“It doesn’t matter.”
I feel troubled whenever I hear a fellow Christian say something like this about beauty, creativity, or quality. I’ll admit a good portion of my distress comes from the clash it presents with my personal values: each of these words appears high on the list of what matters to me. And if you’re keeping track, you can also add excellence and artistry to that list (I’ll save the rest for later).
However, a list of values isn’t the only reason I’m bothered by such easy dismissal of aesthetics. In my view, a person who claims beauty, creativity, and quality don’t matter is missing something important about who God is.
As Christians, we’re generally good at appreciating the beauty of God’s creation–or at least singing about it, for those who don’t notice or enjoy it much. But we’re not always good at appreciating beauty, quality, and good taste in what humans create. And for some people, because this world is temporary and Jesus taught us not to store up treasures on earth, human craftsmanship can seem almost worthless. Beauty and artistry can seem frivolous, perhaps even look like dangerous distractions. It can be easy to degrade or disregard aesthetics in favor of practicality or frugality. But when we consider the creative stamp God has impressed on this world, and the creative motivation he has placed within each of us, we can’t easily dismiss the validity of investing in making this world more beautiful–after all, God made a beautiful world!
A look at Scripture shows us God values not only his own creative work, but the artistry of human hands as well. Pop over to Bible Gateway and try searching for “artist,” “crafts,” “skill,” “fine,” and “quality” in the New International Version. You’ll find many listings of places in Scripture where God’s instructions to people show that he values these qualities in human expression–particularly when the explicit purpose of that expression is to reflect God’s character and inspire people to worship. Read the description of God’s instructions for building the ancient Temple. There were no shortcuts, no lectures about saving money, no dismissals of the contributions human hands could make. Look at the book of Revelation for descriptions of what matters in God’s ultimate coming kingdom. Then try a search for words like “practical,” “plain,” “inexpensive,” and “cheap.” You won’t find these concepts reflected in God’s values.
This is not to say substance doesn’t matter; it certainly does. In fact, it’s an important element of both beauty and quality. And affordability, practicality, and accessibility are essentially good for human flourishing. So is beauty. There is no inherent conflict between these virtues. To say artistry doesn’t matter is to disregard a large piece of God’s image within each of us. God has placed a recognition of, and appreciation for, beauty within each of us. When we warp, deny, or disregard it, we mar our own reflection of God’s image.
One of the ways we express God’s image within us is by cultivating good taste, an eye for quality, and creative abilities that point people toward the original Artist. I would love to see more advocacy of beauty and excellence within our Christian communities. More support for the arts within our churches. I would love it if putting the word “Christian” on any kind of product became a signal of excellence and artistry. I would love for us to behave and speak as if we value human artistry as much as God does.
© 2017 Amy Simpson.