Genesis 2:15 says that the first man was commissioned by God to dress and to keep the garden. The garden was located within the land of Eden, which was one among many lands on the earth according to Genesis 2:8-14. The garden was the place where God would meet with the man on the first day of the week. Since the man was made on the 6th day, and the next day was the sabbath, the first day of man’s week would be the sabbath, the day of the Lord. In the garden were two special “sacramental” trees, and from the garden the waters flowed to water the whole earth. All of these facts serve to show us that the garden was the sanctuary, the place of worship.
In worship, God calls us and renews covenant with us. Our place is to say “amen,” which is to affirm the primacy of God in all of life. This is what the first man, the first priest of the first sanctuary, was called to do on the first day of the week at the center of the world.
The man was told to dress and to keep the garden. Keeping is literally guarding, and dressing is beautifying. The man was to guard and beautify the garden-sanctuary. By extension, he was to guard and beautify the land and the world as well: in other words, his home and his workplace.
The association between guarding and beautifying is important. Contrary to Francis Schaeffer’s contention, the arts are seldom prophetic in character. The arts rather tend to reinforce (guard) ideas and customs that are current in society. They reinforce these ideas and customs by beautifying them, with the result that people don’t want to change their customs because they are emotionally attached to them via their artistic enhancement. (Visual arts in particular always reflect the mindsets of previous generations.)
We see this when we try to change the music in the Church. The gospel-song style of music enhances and reinforces (guards by beautifying) the sentimental theology of 19th and early 20th century soft-evangelicalism. Even when people have improved their theology, they are often artistically attached to these gospel songs and thus are unwilling to enter fully into better theology and practice.
Modern art claims to be prophetic, but it is not. Modern “chaotic” art and music simply dressed and guarded “modern” (early 20th century) ideas, or actually the ideas of Kant several generations earlier. If such artistic expressions were not in tune with culture and custom, the artists would be completely ignored. In the middle part of the 20th century, playwrights like Horton Foote who wrote clean plays about common life were ignored, and composers who wrote pretty music went unheard.
James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This piece originally appeared at Biblical Horizons.