Culture and Goodness (2)
“All this,” said David,“the Lord made me understand in writing, by His hand upon me, all the works of these plans.” 1 Chronicles 28.19
A vision for the nation
Toward the end of his life, David made preparations for a glorious temple unto the Lord God. He would not himself be allowed to build it, since, as God explained, he was a man of blood (1 Chron. 22.8); but he would draw up the plans, or rather, receive them from the Lord, as he said, “in writing”; and he would cast a vision for this temple, and all that was associated with it, that would motivate the entire nation of Israel to join in the work.
David’s was a comprehensive plan for the worship of God. It described in great detail all that was to be built, how it was to be constructed, and who would serve once the project was finished. The plan was complete and presented a unified vision of the temple precincts and protocols (1 Chron. 28.11-13).
David composed Psalm 68 to cast a vision for the temple, comparing the work of building this temple (vv. 24-27, 29, 35) to Israel’s conquest of Canaan, many years before. He put this vision into a song so that it could be used in worship and singing among all the communities of Israel.
The people of Israel responded enthusiastically. From every community in Israel, people contributed whatever was needed for the project – the buildings, vessels, and priestly garments. Even neighboring pagan nations became enthralled with David’s vision and contributed what they could (1 Chron. 22.3).
The people embraced David’s project as good, and worthy of their support. What was it about this project that made it so desirable for so many people?
Many things, to be sure. But one of the great strengths of David’s plan for the temple was its unity. There was nothing extraneous or inconsistent in David’s plan, and nothing that was essential was omitted. Everything necessary for the smooth and glorious working of the temple was accounted for, and everyone in the nation found something of their own to contribute to this very good project.
The first principle of design
Vermont artist Peter Huntoon understands the importance of unity in cultural compositions. Peter is a delight to watch as he works, as you can see from the videos on his website. He insists, “Unity is, in my opinion, the most important Principle of Design.” However, to watch as he paints, you wouldn’t think unity had much to do with his art.
Peter begins a work by splashing, flinging, and smearing his canvas with various colors. He flips watercolors onto the board with different brushes, then moves the colors around until the whole canvas looks like someone poured a bucket of water over an artist’s palette, and all the colors have run together. Where’s the unity in this?
The unity is in two places: First, it’s concealed within the object of Peter’s work, a live scene, when he’s working en plein air, or a photo of a scene when he’s finishing a work in his studio. The unity he’s seeking, and which he will coax out of the scene, is obscured behind extraneous objects, muted in shadows, or awaiting some highlighting, coloration, or placement to cause it to emerge.
His canvas prepared, Peter begins to create the unity he can see in the scene, and which exists in his mind. He works on the details of a scene like Rochester, Vermont to bring out the beauty in what most might see only as an ordinary village scene. The unity of color, images, placement, and perspective in a work of art like this is not immediately visible in the object itself; unity begins in the design of the artist and emerges through his skillful use of the tools and materials of his art. And as Peter Huntoon explains, “It’s always a thrill and a happy surprise, when things come together in the end.” That coming together, that unity, is what helps to make Peter Huntoon’s art so good for those who delight in his work.
Unity in culture
Unity in culture strikes a welcome chord in our souls. The unity which exists in the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, in perfect love, peace, harmony, and joy – is refracted in works of culture that demonstrate balance, wholeness, and appropriateness. A table rightly set, an architect’s drawing, a lawn and garden neatly kept, a carefully prepared business presentation, a college course, a well-crafted poem, a day’s attire, a church unified in love – all these strike us as good and useful.
Works of culture that lack a unifying motif, purpose, or structure, or that throw together random ideas, forms, or images do not satisfy or bring delight as much as a work like Rochester, Vermont. And they don’t inspire or move us like David’s vision of the temple did the people of his day.
Unity in culture can be good when it works in combination with other cultural components to give us a glimpse or experience of the goodness that exists in God. As we make and use culture, therefore, we must ask ourselves – whether we’re eating or drinking or whatever we’re doing (1 Cor. 10.31) – how this involvement with the culture demonstrates the unity and glory of God, and declares the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
1. Zoning laws are an attempt by city planners to bring unity to a community. Such laws can be very good, indeed. In what ways?
2. The songs we remember and delight in most have a basic unity that holds them together. That unity might be in the chord structure (C, F, G, for example), by virtue of a recurring motif (think of the opening of Beethoven’s 5th symphony) or a repeated refrain, or in some combination of these. Why do we find unity like this so appealing, so good?
3. Cultural unity by itself is not necessarily good. Some culture-makers can create forms with much unity, but which, apart from other aspects of goodness, are actually evil. Think of the highly unified government and military of Nazi Germany. Can you think of any other examples?
Next steps – Preparation: Study some cultural form in your immediate environment – a book or painting, or a piece of furniture, for example. How does this form exemplify unity? Would the form be as appealing to you if it had no unity? Why or why not?
T. M. Moore
What are you doing at 8:18 am? If you’re with Bruce Van Patter, you’re observing the goodness of God in your immediate surroundings. Take a look at Bruce’s column, and let your world come alive with goodness (click here).
Everything makes sense in life, and is good in its time and place. But only when we see things “under the heavens” rather than merely “under the sun.” Our book Comparatio shows you how Solomon struggled with this distinction, but ultimately returned to the place of seeing all goodness as of the Lord. To order a copy, click here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.