“There’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see. But everywhere I go, I’m looking.” — Rich Mullins
Philosophers have long wrestled with this question: What makes humanity distinct from all other life forms? They often point to our desire for truth, goodness, and beauty. Christian theologians have regarded these desires as essential for knowing God. Honesty and falsehood point to the existence of absolute truth. Good and evil point to the reality of undefiled holiness. Beauty and ugliness whisper to our souls that there is such a thing as glory. Truth, goodness, and beauty were established by the God who is defined by all three.
In my experience, many Christians are strongest in their desire for truth and goodness, with beauty running a distant third. But when we neglect the pursuit of beauty, we neglect pursuing one of the primary qualities of God.
When we neglect the pursuit of beauty, we neglect pursuing one of the primary qualities of God.
Beauty is a power wielded by the hand of God. When God promised Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation, what did the Lord do? He took Abraham outside under the desert sky and told him to number the stars, and so would his offspring be. God wanted Abraham to connect the covenant promise with a sense of glory (Gen. 15:1–6).
Have you ever seen a desert sky at night? It’s beautiful. The heavens unfurl from horizon to horizon. Glory, mystery, and echoes of the divine spread out before our eyes. Since the dawn of time, such a sight has put an ache for more in the souls of men and women.
Why Does Beauty Matter?
That beauty—and the ache that comes with it—is a powerful, necessary, shaping force for anyone who desires to know God. We have a theological responsibility to deliberately and regularly engage with beauty, because our God, his creation, and his people are all beautiful.
1. God is inherently beautiful.
Moses’s desire to see God was a hunger to look upon glory (Ex. 33:12–23). King David expressed the same longing:
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. (Ps. 27:4)
Moses and David didn’t just want to see beauty. They wanted to see God, because they knew there was no greater beauty to see.
2. God’s creation is inherently beautiful.
There is beauty all around us, and it points to the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). When God rested from creating, he said the world he made was “very good.” And in God’s kindness, the fall of man didn’t erase the beauty of creation. It’s there to behold, if we only look. And when we see it, it teaches us about the author of beauty.
We have a theological responsibility to deliberately and regularly engage with beauty, because our God, his creation, and his people are all beautiful.
3. God’s people will be adorned in beauty for all eternity.
Those who are in Christ will one day be “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). Psalm 149 describes this beauty as the glory of being “adorned with salvation” (v. 4). We should respond to this promise of future beauty with praise, and we should engage with beauty deliberately and regularly because these are the clothes we will walk around in for eternity.
What Does Beauty Do?
There are real benefits to engaging with beauty, though we miss the point if our goal is to distill beauty down to a list of functionalities. Still, here are some of the ways beauty enriches our lives:
1. Beauty attracts.
The first time I saw my wife, I was struck by her beauty. I had to do a double take just to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Her beauty drew me to pursue the woman behind the beauty. Mine is a story as old as time.
We’re drawn to beauty. We use vacation days to drive to places where we can see the sun come up over the ocean. We visit art museums, theaters, and symphonies. We look at the moon and the stars. We climb to high mountain lakes to put our feet in the frigid water. We’re the only creatures who do this purely for the sake of encountering beauty.
When we do these things, are we not like Moses and David hungering, in some real way, to see the glory of God?
2. Beauty inspires creativity.
Engaging with beauty sharpens our eye for what is pleasing, and it broadens our imaginations of what could be. Artists draw inspiration from other artists because beauty doesn’t just fill us with wonder, it drives us to go create something beautiful ourselves. When we engage with art, we learn about the principles of composition, design, color, and perspective. We hone our creative instinct. When we create, we reflect being made in the image of the Creator.
3. Beauty arouses belief in God.
Faith and wonder are gifts from God, but God uses means. He uses what is beautiful to move sleepy hearts. Blaise Pascal wrote, “Every man is almost always led to believe not through proof, but through that which is attractive.” This is what happens when people stand on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and are moved to worship, even if they don’t know why.
God uses beauty to woo and warm hearts.
Beauty for Beauty’s Sake
Creation testifies to a Maker who delights in beauty (Ps. 19:1). Matthew tells the story of a woman who came to Jesus just a few days before his crucifixion to anoint him with expensive perfume. The disciples thought this extravagant display was a waste. They thought about how they might have spent such wealth. To voice such dreams seemed vulgar, so they dressed their indignation in concern for people in need: “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor” (Matt. 26:8–9).
This is the perspective of a world focused on function and economics. But what is perfume for? Perfume is meant to be spilled out so it might fill a room with its beautiful and startling aroma. As the scent electrified the senses of everyone present, Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matt. 26:10). To Jesus, this “waste” was beautiful.
Cultivate the habit of pursuing beauty.
So many things in our world are beautiful that didn’t need to be. God chose to make them that way so he might arrest his people by our senses to wake us from pragmatism. That awakening, I submit, is a vital function of beauty.
In Confessions, Augustine wrote, “I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself.” There is no statute of limitations in training our eyes to see beauty. Look around your space right now, and no doubt you will find some. Cultivate the habit of pursuing beauty, because, as Annie Dillard wrote, “Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
Beauty is a relic of Eden—a remnant of what is good. It comes from a deeper realm. It trickles into our lives as water from a crack in a dam, and what lies on the other side fills us with wonder and fear. What lies on the other side is glory. And we were made for glory.