It has been a long time since I wrote a new blog. Life has been an overwhelming challenge; but recently God showed me a new truth or an old truth in a new way, which has so strongly affected me that I just had to share about it.
I want to have a disclaimer at the beginning of this blog to say that this is something that I am just scratching the surface on and it is still kind of unclear for me so please be understanding and if you see me going in a direction which you think violates Scripture or biblical truth please feel free to call me on it in the comments. Thank you.
There are a few abstract ideas about God that resonate so strongly within my being that they have become foundations of my life and essential pillars in my relationship with God. The first one that I encountered was the fact that God is Truth. He is not just honest or truthful but He is Truth itself (John 14:6); that is, He is more real, actual and everlasting than all of creation. This is deeply meaningful to me because the first two teachings that I received about God were based on lies and when I finally had the truth revealed to me it was literally moving from death to life for me. This is because what you believe about God determines what you believe about the rest of your existence (the answers to the ultimate questions about life, the universe and everything, especially yourself).
The other truth about God that is important and life-giving for me is that God is Love (1 John 4:8). When I see that God loves me completely and wonderfully in the way that 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 shows and that nothing can separate me from the love of God that we have in Christ (Romans 8:38, 39), it gives fulfillment and meaning to my life like nothing else; but to realize that God Himself is actually Love rockets it all up to another level that is mysterious and wonderful.
The third abstract truth that is a glimpse into the reality of God and His existence and that has become very meaningful for me recently is that God is Beauty. What do I mean by that? Let me back up a bit and give the background on this realization. I was on vacation in Portland, Oregon recently and my wife, my son and I were exploring the Columbia River Gorge area. There were many beautiful vistas to take in as I looked up and downstream on this huge river. As I looked out over the wonderful scenery, in my mind’s eye it was like I got a glimpse of the throne room of God that is mentioned in the book of Revelation (chapter 4) and Ezekiel (chapter 4). I saw a multitude of people ahead around me that went to all the way to the horizon. In the distance there was a throne and a person seated on it. In the past when I thought of the glory or radiance of God, I had only imagined a white glowing light emanating from Him, but this time instead I saw a kaleidoscope of colors and they didn’t just shine a little distance around the figure, they actually filled the entire enormous sky above me. It was like I was seeing the immensity and beauty of God like never before. When I was a children’s ministry director back in the nineties, I used to tell the kids every week that God’s love for them is bigger than the sky (because the sky is the biggest thing that we can see with our physical eyes). Here was a sky that was filled with the beauty of God and it was amazing.
I didn’t know if this was just my imagination going wild or something else, so I decided to search the Bible to see if it talked about God being beauty. I found the following verses:
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.
Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Out of the north comes golden splendor; Around God is awesome majesty.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
I realize that anyone can make a new doctrine by taking verses out of context so I want to be very careful about this. What I discovered in Scripture is that I didn’t see God called Beauty itself, but there were many references to His splendor and majesty. So, maybe God isn’t Beauty personified but I do think that somehow beautiful things in this life can point back to God and His greater ultimate beauty. I know that it is easy to slip up in regard to mystical things so I will try to tread carefully.
I think that there are two kinds of beauty in this existence. The first is aesthetic beauty, which is what we experience through our senses. Examples of this kind of beauty would be seeing things like an amazing sunset, a wonderful redwood forest, a bouquet of attractive roses, a marvelous painting or a beautiful woman. I think that the beauty that I am exposed to in encountering beautiful things is meant to point me to the greater beauty found in God.
The second kind of beauty that I find in this life is functional beauty. This has to do with how something works or performs the function for which it was created. I see things like a sports car that is great at hugging the turns on a winding road, a rocking chair that is wonderfully comfortable to sit in, or even a raincoat that does a great job of protecting me from getting wet as good examples of this kind of beauty. Sunlight shining down and illuminating my path and a breeze cooling my sweaty face; these are other examples of functional beauty. This kind of beauty points to the truth that God is perfect and His creation functions in the way that He intended (except for where the Fall and thus sin has damaged things).
So, practically speaking how can these two types of beauty, aesthetic and functional, be applied in our lives as Christians? I can begin to see a number of ways. First of all, in our relationship with God, the awareness of these two kinds of beauty in our lives can be another way of seeing God’s great love for us. It can add more meaning to the idea of common grace, how every good thing in our lives is an expression of God’s love for every person.
