Whose Definition?

Beauty is something that moves us, moves us to pursue, to desire, and to worship.  Loveliness is something both ennobling and terrifying because it shows us the glory of God, and reveals to us our frailty.  A definition of beauty has eluded the hearts and minds of mankind for centuries; every different world view has come up with an idea on what beauty is and how to define it. The common phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is probably one of the most widespread agreements on the place of beauty.  It is important to look at this adage in several ways and in a Biblical light.  The Creation may not decide if one part of it is beautiful or not, only God has the power to call His Creation beautiful, this is both His right and His glory.

God must define the truth in what we think and feel because He is the only thing that is not marred by sin, thus beauty is not “in the eye of the beholder” but God alone defines what is beautiful, and what is no,t by His person.

As Christians we should wonder why something that is beautiful to one person is not beautiful to someone else.  It is often confounding to us that something which moves me to tears causes someone else to laugh, or does not affect them at all.  Beauty in many cases seems to be only in the eyes of those who observe it.  Beauty is a matter of preference in this postmodern age.  This, in the light of God’s grace and power, cannot be a true statement.  As God is the Creator of beauty so also must He be both the definer of beauty and the definition of beauty.

It is important to understand what saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” means in the light of the Christian perspective on the power of God, the limitations of man, and the ultimate reason for beauty.  When humanity attempts to define what is beautiful it is limiting the power of God.  God called everything he created “good” and although it has been marred by our sin it still “declares the glory of God” (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25; Psalms 19:1).  When we say that we as humans can define the good and the beautiful we are taking the power that belongs to God and calling it our own.  This is limiting God.

By attempting to define beauty according to our standards we, as humans, attempt to glorify ourselves, thus stealing the glory that belongs to God and giving it to ourselves.  As God is the Creator He alone may stand back and say what He has done is beautiful, we, the Creation, do not have the power or authority to say that something God has created is not beautiful.  Only the author has the ultimate authority over his work.  It is like a critic telling the author that his book is about something that the author did not write about.  We, by our limitation of God, and the elevation of ourselves in using and believing the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” are glory-thieves.

In the light of God’s power and our limitations in defining what is good and beautiful it is important to talk about Creation.  This is God’s masterpiece.  The Universe that God has created radiates His power and goodness.  God has called His entire creation good (Genesis 1:31).  What God has shown to us about Himself in the work of Creation is His own beauty.  The Universe is God’s very own beauty on display for all to see.  He has shown us in Creation His own likeness.  We are made in His image (Genesis 1:27).

Understanding that all Creation is God’s beauty on display ought to rid us of the idea that beauty is a case of preference.  God is beautiful.  Anything that is beautiful can only be so because of His grace and glory alive in it.  God has given us this beauty as a way for us to fulfill one of our deepest, most intimate desires: to enjoy God.  When we marvel at a sunset, the power of a storm, the way the leaves fall from the trees we are bringing glory to God and enjoying Him by understanding that these things teach us of His glory.  The beauty in the Universe is a gift of God, a way for us to understand Him in things that we are familiar with.

In order for us to enjoy God in the beauty of His Creation we must understand that beauty is absolute.  In the same way that there is absolute truth there is absolute beauty.  In his poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn” Keats says that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” (49).  This phrase, one of the most popular in all of English literature, shows that truth and beauty are intricately connected.  It means that truth and beauty have many of the same characteristics, one of these being that they are absolutes.  As God has defined truth so he has defined beauty and tied up in this is the way that God has revealed Himself to us.  In a sense what Keats is saying, and what is the essential answer to the question of beauty is that truth is true and the beautiful is beautiful.  That is how it is.  Absolute.  There need be no questions asked of an absolute truth, that would deny the fact that it is true.  There, in the same way, need be no questions asked of absolute beauty, it is simply beautiful.

God has defined what is true by his own Word given to us by His grace in the Bible.  He has defined what is beautiful by His Creation.  Part of redemption is coming to know God in this beauty of Creation and truth of His Word.  God’s beauty and His faithfulness are intricately tied together in drawing us to know Him as Savior.

Finally, it is important to understand that this world is fallen.  Our perception of the world is fallen as well.  What we conceive as ugly is our sinful nature rebelling against Him.  The ugliness has permeated even into our own hearts.  This is why God has said “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  What is ugly shall be washed away.  At the return of Christ we will see beauty for what it truly is, “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

God alone knows what is beautiful and the true extent of its beauty for we see though eyes tainted by sin and suffering.  One day God will lift the veil and reveal to us the true magnitude of His beauty as displayed in Creation and in His own self.  One day we will understand the true meaning of beauty and God will destroy all ugliness.  At the second coming of Christ He will redeem all earth from the chains of sin that have bound it since the Fall.  Creation will receive back its former perfect glory when God makes all things new, the dead will be raised with perfect, beautiful, heavenly bodies.  We will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51).


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