The Art of Worship
“If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.”
God’s words in this Scripture have so many implications on the limits and purpose of human artistry that I’m not even sure which way to proceed from it, but let’s start by admitting that the very God Who made us in His image has placed limits on our imitative capacity. We are not creators, friend, but copyists. We don’t speak things into existence; we shape and form what God has made. So while God has given us artistry as a gift, and while it provides for us a context for expressing worship in diverse ways, it comes with bounds.
If you wield your tool on it you profane it. Now, I wouldn’t dare extend this rule beyond its immediate and very specific context of altar-building, but in an age where freedom of expression has become synonymous with authenticity, the principle undergirding this particular command can’t be overstated. Ever since the Renaissance, and in some ways even before it, our Western world has been entranced by religious works of art. Take the Sistine Chapel for example, considered one of the greatest compositions of all time. Ask yourself: does it come any nearer to depicting the actual glory of unseen God than, say, my seven-year-old’s drawing of Jesus that’s taped to my refrigerator? No, it doesn’t; yet a whole lot more people have been impressed by it. So I wonder: as painters like Michelangelo express their theological concepts into shapes and colors, do they stop to consider Exodus 20:25? Do they fear that their own depictions of divine mysteries might deter worshippers rather than aid them? They should; and so should we.
Friend, I’m an artist, not an iconoclast, so I firmly believe that Creator God has fashioned us as image-bearers to imitate Him with our unique crafting tools. But the mantra in many churches today is ‘creative expression,’ the misconception being that God cares as much about the beauty of our instruments as He does the purity of our sacrifices, and it’s high time we write Exodus 20:24-25 back in our conceptions of worship. Because the Sacrifice of redemption is God’s art—not ours! And we’re here to proclaim the magnificence of His singular Passion; not profane it without our own works.