Sunday, October 18, 2015

Does God Care about Aesthetics?

So-called Christian movies often bring a different set of concerns from their audience than "regular" movies do from their audiences.  They often talk about messaging and theology, but ignore all sorts of aesthetic concerns, such as writing, acting, cinematography, etc., taking these angles as irrelevant.  Some even go so far as to say that it is wrong to even comment on these angles at all.  Here's a question that Christians should find relevant: Does God care about aesthetics?  The answer to this question can be found through sound philosophy and a look at the Bible.

For millennia, philosophers and men in general have sought after the transcendentals, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is seen as literally being these things.  The Bible tells us these things in multiple places, but here are just a few examples.  John 14:6 states "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth and the life.'"  Psalm 107:1 states, "Oh give thanks to the Lord for he is good."  Finally, Psalm 27:4 states, "One thing I have asked of the Lord, that I will seek after;  That I will dwell in the house of Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple."  God is beauty and the source of all beauty.

God's creation is tremendously beautiful.  Why is the universe not bland or ugly?  It would seem that, among other things, God must care about aesthetics.  The universe is a reflection of the glory, beauty, and intelligence of God.  As Psalm 19:1 states, "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork."  All beauty points to its source.
Monument Valley, as photographed in John Ford's The Searchers

Let us also look at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, as described in the Old Testament.  The Bible recounts painstaking detail in the specifications for how the temple is to look.  Just as a snippet, 2 Chronicles 3:3-7 states:
"These are Solomon's measurements for building the house of God: the length, in cubits of the old standard, was sixty cubits.  The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house; and its height was a hundred and twenty cubits.  He overlaid it on the inside with pure gold.  The nave he lined with cypress, and covered it with fine gold, and made palms and chains on it.  He adorned the house with settings of precious stones.  The gold was gold of Parva'im.  So he lined the house with gold-- its beams, its thresholds, its walls, and its doors; and he carved cherubim on the walls."
Why was so much detail put into making the temple beautiful?  The beauty of the temple was meant to glorify God and be a sign of his glory to those that came into it.  It was even meant to be a sign to the neighboring pagans.  Aesthetics mattered then and they matter now.

When Christians make art, including movies, we should be attempting to glorify God in content and form, as well as leaving a great sign for non-Christians through the beauty of our work.  God, the source of all beauty, does care about aesthetics.  Our faith should spur us on to make and support better content, not worse.  While aesthetic concerns don't trump moral ones, they are far from irrelevant.

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