It was a joy and privilege to host Makoto Fujimura last week. We (here at Crossway) had the opportunity to hear an exclusive behind-the-art perspective on The Four Holy Gospels from Fujimura during chapel on Friday, January 21:
I wanted to speak from Hebrews and consider how we are able to think about these projects from theological and aesthetic perspectives. In Hebrews 9-10, the Hebrews writer addresses worship from the Old Testament reality of having the tabernacle of Moses, which is an interesting study in itself. As an artist when you read through the Bible you notice things that other people don’t.
When I was a brand new believer I wanted to read through the entire Bible, so I started from page one in Genesis. When I got to Exodus 30, I saw the description of the tabernacle and the way God gave it to Moses as a mirror image of the Law. So for you left brain thinkers you have the Ten Commandments and for you creative types you have the Tabernacle. As I read through Exodus 30 on the description of the tabernacle I was just thrilled! I was so excited that I went to my friends who are missionaries downstairs from Singapore. I said, “This is so exciting!” and my friend said, “I skipped that part.”
It talks about details of how one is to craft this tabernacle. They must have been trained in Egypt in order to execute the patterns precisely. God had already chosen them—not only this ability to create, but also the ability to teach others to do this. So this was very much a guild of sorts to create a place [for] a nomadic group of people needing a place to worship, gathering very much like we are today, but around this ark with a mercy seat on top, covered with gold, designed and inlays, and so forth. The designs very much relate to the materials that I use and the method of Nihonga, that I was studying at the time. Later on we see the magnificent splendor of Solomon’s temple, again using materials that I use. I realized very quickly that these passages that I respond to as a creative artist, some people may skip over because they have no idea the magnificence and the level of intricacy that God wanted us to experience in worship . . . and to approach him in this manner through the arts, executing these beautifully crafted objects . . . and how precisely it had to have been for God himself to be understood and to communicate to his people, “This is who I am, I care about beauty, I care about things that are crafted well.” And that spoke to me personally.
Now here in Hebrews, we have the writer looking back at these things and he says in Hebrews 9:23, “Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves were better sacrifice than these, for Christ had entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”
What he’s referring to, and I read this with trepidation, and I thought about this as I was illuminating these pages, is that there is in fact this physical reality of heaven that is being manifested onto a broken earth. That we can somehow tap into this, and they did, for a time, through the ark covenant, 2 ½ cubits, 1 x 1 ½ cubits, this mercy seat on top, this perfect square on the side. You know what cubits are? This is fascinating. The cubits are measurements, they measured Pharaoh’s arm from the tip of his finger to the elbow, and that was a cubit. So every Egyptian pyramid is made with a different cubit measurement. So, guess what, they must have measured Moses’ arm to create the Tabernacle, because God doesn’t specify what a cubit is and the assumption is that you measure the leader’s arm.
That’s really profound. It also speaks about this God who would use human measurement to create his tabernacle. The very design that is perfected in heaven enters our world and is translated into imperfect human beings. God, knowing fully how imperfect Moses was, and how he would not be allowed to enter the promised land, God used his arm. The significance of this is multiplied when you think about how he had to raise his arms and he had to have Aaron and Hur hold it up while they were being liberated from Egypt. This whole idea of leadership, the writer of Hebrews is saying that even that is imperfect.
Now that Christ has come, we can look back and see that the tabernacle was only a small reality that we were able to witness. As a creative person and an artist, I am determined to do things right. But I know that no matter how well I execute this, I cannot even approach this heavenly reality of God, what God already has created. And yet, this kind of project was in a sense an invitation by God to offer my brokenness, to be able to have Christ enter into that picture. My limitation as an artist is only met with this greater grace of Jesus who would fill the empty places.
Transcribed address from Makoto Fujimura on January 21, 2011 (Part 1).