Is beauty just in the eye of the beholder? It is just a psychological state? If one person thinks something is beautiful and another thinks the same thing ugly, are they always both right? Are some things intrinsically, objectively beautiful, independent of our opinions and preferences? Is there always an implied “to me” that comes after the statement: “Wow, that is truly beautiful”?
Well, it seems (to me at least!) simply looking at something truly beautiful answers that question. In the same way that tapping a solid object gives us a reassurance of its objective existence, the feeling of awe at a sunset, or painting, or person is an indication that there is something really beautiful about it. A random sequence of beeps of different frequency and duration is objectively different in a particular sort of way to Beethoven’s 5th, and its not just that one carries information. It’s a certain type of information. We could turn the phone book into a tune by matching letters and numbers and spaces to notes and it would not be beautiful.
Or think of it another way. Why do we like music? Why does it resonate with our emotions? Why does it release the feel good chemical dopamine in the brain?
God is the ground and source of beauty. Another word, closely linked with beauty is glory which constantly radiates from God. It is the beautiful dazzling outshining of his invisible excellence. He made the world and everything in it to display his glory. We are made to appreciate the glory of God and response to it in praise and worship.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1 (ESV)
The conversation between the trinity is all about glory:
Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” John 12:28 (ESV)
Jesus came to glorify God, by revealing him to us that we might know him:
1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17:1–5 (ESV)
Light was created to make manifest God’s excellence. I know “manifest” is an old fashioned word but I love it. It means to reveal something in such a way that it can be seen and perceived by the eye. As a noun it can refer to a list of the cargo carried by a ship so that it can be unloaded and distributed in an organised and effective manner. Light was created to be the carrier of the goodness of God onto the back of our retina such that we perceive and receive his goodness. Being more specific photons were made to bounce of (apologies to physicists) Jesus face and trigger rods and cones in our eye. More metaphorically of course its about us knowing God (really knowing who he is and entering into a tangible relationship with him) through Jesus.
The glory of God shines out in the night sky, and in fact all creation, but there is also in inward light in each believer who knows Jesus:
6 For 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 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV)
In Psalm 27 David asks for one thing. One thing only. The most important thing to him:
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. Psalm 27:4
Tim Keller tweeted this recently:
“Religious people find God useful. Christians find God beautiful….You should never go to God because he’s useful. Go because he’s beautiful. And yet there’s nothing more useful than finding God beautiful.”
Of course we do come to God because his is useful, at first anyway. I came to him because of my need for forgiveness, meaning and purpose.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. Psalm 27:5
But the manor and means by which we are granted these things takes our eyes of ourselves and onto the one who is so gloriously good and gracious. Jesus, the son of God, is given up to death on a cross, bearing our sin and turning away God’s righteous anger.
David is saved but the result is not that he goes on his merry way. Rather his heart is won and he seeks the face of God.
6 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! 8 You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” 9 Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! 10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.
God’s beauty would never be in the eye of a beholder were it not for the Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals God to us, but we need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes of our hearts to see him. Without God’s enlightening we are born blind to his beauty.
Here is a link to my God Puzzle page on beauty.