

To be redemptive means we have a responsibility to live and act redeemed. It is no secret that the artist knows and even embraces pain. There is a burden, a weight that comes with creativity. Often that struggle is viewed by others as weird, lazy, and impractical. The misunderstanding often brings with it more pain. But without Christ, and without His Church, I cannot and will not make that suffering redemptive. Eventually I will try to find my solace, my salvation, in my craft.

Paul makes it clear in Romans 8:17 that a requirement for sharing in Christ’s glory is to also share in His suffering. Human beings—including the Church, since it is made up of human beings—tend to avoid this reality. We try to seek the shalom without the pain. Sadly, much of what passes for art in the Church reflects this. But just as our first parents hid behind blame, we as artists perpetuate our own brand of sin blaming the Church for our woes and the woes of the world.

How frustrating it is that we learn to avoid making mistakes through the mistakes that we make… that we often don’t know what we’ve had until it is no longer ours… and that to find the recognition and honor we desire we need to overlook the offense of being held in low esteem. As artists we have been commissioned by our Maker to express ourselves creatively—an incredible privilege and responsibility. Yet we are often wounded and misunderstood by the very community He calls His body, His bride, His chosen. This is strikingly similar to His experience in coming to love and live with His own who neither received nor accepted Him (John 1:11). We are made in His image, and if we want to share in His splendor we also must share in His pain. Only through forgiveness and learning to reconnect do we become like the One who called us and gave us the ability to create in the first place.

The gifting of an artist is much like the One Ring in Tolkein’s trilogy. Others see power in it and want to use it. Some see who the artist is because of it and think of them as being strangely peculiar. There are artists, like Gollum, who become so enamored with the gift that they get lost in it and see it as their salvation. And then there was Frodo—the one who was called to carry the ring and offer it back as a sacrifice.

How do we get to that place, willing to risk all to sacrificially release our gift? The gifting, the talent, the craft certainly won’t take us there. I see two paths that are contrasted time and again in Scripture. One is the path of the Plan.

Webster defines a plan as “a scheme devised, the form of something that exists in the mind.” I suggest that this path is the way of man and not of God. The world, the enemy, and our own souls plan and scheme. And sadly the Church itself is full of plans. But there is another path which I’ll call the way of the pattern.

A pattern is defined as “an original proposed for imitation; anything cut or formed into the shape of something to be made after it.” The Scripture is filled with stories of men and women whose plans had to be altered, scrapped, or destroyed to make way for God to work. Solomon tells us that the heart of man plans his own way but it is the Lord Who directs his steps.

The Hebrew word for plan, chashab, means to weave, to fabricate, to conceive, to imagine, to invent—all creative words. But the Lord directs, appoints, even makes provisions for that creativity.

The disciples had plans and schemes. The crucifixion and the resurrection annihilated those plans. And that which destroyed their plans actually became their purpose. The very thing that can destroy our plans for setting us apart, for rebuilding culture, for introducing excellence into the arts and the Church, will actually give us the purpose we desperately long for if we let the Master artist, the Master carpenter, the Master potter work that into us.

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We all have “firsts” ingrained in our memories. Parents are especially tuned in to first when raising their children. When we read and absorb God’s Word, paying attention to firsts is also important. Teachers call it the Law of First Mention. It is the understanding that the first time something is mentioned in the Scripture is especially important because it sets the pace for the future. As a first, much of the beauty and power come from its simplicity.

In the book of Exodus, when God told Moses that He was designating Bezalel as the craftsman who would build the tabernacle, we encounter one of those first mentions.  In these short but important passages in Exodus 31 and 35 there is an ideal—a pattern—laid out for both artist and pastor.

Both men hear from God. Both are called by name. Both honed their crafts—Moses as a shepherd of God’s people, Bezalel as and artisan and teacher. We don’t know much about Bezalel, but we do know that he was worthy of God’s trust. Others up to this point had been called by name, and others had been craftsmen and artisans of one kind or another. But Bezalel was the first to be filled with the Spirit of God—a restoration of what was lost at the fall.

