Part 11 in the Series:
The Bezalel Blueprint
By Don Enevoldsen
In November 1970, George Harrison released his first solo single, “My Sweet Lord.” I remember several of my Christian friends gushing over the song because of the spiritual lyrics:
“My sweet Lord,
Hmm, my Lord,
Hmm, my Lord,
I really want to see you,
Really want to be with you,
Really want to see you, Lord,
But it takes so long, my Lord.”
Background singers echoed with “Hallelujah,” repeated at the end of each line. My friends walked around singing and humming and speculating on whether or not Harrison had become a Christian.
Of course, he hadn’t. About halfway through the song, “Hallelujah” was replaced with “Hare Krishna,” and later with a traditional Vedic prayer. At the time, not many Americans knew anything at all about Hindu beliefs and the chants were overlooked as unintelligible by most listeners.
Harrison had embraced Hinduism some time before. His own explanation of the lyrics was an expression of his personal worldview, and his desire to draw people into it before they realized what it was:
“I wanted to show that Hallelujah and Hare Krishna are quite the same thing. I did the voices singing ‘Hallelujah’ and then the change to ‘Hare Krishna’ so that people would be chanting the maha-mantra before they knew what was going on!” (from an interview taped on September 4, 1982 and posted at Krishna.org. The same sentiments are expressed in Harrison’s autobiography, I, Me, Mine, p. 176.)
Harrison repeated much the same information a little later in the interview, calling it “a little trick really.” He joined his explanation with some not very complimentary observations about the ability of the average Christian to discern worldviews:
“Well, first of all ‘Hallelujah’ is a joyous expression the Christians have, but ‘Hare Krishna’ has a mystical side to it. It’s more than just glorifying God; it’s asking to become His servant. And because of the way the mantra is put together, with the mystic spiritual energy contained in those syllables, it’s much closer to God than the way Christianity currently seems to be representing Him. Although Christ in my mind is an absolute yogi, I think many Christian teachers today are misrepresenting Christ. They’re supposed to be representing Jesus, but they’re not doing it very well. They’re letting him down very badly, and that’s a big turn off.
“My idea in ‘My Sweet Lord,’ because it sounded like a ‘pop song,’ was to sneak up on them a bit. The point was to have the people not offended by ‘Hallelujah,’ and by the time it gets to ‘Hare Krishna,’ they’re already hooked, and their foot’s tapping, and they’re already singing along ‘Hallelujah,’ to kind of lull them into a sense of false security. And then suddenly it turns into ‘Hare Krishna,’ and they will all be singing that before they know what’s happened, and they will think, ‘Hey, I thought I wasn’t supposed to like Hare Krishna!’”
Understanding What You Believe
I should point out that I’m not opposed to Christians listening to secular music or watching secular movies. I do not advocate burning all of your Beatles albums. If simple exposure to un-Christian worldviews corrupted us, we would all be doomed. I am a firm believer in engagement of the culture, not isolation from it. Especially for artists.
I do, however, believe that Christians should have enough understanding to at least know what they’re listening to and looking at. Engaging the culture means listening enough to understand what other people believe and why. This is only dangerous if you don’t have a firm understanding of your own beliefs, not only what you believe but why you believe. We do not want to become like those nations who turn their backs on God.
“They are a nation without sense,
there is no discernment in them.”
The Hebrew word translated “discernment” in this verse is the same as the word “understanding” in the list of things Bezalel was filled with. Understanding is a key characteristic of a godly artist. Understanding was an essential part of Bezalel’s artistic career.
Wisdom and understanding feel like they belong together. They roll off the tongue easily, as though one can’t function without the other. And, indeed, they are frequently coupled in biblical quotes.
They are, in fact, very similar. Wisdom, or chokmah, involves prudence and shrewdness. Understanding, in Hebrew, tabuwn, is more specifically insight or intelligence. Solomon was described as having both in 1 Kings 4:29, “wisdom and very great insight (tabuwn).”
In Hosea 13:2, the same word is translated “cleverly”:
“they make idols for themselves from silver,
cleverly fashioned images.”