When we realize that every beautiful thing, whether we encounter it visually or through some other sense (such as hearing a beautiful piece of music) or we experience it practically such as the functional beauty of putting on a warm jacket on a cold day, it can be an opportunity to point us to the greater beauty of God. At that very moment the beauty can be a revelation to us, a little glimpse into the heart of a loving and generous God and the realization that He is showing us His character through blessing us with that particular beautiful thing in our life. The normal, healthy and good reaction to this all would be to respond in gratitude and worship toward our great God. To think that we could approach the whole world and see its beauty in an entirely different way that draws us closer to God is an amazing idea to me. We could be on a sunny beach on a gorgeous tropical island and enjoy the sunset in a new way that causes us to erupt in praise to God; or we could be standing on a corner sidewalk in a busy city as traffic flies by and realize that the concrete below our feet is doing its job (being hard and level enough for us to walk on safely) and the maple tree in the park we are standing next to is parading the beautiful autumn colors of its leaves as it should.
The second way that aesthetic or functional beauty can utilized is in our relationship with other people. When we see beauty in a person, rather than using that as an opportunity to give in to lust, we can instead turn our hearts toward God and remember that in some way we can’t fully comprehend in this life, that person’s beauty points to the greater beauty of the One who made them. We can remember that the Bible declares that we are all made in the image of God and that all people, even the people we struggle to see as beautiful possesses qualities and attributes which reflect God like nothing else in all of creation does. I think that this has the potential to make us more capable of loving all people more whole-heartedly and freely; valuing and appreciating them like never before. This is a radically different way of seeing our lives, but I think that it is worth considering.
This brings me to the idea of broken beauty. This is where the creation is damaged by sin. There are ways in which the natural world has been damaged by sin, but I am no scientist and I don’t know what creation was like before the Fall except that I don’t think our death was intended to be part of the natural process of things. For us as humans I see the idea of broken beauty affecting us in two relational ways.
The first is idolatry; which is where we make the tragic mistake of worshipping the beautiful creation rather than the Creator of beauty. Romans chapter one speaks to this but to summarize, I think that it means that whenever there is something in our lives that we feel like we can’t live without, that is, we make it an ultimate thing in our life and value it above God for our happiness, fulfillment, or completion; then at that point it has become an idol. Common idols of this day and age are things such as money, sex or power. More subtle idols that I think many American Christians have (and are unaware of) would be such things such as comfort, pleasure or material possessions. Understand that these things may not be bad in and of themselves; it is our prizing them above God that makes it wrong for us. Regarding idolatry in general, I think that it actually is a common occurrence for us to slip into when we neglect our relationship with God (or even sometimes when we don’t because we are imperfect and sin-damaged on this side of Heaven) and that God offers mercy and grace when we become aware of idolatry in our lives and confess and repent of it.
The other kind of broken beauty that I see in our world that affects us is what I call stolen beauty. This would encompass such things as lust, sexual immorality, or even gluttony. It is the taking of a beautiful thing (either in our thoughts, desires, or by our actions) and wanting or using it for a bad purpose, something selfish or destructive beyond what God intended. Examples of this would be viewing pornography, eating too much of a good tasting food, or wasting money on an unneeded extravagance just because we feel like we deserve it. I think that stolen beauty happens far more often than we are conscious of; and it only makes our souls cry out even more for God’s mercy and salvation when we become aware of it in our lives.
This brings us to the greater beauty of the gospel. The destruction and brokenness in the world around us, particularly expressed in the terrible and negative ways that we humans treat each other and the darkness of the selfish and destructive tendencies within each of our own minds can be the shadowy background which contrasts with the bright spotlight of the incredible and wonderful love of God expressed through the salvation and new life He offers to us through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection.
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
When Jesus stepped out of the tomb, alive forevermore and never having to taste death for us again, it was the crowning point of all of history up to this time and the pinnacle of functional beauty. God the Father made His Son to be the Redeemer of all mankind who would call on Him for salvation. But there awaits for us an even greater beauty.
There is what I call the ultimate beauty, which is what all of creation is yearning for. This is when Christ returns and God restores and renews all of this created reality, making a new heavens and earth, and we will receive the incredible blessing of living in the direct Presence of His beauty (see Revelation 21:1-4).
So, when you encounter beauty in this life remember that it is not to be worshipped, but that it is only an arrow pointing to the Maker of all beautiful things and that it can be an opportunity for thankfulness and worship of the one true God.