This post is not about beautiful women and men. Well, not living ones at any rate. Sorry if that disappoints anyone.
It is about paintings. And buildings. And flowers. Beautiful ones.
A few weeks ago I was in Rome, and was amazed by the awesome grandeur of the churches, and the artistic genius of the painters and sculptures. I couldn’t help thinking about how much time and dedication the artists had put into their work, and how they truly intended their work reflect the glory of God.
But then, niggling at the back of my mind, was the economic cynic – the reluctant evangelical, who was thinking, should the church spend its money on expensive buildings like this? (It sounded scarily similar to the voice of Judas objecting to Mary lavishing expensive perfume on Jesus in John 12:5, claiming the money should go to the poor instead.) After all, as a “low church” charismatic evangelical, I have felt plenty of frustration at watching churches being forced to poor endless financial resources into vast black holes to prop up large buildings which, lets face it, are not exactly on a par with St Peter’s Basilica or the Sistene Chapel. Again and again I have heard the cry, why not just meet in a church hall and spend our money on “mission” instead?
It is a challenging question. But I can’t help thinking, as Christians, do we appreciate Christian art and beauty enough? 500 years ago sculptures and painters painstakingly dedicated their lives to producing glorious pieces that are recognized today as infinitely more impressive than the numerous holiday photos that paparazzis like me like to snap on mobile phones. And as a two time arts student, there is something inside me that rebels at the idea that what is most beautiful and best about the creative faculties God has given must always be done away with in favour of saving money (often to be spent on fliers, posters or publicity campaigns).
To take another example, last week I was at our church flower festival extravaganza, themed around entertainment. And it was definitely extravagant. The church was full of glorious colour, celebrating films and shows ranging from South Pacific to Pirates of the Caribbean. The atmosphere was jubilant, and it was an amazing demonstration to the people of the village of the skill of the flower arrangers and the love they have of their craft. And people were flocking from round the local area to enter the church – some for the first time in many years.
God is the ultimate artist of beauty. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) But he has made us, his creatures, in his image, capable of creating beautiful things as well. In a world twisted by pornography, where society is tempted daily to bow down to idols of cheap thrills and instant gratification, do we value enough the joy and wonder that can come from celebrating beautiful things – things that reflect God’s glory and draw inspiration from all he is?