There are some profoundly important things to pay attention to here. The first is that Bezalel’s leadership, authority and activity were under the direction and guidance of Moses. Bezalel was given something that was too powerful to wield on his own. Submitting to the authority of Moses gave him the freedom to focus on creating based on patterns received from heaven. God provided Bezalel with the gifting, the power, the patterns, and the protection he needed to fulfill his call.

When we operate as Bezalel, receiving patterns from heaven to imitate, we are operating in the faith the author of Hebrews described. The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews begins with the statement that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” That same Greek word for substance, hupostasis, is used in the opening lines of the book, describing Jesus as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” Just as Jesus through His incarnation brought to earth what was in heaven, so too faith makes substance and real being of what already exists in heaven. The artist is entrusted with something of great power. It is why the gift is often misunderstood and abused, and more importantly why the artist needs the Church in order to live with and in his or her calling.

Secondly, and I believe even more significant, is the connection between Bezalel’s infilling and what he was called to create. Bezalel’s task was to create the tabernacle, which included the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant. However, excellence at his craft was not enough. He needed to become what he was to create. Let me briefly explain.

When the writers of the New Testament speak of believers—followers of Jesus Christ who have been given the right to be called God’s children—they are referred to as “saints.” The Greek word is hagios, meaning a most holy thing. Interestingly, that same word is used to describe the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, the most sacred place where God dwelled in the midst of His people. We who have been redeemed and filled with God’s Holy Spirit have become the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwells. Therefore, in order for Bezalel to build that which was a shadow of the reality to come, he could not simply follow a blueprint. He himself had to become a dwelling place.

This gives the artist all the more reason to avoid reveling in darkness and pain. The creative individual has a responsibility to truly embody the Kingdom of God and present it to a dying culture that needs so much more than a coating of Christian varnish. The focus is not to be relevant but to create culture on earth as it is in heaven.

The word “relevant” is defined as lending aid to or supporting a cause. In trying to be relevant, the artist is taking the world’s patterns and repurposing them. The compromise never occurs on the part of the world but on the part of the artist. Like a corpse at a funeral, it may look good but it is nevertheless dead. The artist must be relevant to the Kingdom. Purposeless art produces empty souls.

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When Paul finished his letters he often offered a list of directives—pithy statements that, if followed, would bless the community and enable them to more clearly manifest the Kingdom of God in their lives. The following is a brief menu of truths that can do the same for the creative person.

• Master your craft– Few things are as sad as the person who thinks he is great but in reality is not even close (Proverbs 26:12, Isaiah 5:21). Facebook is not a source of helpful, honest critique.

• Be teachable– David’s heart was open to the possibility of correction from God even in the most painful criticism (2 Samuel 16:5-12). Recognize that learning is a way of life.

• Don’t be identified by your pain– Learn from it, work through it, let it be redemptive. Seek the joy and scorn the shame of your cross (Hebrews 12:2).

• Keep your word– Don’t promise what you can’t deliver and finish things on time. God, and others, value integrity for it shows that we are worthy of trust (Titus 2:7)

• Maintain your health– Regular exercise, good diet, and enough sleep is a great prescription to help avoid malaise (1 Corinthians 6:19).

• And finally, make forgiveness a habit– Nothing strains us, stretches us, draws us out like forgiveness. Many are called and few are chosen over this very issue.

Like so many contrary truths of the Kingdom (you must die to live, you must serve to lead, etc.) one cannot be set apart without being part of community. Redemptive, transformative creativity happens within community. Yet many artists find themselves wounded by and alienated from the Church. Whether the offense originates from the artist or the Church, the need for forgiveness and connection is essential. Reconciliation never happens in isolation.

If the desired goal in the body of Christ is uniformity, then the focus will always be on people’s differences—who is in and who is out. God’s desire is not for uniformity but unity—oneness in affection, in focus, and in Spirit. When we, through Christ, reconcile with one another and tear down the walls between one another, a never-before-seen, heaven-inspired, and Kingdom-focused creativity can emerge that can transform the hardest heart or the most broken spirit.

Ed Tuttle is a graphic designer living in Connecticut.  His website is eklektos.com.