Friday, February 15, 2008

Does Beauty matter to God?

It seems to me that contemporary Christians really struggle with beauty. No, I am not talking about the lack of hotties in church either (!) Rather I am talking about architecture, interior design, aesthetics, art, music ... that sort of beauty. To be sure, this also applies to men and women, but that's not the angle I want to explore right now.

Over at Gentle Wisdom, Peter Kirk is picking up a thread on aesthetics and worship, in particular, the aesthetics of our meeting places used for worship. A suggestion is raised that perhaps we shouldn't even bother about crafting a space with a sacred aesthetic, to which Kirk responds:

I tend to agree. We need functional spaces, buildings to meet in. But it is not for us humans to declare them sacred or presume to make them “crafted specially for a human-divine encounter with God”. If we are to “develop a sense of awe and wonder”, we should do this not through buildings which then become idols, but by beholding and reflecting the glory of God, 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Whilst on one hand I can agree with Peter's statement, I am left troubled thoughts: that this approach can and does lead to a pseudo-gnostic approach to Christian faith, where things of this earth count for little or nothing, and things of Faith is all that matters. Is this why contemporary Christianity struggles with concepts such as beauty, and for that matter, New Creation? If in Christ we are a New Creation, and we await not an ethereal eternity in the celestial clouds, but a renewed physical universe [New Earth], then surely we can't short change issues such as aesthetics and beauty. If redeemed humanity are sons and daughters of the Most High, and if we are taking the cultural mandate seriously ("Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it" Gen 1:28), then surely we can't let what we know is a fallen and decaying world under the power of Satan have the last word on architecture, music, art, and beauty?

In summary, I believe the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit is beautiful, and that whatever God has made in some way reflects his beauty. All beauty originates from God. In addition, as redeemed Sons and Daughters of God, Christians should aim to fulfil the cultural mandate and fill the world with beauty.

Now if this is true, perhaps the aesthetics of the buildings we worship is not completely insignificant. Perhaps the aesthetics of the worship should be considered. Perhaps we need to take a long hard look at how a theology of aesthetics and beauty would change the way the think about mission, worship, art, and work.

Its time for the church and for Christians to wake up to the fact that God is not only truth, and love, and light, and holy, but that God is beautiful. Over the next few days I will try to expand and unpack what this means to us.


Peter Kirk said...

Thanks, Alistair, for honouring me by featuring my post in your first major comment on returning to blogging.

First let me say that I certainly don't want "a pseudo-gnostic approach to Christian faith, where things of this earth count for little or nothing, and things of Faith is all that matters." Things of earth are important, and it is important that they are beautiful - although we must remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, i.e. it is subjective. Not all of us find Gothic architecture beautiful, let alone conducive to worship.

My main point, which perhaps I didn't make very clear, is that we shouldn't be setting aside special places as sacred, as if we can meet God only there. We can meet God anywhere. A congregation may usually meet in a particular place, and it is right to make that place beautiful. But if they start to think that their worship has to be in such a place or depends on it being beautiful, they have missed out on something important and are verging on idolatry.

Alastair said...

Thanks Peter, I can only agree with your clarified statement. There is indeed a line between enjoying beauty and turning it into an idol, which hopefully is something I will discuss over the next few blogs.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it would not be good to make buildings an idol, and yep, emphasis on the point that we can meet God anywhere, Him being omnipresent and all.

However, I do think there is something to be said for creating a place conducive to 'meeting with God'. One example I'll pull out is a simple idea of a prayer room (since I'm involved with 24-7 movement!!). Yep, I could pray in my bedroom, the toilet, the study, my car etc etc etc (and do!) but there is something special about a place that is 'set aside' for God.

On my travels around Europe as a teenage student, my friends and I inadvertently did a tour of continental cathedrals. Now, I don't necessarily find Gothic architecture 'beautiful' (I'm more of a Gaudi fan) but I don't think there are many who can't walk into a cathedral and look up at the detail, the vastness without a sense of awe which reflects the awe at looking at God. A place where you almost want to whisper and somehow the peace brings you in humility to your knees.