Who Knows Bezalel?

American art lovers recently tuned in to watch an unlikely art critic: a Carmelite nun named Wendy Beckett. She's the host of an immensely popular series called "Sister Wendy's Odyssey," a tour of her favorite paintings. Well, why shouldn't a nun be an art critic? Christians have good reason to appreciate art. Throughout history churches have been patrons of the arts. Many of the master painters were Christian believers: Rembrandt, El Greco, Rubens, van Gogh. But a Christian appreciation of art is rooted even deeper-in Scripture itself. In Exodus 31 we find the story of the great artist Bezalel. He's not as well known as Moses or David, but Scripture says something quite remarkable about Bezalel. It says the Lord "has filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship." This is an amazing verse. Ordinarily when we read about someone being filled with the Spirit of God, he's being equipped for some great spiritual task. But why was Bezalel filled with the Spirit? To work on the Tabernacle, the early Hebrew tent of worship. Or, as Exodus puts it, "to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze . . . for work in every skilled craft." To "devise artistic designs." That's what the Spirit of God equipped Bezalel to do. In fact, from the surrounding passages we can extract several biblical principles that apply to art. First, God cares about beauty. In Exodus 28 the Lord tells Moses to make garments for the priests to wear-garments "for glory and for beauty." This ought to be the slogan of every Christian artist, musician, and writer: that we work for the glory of God and for beauty. Second, we learn that being an artist can be a vocation from God. Exodus 35 explicitly says God "called" Bezalel "by name" to his work. As Gene Edward Veith says in State of the Arts, we normally think of people being called to the ministry or the mission field. But the Bible teaches that every occupation can be a God-given calling-including that of an artist. Third, artistic ability is a gift of God. Several times in Exodus, the text speaks of various craftsmen as people to whom "the Lord had given ability." Artistic talent should not be hidden under a bushel; it is a gift of God, to be cultivated for the service of God and our neighbor. Many Christians never think much about art-unless we're being outraged at the NEA for funding some blasphemous project, like Serrano's photograph of a crucifix in a jar of urine. But the call of God is not just to run around putting out fires after the secular world has started them. God calls His people to lead the way in renewing our culture by creating "artistic designs"-things "for glory and for beauty." If "Sister Wendy's Odessy" is on in your area, why not tune in as part of your own tour of the arts. We should never let our lives give credence to the critics' charge that Christians are enemies of culture. We need to teach ourselves and our children about the rich heritage of Christian art. Art begins, after all, when God gifts His people for His glory.


Chuck Colson


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