Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Towards a Christian aesthetic

I have just had one of those 'penny dropping' moments when you feel you have been unbelievably slow to spot something that is blatantly obvious.

For some time now I've been teaching on the biblical wisdom literature and enjoying the study this involves. One thing in particular is the way that the structure of 1 Kings 1-11 emphasizes stresses Solomon's wisdom as absolutely foundational to his kingship. It is not just that he is a king who 'happens to be wise'. He is the expression of wisdom.

1 Kings 1-11 follows a precise 'chiastic' structure, at the heart of which is the building of the Temple. (I'll post on this another time.)

Up until now, however, I'd simply presented the temple-building as the necessary 'hinge' in this passage - allowing the narrative to stress Solomon's wisdom both on the 'way in' and the 'way out' of the chiasm.


Then today on Facebook (yes, I know), I saw a post about Christianity and aesthetics. This is also a subject that interests me, and as I was putting in my two penn'orth, the light slowly began to dawn. This is (pretty much) what I posted:

I often ask, "Who were the first people in the Bible we are told were specifically filled with God's Spirit and why was this?"

The (surprising) answer is: 

“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you (Exodus 31:2–6 [ESV]).
Unfortunately, the ESV (even more so than the NIV) blows it in 28:3, which it translates, "You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments etc." Compare the AV: "And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted (חַכְמֵי־לֵב) whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom (רוּחַ חָכְמָה), that they may make Aaron’s garments etc."

Putting the two together, building the Tabernacle is a task requiring wisdom expressed in the aesthetic crafts. Who is the next 'Tabernacle builder'? Solomon, the 'man of wisdom'.

And who is the true Tabernacle Builder?

Of course there should be a Christian aesthetic, flowing out of the Wisdom of God through us, into the world. Wonderful, eh?
So in other words, the chiasmus of 1 Kings 1-11 is not built around the temple building merely because of its importance as an event, nor just to give us two bites at the 'cherry' of Solmon's wisdom, but because Wisdom is the key to temple building.

Make of this what you will. I need to give my poor brain a rest.

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  1. Isn't there also a link with who is present in the temple? So the beauty of the temple is not an end in itself or only a reflection of God's wisdom working among his people, but it needs to be a fitting place for the one who will dwell there. Therefore, the tent has to be done in a precise way to guard against Israel's sinful people coming into the presence of a holy God. Solomon's temple needs to be a building of exquisite beauty because it will be Yahwheh's dwelling place on earth.
    But be careful!! The argument that usually follows is our church buildings need to follow this example and be beautiful places of worship for our God. WRONG! The right approach is then that our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit need to be clean and pure, a fitting place for God to dwell in us, until we dwell with Him face to face in heavenly dwelling. (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19-20, Eph 2:21-22).
    Another note of caution is the counter-example of Jesus' earthly body. In Isaiah 53 and Philippians 2 both stress how ordinary was Jesus' physical appearance, and how unlikely that He who died such an ugly death was in fact God dwelling among us. Of course, his life, ministry, death and resurrection show clearly God's power and beauty, but his appearance was unremarkable.
    That's it for my brain too.

  2. I have for some years been aware that much of what took place in the Old Testament was directed by the hand of God. 'Don’t be at the edge of the camp for that is where the fire falls' i.e.; don't be just an observer but be involved. When the children of Israel took Jordan, they were specifically directed as to how to take each town. As you also say, the Spirit of God was given to individuals that they may work the work of God. In the NT we are told that all that happened previously was ensamples for us today. Not so that we might strike a rock and expect water but that by the prescience of the Holy spirit we may too have wisdom.
    My vision for Government is that there should be men/women with biblical integrity and the ability to discern Gods wisdom rather than their own pathetic attempts to govern.