In mid-march it looks like I’ll be giving a talk on faith and the arts and today I started talking through the content with a friend. I’m going to tease out some of the ideas from this conversation in the next few posts.
It wasn’t until I went to seminary that I knew much about how the Bible ends. In Revelation 21 and 22 (the last chapters of the last book of the bible), heaven comes to earth. God is present and from his throne makes all things new. The scene shifts to the new Jerusalem – a city where God and a restored humanity will live in joy, worship, and peace forever. The city is described as
having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal…. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
There is a lot happening here, but what we see about the heavenly city is that it is a place of beauty and wealth. If you look back to the worship of the old testament with the tabernacle and then temple (along with all the furnishings and garments) you see incredible attention to aesthetics, the use of precious materials, and the operation of human skill and creativity in construction. If God’s presence in this world and the next is tied, not only to goodness or to truth, but also to beauty it must be significant.
I think about this wall, which in an ancient city would have denoted protection and security. It likely has such a symbolic meaning here, but if it is only about safety, why is it decorated in such a fashion? In a similar vein, many of the decorations of the tabernacle (moveable Israelite sanctuary) and the Israelite temple, have no function or utility.
I also think of a section from 1 Chronicles 16 (not at the top of most reading lists), when the temple is dedicated and David says, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness…”
One of the starting points for talking about art and faith, is the existence and significance of beauty.