“Now that is beautiful!” You have no doubt experienced the moment. The sun emerging from the horizon, the symphony coming to a majestic climax, the movie resolving just right. Or perhaps it was more personal: your bride slowly approaching or your baby gazing into your eyes for the very first time. The experience of beauty is right at the heart of what makes life…well…beautiful.
We all sense that beauty is an integral part of human life. But, for us Christians, it can sometimes be hard to know the proper place for beauty. Yes, beauty seems to be a good thing, but it is also dangerous! The allure of beauty can be very deceptive. As Christians, we are right to see that the pursuit of beautiful things, people, or places cannot control our lives. Instead, we want the truths of Christ to control us. However, when we think about it, the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of beauty make poor enemies. Abandoning beauty for the sake of truth or truth for the sake of beauty just seems wrong. So, the question we need to ask is, how does our submission to objective biblical truth and the seemingly subjective world of beauty connect? Following the biblical storyline, from God all the way through redemption, sheds some light on this relationship.
Over four-hundred times in the Bible God is described through the use of the word, ‘glory’. We use this word often, but what does it actually say about God? John MacArthur defined glory as, “the consummate beauty of the totality of God’s perfections.” Put more simply, God’s glory is the sum total beauty of who he is. God is glorious. Or, for our current purposes, God is the definition and source of beauty. This is the starting point. If we are going to understand beauty rightly, we need to begin by trying to understand God’s beauty. And, since we are creatures who are at this time incapable of seeing God’s beauty directly, we need to see His beauty by looking through His revelation of Himself. For this we will first look at Creation.
“The heavens declare the glory (beauty) of God” (Ps. 19:1). From the stars in the sky to the sea creatures below, the simplicity of sand to the complexities of humanity, creation is communicating one central theme: God is beautiful. Yes, we see the dramatic display of the power and majesty of God in the creation of planets and oceans and mountains. But, we also see a care for even the seemingly most insignificant details. What are we to understand about God when we look at an acorn? Or how about a bumblebee? These too are “creation,” and as such are designed to tell us about our God. If God were only interested in us seeing his power, these tiny acts of artistry and creativity would not seem very necessary.
Under sin’s deception, mankind is duped into thinking that the beauties of this world are in and of themselves worthy
On a similar note, if all God were interested in was the display of his power and majesty, why is it that all of those big powerful forces in the Universe end up looking so beautiful? Sure, lightning is terrifying, but is it not also beautiful? Summing up, in creation God has given concrete expressions of such perfections as His power, majesty, complexity, and goodness. But, God has also chosen to make our human eyes perceive something more, something beautiful in His creation.
At the heart of the biblical story is the disordering of beauty. Mankind, instead of loving the beautiful Creator, chose to bow down and worship the things of Creation (Rom. 1). One of the realities of sin, therefore, is that we have chosen the beauties of creation over the far more beautiful Creator. Under sin’s deception, mankind is duped into thinking that the beauties of this world are in and of themselves worthy, apart from any connection to their source. In 2 Corinthians 4 we see that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the glory of God.” In this glory-blindness, humanity is simply unable to connect the dots between the beauties of creation and the beauty of God. If sin keeps us from rightly seeing the beauty of God, what does the gospel accomplish? Back in 2 Corinthians 4 we read, “but God, who said ‘let light shine out of darkness’, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). This verse is crucial. In the gospel, God has renewed mankind’s capacity to know His beauty. And the way in which we come to this restored vision is through Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Christ, truth and beauty converge into the ultimate display of God’s glory.
In 2 Corinthians 4 and Hebrews 1 we find more than mere created beauty. Jesus is radiating with the beauty of His own divine perfections. Christ is the physical manifestation of the glory of God. This glory, however, as our previous definition highlighted, is a description of more than the beauty of God. The glory of God also describes the truth of God. Because the glory of God is the totality of His perfections, in displaying the glory of God, Christ radiates both the beauty and the truth of God. In Jesus Christ, truth and beauty converge into the ultimate display of God’s glory. Christ, the Word and Radiance of the Father, is our clearest demonstration of the connection between truth and beauty. In Christ, we find beautiful truth and truthful beauty.
How does this convergence of truth and beauty in Jesus Christ help us to see the connection in our lives between these two realities? Allow me to conclude by offering up three implications.
First, we need to understand that the enjoyment of beauty is thoroughly Christian. If we are right to see in Christ both truth and beauty, we must realize that to fail to see and marvel at beauty in Christ and His creation is to cut the truth short of its full glory. As worshipers of Christ, my prayer is that we would see afresh His beauty in the truth that we hold so dear.
Second, the reality of the beauty of the truth of Christ needs to inform the way in which we communicate that truth. I often hear people say things like, “all we need to do is say the truth, the response of the listener is their responsibility.” There is some truth to this. We should not think that we can control the way people will respond to the truth. But, is this a good reason to abandon the attempt to present the gospel or various other biblical truths with anything less than their proper beauty? John Piper helpfully calls this process, “seeing beauty and saying beautifully.” Let’s use our various gifts to strive for seeing and saying the beauty of Christ truthfully.
Lastly, the truthful beauty of Christ frees us to truly enjoy the beauty of His creation. Because all things are from Christ and through Christ and to Christ (Rom 11:36), the enjoyment of the things that He has made is actually an enjoyment of His beauty. I am not saying that we should worship creation. Rather, through our submission to Christ as Lord, we are freed to truly enjoy the beautiful things He has given. Christ, the Lord of creation, offers us a world full of wonder. May we be people who enjoy His gift.