Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8 ESV)
I recently read an excellent article by Steve Turley called “Love or Lust? How to Effectively Teach Beauty to Our Students.”
In it, he notes that only in recent human history has beauty become a relativist concept. For most of human history, beauty was not merely in the eye of the beholder.
The definition of “beauty” used to contain an intrinsic quality that drew people to truth and goodness. All three were linked together, each drawing a person to an inner radiance that emanated from within. That which did not radiate truth and goodness was not considered beautiful.
The song, “Amazing Grace” comes to mind. The truth of the message that we are saved by grace, the sweet goodness of that amazing grace, and the beauty of the music all work together to make the song mean more than any one of the elements could ever impart separate from one another.
In fact, it’s virtually impossible to hear the music alone and not have the words and that beautiful, beautiful message come into your head. It’s a transcendent, timeless song.
And while “Amazing Grace” is an example of man-made beauty (Or, is it?) it certainly seems that appreciation of natural beauty is a human universal.
I mean who hates a sunrise or a sunset, or the Grand Canyon, or a rainbow?
Appreciation of the beauty of water also appears to a human universal. Ask a real estate agent. Shoreline property is usually a minimum of twice the cost of other comparable property.
Human beings love the beauty in nature. From the rugged beauty of the Alaskan wilderness to the tropical vibrance and glorious colors of the tropics, our hearts yearn to be in places like these.
Certainly, some individuals will have a preference for certain types of natural beauty over others, but we all seem to agree that the Northern Lights over Lake Superior are beautiful whereas a flashing neon sign over a cesspool is not.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “We do not want merely to see beauty... we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
And that’s where God comes in.
All of our efforts at beauty pale in comparison to the incomparable beauty God has designed and created. Who has not stared up at the Milky Way on a clear, still night and marveled not just at its beauty, but what it took to set it in place?
Who can sit by a northern Minnesota lake, surrounded by the deep green of stately towering pines, at that very moment when the sun is going down and brilliant hues of red and orange and pink and gold and blue are painted across sky and water and--across the silence of the moment, as if on cue--the cry of a loon floats through the air rejoicing in the glory all around it?
Yes, beauty is real.
I believe it is not random. I believe it is not an accident. I believe it is not subjective.
I believe it is to His glory.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge. (Psalm 19: 1-2, NIV)
That’s why a world without God seems so barren, so hopeless, so ugly.
Turley is right. Beauty without truth and goodness is shallow, empty, and devoid of meaning. Beauty without God becomes a commodity—something to print on a calendar or a post card or copy and paste onto your computer as wallpaper. It’s nice to look at, but beauty without the glory of God at its core is just clever marketing.
But with God, beauty becomes what Lewis was writing about. It beckons to our soul. It touches something inside of us which unites us with God. It wells up in our soul like the refrain from Amazing Grace. It fills us and lifts us and it causes gratitude and worship and praise.
It overwhelms us.
I once was lost, but now am found.
Not because I have found beauty, but because beauty has found me.
Thank you, Jesus.
You are Beautiful, You are Beautiful
Oh God, there is no one more Beautiful
Oh God, there is no one more Beautiful
–from “Overwhelmed,” by Big Daddy Weave