Finding and Defining Beauty
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Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? The answer is yes—and no. Beauty involves both subjective and objective elements, both taste and truth, which is why there is often confusion about it. The ability to perceive beauty does involve a kind of “taste” which can be cultivated and trained, or distorted and dulled… In a fallen world, we can lose our taste for beauty through inattention, self-absorption, and suffering. We can even develop a taste for what is in fact ugly.
Ultimately, beauty is grounded in the nature of God Himself, the supremely beautiful Person,1 and then in His creation, which reflects His beautiful intentions and artistry.2 The created order is magnificently diverse in its beauty, making room for a wide variety of legitimate preferences and tastes for the very different aspects of its beauty.3
There are deep connections between goodness, truth, and beauty (e.g., goodness is a kind of moral beauty4). The full meaning of the Hebrew word shalom conveys the rich biblical picture: more than merely “peace,” shalom is the uniting and flowering of truth, goodness, and beauty in a flourishing and whole life.
However, the breaking of shalom as a result of the fall into sin has introduced ugliness into the world. Evil is not only false and bad, but ugly (for instance, pornography is an ugly distortion of God’s beautiful created context of sexuality). Thus our experiences of beauty are often distorted and even dangerous when we worship beauty instead of God.5
Each of us needs beauty in our lives, relationships, work, and worship. We are made for it, and we long for it. Our hunger for beauty is an expression of our fundamental human longing for shalom, most ultimately for shalom with God.6 …
The beauty of the world points to the nature of the Divine Artist whose handiwork it is. And the fundamental human longing for beauty, for shalom, is a hunger that cannot ultimately be satisfied in this fallen world. It is a clue that we were made for more than this life.7—David A. Horner
A Christian perspective on beauty
The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork.8 Creation speaks of God who loves beauty in color, in performance, and in orderliness.
First, we see beauty in the color of creation. A pink and orange sunset, wildflowers blooming, and the plumage of tropical birds all reveal God’s love of color. God could have created a black-and-white world or given us color-blind eyes. Splashing beautiful color upon the world is divine grace.
Second, we also find beauty in the performance of creation. Consider the graceful flight of a soaring eagle. Be captivated by the graceful sprinting of a deer, the grandeur of a waterfall, or the delicious smell of a warm spring rain. God created beauty in the very performance of nature.
Third, we discover God’s love of beauty in his ordering of creation. Consider the beauty found in the symmetry and strength of a spider web. Praise the mind which created a double-helix strand of DNA... Orderliness is a facet of beauty.
Ultimately, beauty can be evaluated only in comparison with God Himself. Theologian Wayne Grudem says, “God’s beauty is that attribute of God whereby He is the sum of all desirable qualities.”
The Psalmist said, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”9 Also, “Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.”10
But how do we compare the infinite beauty of God with the beauty found in a fallen world? How do we evaluate if a work of art is pressing toward the divine character of beauty? The answer lies in the connection between truth, beauty, and goodness.
True beauty is only found where truth is loved. True beauty is only found where goodness is prized. In God’s evaluation, aesthetic beauty cannot abide on a canvas alongside falsehood or evil. A painting may depict evil, but it must not convey that the evil is good…
In conclusion, on this side of heaven we will not always think rightly about beauty, nor will we always produce beauty in our lives and work. However, we must press on with Christian mind-renewal and refuse accommodation to the world. Our longing must be for heaven’s aesthetic, for “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.”11 For the glory of God, may the beauty of God in Christ sanctify our vision, our affections and our lives.—Scott Lamb12
The Bible on beauty
The fact that beauty is an individual concept is understood clearly by all. However, many don’t realize that God’s concept of beauty also is His own. No one defines for God His concept of beauty. If a person is beautiful to God, he fits God’s concept of beauty.
For example, God never uses one’s outward physical appearance to determine beauty. When the prophet Samuel examined Jesse’s sons in search of the next king of Israel, he was impressed with Eliab’s appearance. God told Samuel: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”13 Nothing in a person’s outward appearance impresses God. God looks upon the inner beauty, the beauty of one’s heart.
God never uses the origin or culture of a person as the criterion of beauty. People of one culture seldom see beauty in people of a different culture. Only a divine revelation could convince Peter to enter a Gentile’s house and preach the gospel to him.14 It took an angel to get Peter the Jew and Cornelius the Gentile together. Only a divine sign convinced the Jewish witnesses that Gentiles unquestionably had the right to be God’s children. When Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism,”15 he was saying, “At last, I understand.” Peter realized that God is unconcerned about a person’s origin or culture. God gladly accepts those who revere and obey Him. His concept of beauty is different because He ignores cultural preferences and prejudices…
What is beautiful in God’s eyes? … The beatitudes reveal some of God’s standards of beauty. An awareness of one’s spiritual poverty, sorrow for wickedness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, and being a peacemaker are all qualities of beauty. The epistles also stress attributes valued by God: keeping a living faith while enduring physical hardships, controlling the tongue, enduring personal harm to protect the church’s influence, making sacrifices for the good of others, and living by Christian convictions in the face of ridicule. All these are beautiful to God.—From gotquestions.org16
Published on Anchor October 2019. Read by Jon Marc.
Music by Michael Dooley.
1 Psalm 27:4.
2 Genesis 1; Psalm 50:2.
3 Ecclesiastes 3:11.
4 Philippians 4:8.
5 Genesis 3:6; Romans 1:21–25.
6 Romans 5:1.
7 Ecclesiastes 3:11.
8 Psalm 19:1.
9 Psalm 27:4.
10 Psalm 96:6.
11 Psalm 50:2.
13 1 Samuel 16:7.
14 Acts 10.
15 Acts 10:34.