As I’ve tried to dissect and reassemble this whole concept of truth and beauty, I expected to discover pendulum swings happening between the culture and the church (which I did) I intended to find opposing views within the church on how we should proceed forward (which I did) and I thought I might discover some delightful way in which truth and beauty are meant to work together, in harmony (which I did); but what I did not expect was to uncover the pendulum was swinging in my own mind, or how much my soul was divided on how I ought to proceed forward, or the depth and delight in the invitation Jesus was extending to me as I attempted to answer questions about truth and beauty, the value of each within the kingdom of God and just how they are intended to work together. And I finally realized that this concept of truth and beauty is also profoundly personal—to all of us. For we are all created in the image of God, we are created beings, formed and sculpted by a master artist who structures with truth and stuns with beauty.
Each of us, in our souls know what its like to be convicted by truth and compelled by beauty. And in response to the creative and restorative work of Christ in our lives, we must live by the truth of God’s word and manifest this truth in actual knowable beauty, in the action of our mission, in the message and aesthetic of our creative work, and in the character of our personhood.
Our focus in today’s article will be primarily on defining beauty. And why is it necessary to define beauty as we ask what is the value of beauty in the Kingdom of God. I believe a definition is needed because relativism snuck in the back door while we were protecting truth and stole beauty from us, turning it into nothing more than personal preference devoid of any consistent standard, essence, or meaning. The word beauty can be used in many ways, even scripture uses it in various contexts to mean different things, sometimes its referred to as something fleeting and vain, other times scripture informs us and calls us into things of imperishable beauty. Beauty is an aesthetic, of course, but can it be more than that? And should we seek to create things of beauty, not just in message, but in aesthetic as well?
To understand beauty in the best possible sense of the word, perhaps we ought to look at what the interplay between truth and beauty can be. Truth and beauty have become something of opposing counterparts that, for those of us who are consciously trying to reunite the arts and apologetics, can at times feel like we are trying to force opposing sides of two magnets together. We know intuitively that art and beauty, and communicating with a well-crafted aesthetic ought to be apart of the way we communicate the Gospel, but in order for our theology of beauty to become truly integrated into our understanding of the Gospel, we have to fill in some gaps created by the post-modern world we live in.
Making Music with Our Lives
First, its important to consider that truth and beauty were never meant to be separated into such dueling entities. They are in fact meant to be harmonious, interdependent notes in the same melody… or perhaps, more accurately, truth is the framework, the notes composed on the page, telling the musicians what and when to play, and the melody that is born from this structure is the beauty.
Perhaps the relationship can be defined succinctly this way: Beauty is truth realized.
And if we don’t value beauty in the church, then we are stuck on rule and principle without actually experiencing and expressing the truth in any real way. As a friend of mine has said, “everything that is reflective of God’s truth is beautiful” not just in theory for words contemplated and discussed can be richly good and well-meaning but if those words are never birthed into reality, if we never get to experience the beauty of truth lived out, then we are nothing more than a clanging cymbal or a noisy gong.
Truth is beautiful and Beauty is truthful because both in their pure, un-subverted, undefiled form are glimpses into God’s mind and can be known by his love for he is the creator and source of both.
The word beauty covers a spectrum of action from art to service, but in every case, true beauty must pulse with love—God’s love. Love for God and love from God. It is in knowing God’s love that we become conduits of it as we walk in truth beautifully.