The overlap between wisdom and understanding can be seen in places like Job 26:12, where the NASB translates tabuwn as understanding, while the NIV translates it as wisdom.
Clearly the precise meaning is not all that precise in English.
I’m not sure making a clear distinction between wisdom and understanding is really that important to artists, however, since Bezalel was filled with both. The way the word tabuwn is used in Job 32:11, where tabuwn is translated “reasoning,” should help us grasp the specific nuances of understanding that makes it different from wisdom:
“I waited while you spoke,
I listened to your reasoning;
while you were searching for words.”
Here “reasoning” suggests a defined worldview and the ability to communicate its essence in a debate or argument. Elihu had just sat patiently for a long period of time while three older, supposedly wiser men, sparred with Job. He listened to their reasoning, that is, the arguments they had marshaled to make their points. He sought understanding and insight into Job’s misfortunes.
But the older men had fallen short in their own understanding of the situation, as had Job.
Their reasoning, that is, their understanding, was inadequate. “I gave you my full attention,” Elihu said. “But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments.” (Job 32:12)
Understanding, in this passage, is connected to being able to explain one’s position. And Elihu, in the introduction to his six-chapter long speech, identifies a few important elements of biblical understanding.
1. Understanding involves listening to others and learning. Elihu gave deference to those with more experience. “I gave you my full attention,” he said. (verse 12)
“I thought, ‘Age should speak;
advanced years should teach wisdom.’”
In verse 11, he pointed out that he waited while they spoke. Genuine understanding does not come from arrogance. It requires a kind of humility that is always willing to learn, to be corrected and to grow. This desire to learn is a significant part of engaging the culture, as well.
2. Understanding comes from God. In Elihu’s words:
“But it is the spirit in a person,
the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.”
This spiritual source of understanding does not mean unquestioning adherence to religious tradition, either. Tradition is often wrong. Note how often Jesus was opposed by Pharisees who appealed to tradition.
3. Understanding is not dependent on experience.
“It is not only the old who are wise,
not only the aged who understand what is right.”
While experience is a great teacher, people only learn understanding when they are humble enough to admit they might need to change their views. The primary material of an artist is his own experience, but a good artist will observe and analyze the experience of others as well. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Learn of the skillful; he that teaches himself, has a fool for his master.” Another Franklin quote is: “Who is wise? He that learns from everyone.”
4. Understanding means not blindly accepting anything, no matter who says it. Elihu listened, analyzed and found that all the other arguments missed the truth. “But not one of you has proved Job wrong,” he said to the three friends. And to Job, he devotes the next five chapters to refuting the flaws in his argument. Elihu exercised a healthy questioning by listening politely, considering what was said with enough humility to learn, and then questioning what was said to make sure it was right. Understanding is a process, not a character trait.
5. Understanding is impartial. It is not based on the like or dislike of another person. Neither is it influenced by another’s position or power or wealth. Elihu gave deference to age and experience, but he did not make that the final arbiter of his understanding.
“I will show no partiality,
nor will I flatter anyone;
for if I were skilled in flattery,
my Maker would soon take me away.”
The tendency in most church settings is to elevate the pastor to the place of God. Yet everyone has the potential to be right and everyone has the potential to be wrong. Understanding means questioning.
We are not told much about Bezalel’s life. I have no doubt, however, that he was a man of great intelligence and insight. He was filled with wisdom and understanding, which implies that he observed the world around him, including the pagan world of Egypt, and he learned. He understood the worldviews of the Egyptians as much as he understood his own beliefs. He did not create art in a vacuum or within a closed system. As any good artist, he paid attention and he asked questions.
If Bezalel lived today, he would listen to “My Sweet Lord,” and he would immediately recognize the elements that were foreign to his own worldview. He would also be able to articulate his reasons for believing what he did. He would be equally able to express those reasons in his own creations. A great artist lives very close to 1 Peter 3:15:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Next, Part 12: Drunken Germans and Other Absurdities
Go to the beginning of the series, The Bezalel Blueprint: Part 1, The Artist Bezalel
Do you have an additional thought on this subject? Please join the discussion and share your insights.