The Gifted Blog

September 1, 2010

Why We Make: Something Beautiful for God

I'm taking a new direction in this series called Why We Make. I write The Gifted Blog because I love to create. I've been thinking about what it means to be a Christian and to love making things. I'm finally making public some of the ideas that have been germinating. I hope these reflections will be jumping-off points for thoughtful discussion among us, no matter your spiritual background. For the whole series, click here.

In a morning prayer time about a year ago, I read this passage and was moved.
The Lord said to Moses: Tell the Israelites to take for me an offering; from all whose hearts prompt them to give you shall receive the offering for me. This is the offering that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, blue, purple, and crimson yarns and fine linen, goats' hair, tanned rams' skins, fine leather, acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breastpiece. And have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them.   Exodus 25:1-8
I was struck by the way God asks the Israelites to make him something beautiful. He wants a place to dwell among them, and it must be beautiful, fragrant, fine. Look at all the specific materials He asks for. God has an aesthetic!

God made the heavens and the earth. He separated light from darkness. He populated the waters of the sea and the dry land with living things. He could easily make himself a place to dwell. But for some reason, he asks them to.

It's not an ultimatum, but a directive for those whose hearts prompted them to give. I like imagining the people with the supplies mentioned being prompted to give. Oh, I have crimson yarn. I can give the spices to make the incense smell sweet.

I read the passage and have so many questions. What does it mean now to make a place where God can dwell among us? What does it mean to not just make something beautiful, but to make something beautiful for God? God came to earth as a humble baby, born in a barn. What was He communicating with such lavish building materials for this sanctuary?

{Image by Ashley R. Good}

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  1. This mini-series is a wonderful addition to the Gifted Blog and one worth contemplating, which I have been doing ever since I read this yesterday. Here are a few thoughts that germinated after a conversation with my hubby.

    The Old Testament tabernacle was to be a place fit for the One True King. It was supposed to represent heaven on earth, especially since it was literally God’s dwelling place. It does contrast greatly with Christ’s birth and life, but Jordan reminded me that Christ, the one person who deserves gilded palaces, honor, glory, and reverence, was the one person who’s entire life he received the opposite – a lowly stable, scorn, and eventually a thief’s death on the cross. The Old Testament temple is what Christ deserved, but not what the world gave him.

    One reason that Christians are called to create and make things beautiful is to prepare this earth for Christ’s return. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,” John declared to the people near the advent of Christ, but isn’t this our same calling as we await the Lord’s second coming? We should have homes, families, apartment buildings, cities that would be worthy of Christ’s return should He come back today.

    In addition to all that, a Christian home should be one of the most beautiful places on earth because where a Christian is, there Christ is also. The act of creating art and making things helps us identify with the Lord’s creative genius in the creation of this earth and is a very loving avenue for sharing the beauty of the Gospel message with a fallen and broken world.

  2. Wow! Good thoughts. When I’ve read that passage in the past I never even thought about some of those questions. The last question of "What was He communicating with such lavish building materials for this sanctuary?" makes me think of "giving our best to God."

    If we look at the example of Cain and Abel, Abel brings his "best" -- something that maybe he would even consider too lavish for a purpose other than eating and enjoying. Cain, on the other hand, just brings something average to God. As we all know, God was pleased with Abel's offering, but not Cain's.

    I think one thing that's interesting is that Cain and Abel’s offerings are so unique to their professions. Abel, a shepherd, brings the finest from his herd, and Cain brings something from his crops. God’s rejection of Cain’s offering wasn’t that God preferred meat over veggies, but more that, given their professions and talents, they gave something meaningful and significant. I think the relevance to us is that God is asking us to take a look at what we’re currently doing, or the gifts that we have, and give the best to Him as our offering to Him.

    I’m not sure how this relates at all to making something that is aesthetically beautiful… I’m interested to see what others think. Thanks for starting this mini series!

  3. Hi Charissa.Your post is very spiritual and makes me seriously think about what we can offer to the divine, and to those who are our mortal companions. I think the essence of any offering is humility and a sense of universal consciousness. Sometimes even a simple flower freshly picked from the garden and offered at the altar after a bath can be deemed to be sufficient in our culture. We also believe that our elders, teachers and guests are manifestations of the divine, and special attention is paid to them. Food prepared for the Gods is usually made of pure ingredients like rice, sugar and ghee with saffron or cardamom for flavour, and is symbolically offered to the God first, and then distributed in simple leaf bowls to the devotees. This food, called prasad, is in small quantities but absolutely memorable. I think it's using the five senses that really comes into play -- you hear the bells and the prayers, you smell the fragrance of the flowers and the incense, you see the beauty of the idols/images the sculptures around you, and you taste the holy water and the prasad, and you feel the stone floor as you walk with your bare feet. Perhaps doing all this in tandem can create a feeling of being on another plane. I have visited temples, churches, mosques and dargahs, and feel that this is so regardless of religious background. Thank you for this lovely thoughtful post.

  4. @Carolyn - Thank you for so thoughtfully responding! I especially appreciate your points that:
    1) The tabernacle was to represent heaven on earth, especially as God's physical dwelling place.
    2) The riches of the tabernacle were what Jesus deserved, but not what he chose. Your observation gives a more nuanced meaning to Jesus as the "humble King". The tabernacle's lavishness was what he should have had, but he chose to live his life loving unrefined fishermen, outcasts, those deemed to be 'unclean', and haughty religious people. He went without what he deserved to give us what we didn't deserve.

    @Shawna - Wow, I never saw it that way! That perhaps God is in essence asking for the best of their metals, fibers, skins, wood, spices, gems. As you mentioned, I like how this speaks to the fact that we each have access to different resources but are asked to bring our best forward for God's purposes. Also, I have to read the Cain and Abel story now...thanks for mentioning it!

    @Namitha - Great to hear from you again. Thank you for your reflections! What stood out to me was your observation about the 5 senses, that engaging them all can help us connect better to the spiritual. When I think about the passage in this light, I wonder if God isn't intentionally creating an experience such as this for his tabernacle...the brilliance of the gold, richness of the purples, the smell of the leather mingled with spicy incense. It just makes me excited to read about these raw, physical materials in the Bible and think that such material things could be used in the service of God.


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