In Scripture we see a continual effort to orient the reader’s focus toward the deeper, imperishable things of life. There are warnings against visual vanity and empty, self-glorifying eloquence, but these warnings are not total rejection of aesthetics and eloquence, rather they warn us of the pitfall of settling for a lesser beauty, a perishable beauty when there is an imperishable beauty that is ours to experience and express as we move and live within God’s love. Consider 1 Peter 3, as Peter beseeches women to let their “adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”1 This invitation into deeper, eternal beauty is an echo of Peter’s previous statement about truth, “love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”2 And just as God’s word, the imperishable seed, is our Absolute Truth, I suggest to you that the Imperishable Beauty of Scripture provides us with a similarly objective definition of beauty. Which, we must carefully note is not a rejection of aesthetic, but a warning to not stop short, for beauty must also be more than aesthetic, otherwise it is fleeting and vain. If our aim is the depth of imperishable beauty (which God, himself is the source of) then naturally, the outward appearance of a thing will begin to reflect this inner reality. As Jesus says, “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”3
Beauty is Everything in its Original or Restored State
If beauty is meant to be more than personal preference, what is this objective definition of beauty? As John Piper says:
“Unless beauty is rooted in God’s mind rather than your mind, every time you say, “That is beautiful,” all you really mean is, “I like that.” Unless there is a God, your praise of beauty can be no more than expressions of your own personal preferences. But I think there is in every one of you a dissatisfaction with the notion that your judgments about beauty have no more validity than your preference for coffee over tea. And I think your dissatisfaction with pure subjectivism and relativism is a remnant of God’s image in your soul and evidence of his reality. It is an echo, however faint, of a voice that once called you into being.”4
We long for beauty, true objective beauty, because we long for God. And we long to engage in, experience and create beauty because of that echo of the voice that called us into being. It is a longing for God and for our own restoration back into our original created state.
I have found this correlation in scripture between the idea of good and that of beauty. That which God says is good is always beautiful in some form. I have for a long time been fascinated with the greek work “kalos” translated into our english word “good” in Galatians 6:9 “do not grow weary of doing good…” the word “kalos” used here caries with it the idea of “beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing, precious, useful, suitable, commendable, and admirable.”5 This not only expands my understanding of good from performance to essence, but it deepens my understanding of the value of beauty in the Kingdom of God.
Consider also what God says is good in his creation. That declaration, “it is good” after each element and creature is spoken into existence.6 This was a declaration of beauty, not only in appearance, but in essence, in meaning, in wholeness. It was good because it was not broken. And it is through the work of Christ that we can be good again, not good in a try harder, perform better sense, but good in that the essence of the thing is beautiful. We see in Ephesians 4:22-24 a profound statement of restoration, echoing God’s original declaration of his creation of man, it is a reminder to continue living out of the restoration that Christ has brought us as the Spirit empowers us to live beautifully in the truth, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (ESV). Here we have not only the picture of what beauty looks like as original and restored creation, but we also see this reminder that we are created by God. There is an emphasis of God as builder and artist. Ephesians 2:10 beseeches us as created beings to multiply this goodness and beauty and create, patterning ourselves after our creator, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (ESV).
Beauty is Love
So now we have seen that there is such a thing as imperishable beauty and this is the beauty that is found in original and restored creation, but what exactly does such a beauty look like as it is manifested into reality? Scripture gives us some clues as to that as well. Jesus tells us to worship the Father “in Spirit and in truth.”7 Paul tells us that “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”8 and if we behold God with unveiled face we will be transformed into his image.9 Surely, if true beauty has God as its source, looking at the characteristics of his spirit gives us some indication as to what his beauty looks like. Consider the fruit of the Spirit as a picture of God’s beauty, the truth of his Spirit expressed, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”10 This shows us something of imperishable beauty. And its source is God, not something we force through good intentions and a lot of effort, we manifest these attributes of beauty in our service, ministry, relationships, and artwork by worshiping God, in Spirit and in Truth. It is his love that precedes and prevails all things and it is only through his love that we have any hope of living in the restorative beauty and wonder of his truth. Consider also Paul’s explanation of what true love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
This, undoubtedly is beauty. Not a rejection of aesthetic, but something so much deeper than sound or appearance or power. At the heart of beauty whether your aim is service or storytelling, a song, a painting, or a relationship, to create a thing of beauty, to manifest the truth in our lives, we must dive deep into the love of God, to be loved and to love. This is how we become conduits of God’s truth and beauty to the world around us.
1. 1 Peter 3:4
2. 1 Peter 1:22b-25
3. Matthew 23:26
4. John Piper “Jesus is Precious Because we Yearn for Beauty”
5. Greek Strong’s Number 2570
6. Genesis 1
7. John 4:23
8. 2 Corinthians 3:17
9. 2 Corinthians 3:18
10. Galatians 5:22