Types & Tropes: more reflections on beauty, truth, and evil in human creativity

See also my blog essay, “The Beauty of the Lord.”

The poet W.H. Auden identified several dilemmas the modern world-ethos has created for us and the contemporary artist, summarized as follows:[1] 

  • The loss of belief in the endurance of the physical universe. The artist has no confidence that what he makes will endure.
  • The loss of belief in the significance and reality of sensory phenomena. The artist has no confidence in the nature of the world and can be true only to subjective sensations and feelings.
  • The loss of belief in the norm of human nature which will always require the same kind of man-fabricated (tradition) world to be at home in. The artist has no assurance that the next generation will comprehend or understand his work.

As generalized as these trends may seem, we can summarize the impact of these losses with two key thoughts generally accepted in our time:

  • Types are truths that are found, but since there are no universals there are no types to be found.
  • Tropes are truths that are made, and since there are no types the artist must create tropes[2]

There has been a dramatic shift from seeking types as truths as found (and thus transcendent), seeing significance in nature as signs (of God), or as signifying meaning (types), to having the burden of making meaning from within, and without reference to universals or transcendent truths. Meaning then becomes about tropes, or particular instances of a property that have no universal or typological relation to other instances or properties.

In the realm of scientific inquiry into the nature of the universe, this shift was escalated by Charles Darwin’s hypothesis about nature that led to a divorce of the human spirit and nature (and of course, God, and the idea of God, from all of nature). In this divorce, nature and its beauties (and signifying qualities) become nothing, but out of which each artist must vainly struggle to make one’s own truths. There is no design to be found in the universe, because there is no intelligence behind it. In his autobiography, the sad fruit of such ideas is seen in Darwin’s despair at no longer even enjoying music and art:

“I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did.”

. . . The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature. [3]

There becomes no means for the artist anymore to “strain out” the truth from a knowable external reality, but must create it from the “carnival of random beauty in senseless motion.”[4] In this shift, it meant a seeming loss of any God behind the world of creation, and a silence so deafening that the world qua world had nothing more intrinsically to say.

We can add that Sigmund Freud accentuated this silencing of creation, as well, with his internalization of the process of actualization and realization of what it means to be a person in relation to the world, and especially with the notion that, at best, God (and such concepts) is but a projection of the mind of the human person.

“How are we to believe in anything if we consider truth to be something that has been created entirely by our desire to believe rather than something that has been discovered through our capacity to learn and receive?”[5]

Beauty in such a world is whatever the eye says it is. Beauty, as such, is strictly “in the eye of the beholder,” that is, along with the concept of “truth,” just tropes to be created not discovered.

In the realm of economics and philosophy, Karl Marx also escalated the shift from an objectifiable understanding of the world in his desperate effort to discredit all critiques of his (delusional) economic ideas. As Von Mises put it, Marx severely attacked reason and logic in claiming that “There is no such thing as a universally valid logic. What mind produces can never be anything but ‘ideology,’ that is, in the Marxian terminology, a set of ideas disguising the selfish interests of the thinker’s own social class.”[6] This revolt against reason was a sleight-of-hand, that while attempting to undercut all evaluation and criticism of his radical ideas, it ironically undermined his own economic theories about class in relation to his elevation of the supposedly superior ‘bourgeois’ mind versus the ‘proletarian’ mind. Beauty in his universe thus became only what he envisioned was suitable to advance his utopian vision of a remade society, created largely through violence and the destruction of the old order of civilization.

Perhaps it can be to the credit (or discredit) of Friedrich Nietzsche who famously had one of his characters, as a madman, declare that God [or the idea of God] is entirely dead, and that we are the ones who have killed him, that he thus pushed the logic of atheism to the greatest extreme thought possible. As Os Guinness summed it up, “If God is dead and ‘no new god lies as yet in the cradle and swaddling clothed,’ there is no alternative except to face the nihilism and then from the ashes of former values and ideals to exercise the will to power which creates overman.”[7]

For Nietzsche, beauty was no longer just a surrogate for belief, as in many others, but “simply one more product of the will to power. . .”[8] To him the virtues considered beautiful in Christianity, as weakness and humility, are the greatest misfortune humanity has ever seen. The truth for Nietzsche must become the will to power, not meekness or weakness (which is an evil), and the will to power is one of pride and strength, to be noble and outstanding and splendid as the entirely self-sufficient god-like “Overman.” Nevertheless, with this idea he peculiarly seems to come full circle with claiming to have discovered truths (out of his nihilism) not just invented them, albeit they are his truths to replace all Christian truths but objectifiable ones all the same. Despite his efforts to put forward art as a kind of new religious transformation brought about by this will to power, the question remains whether art as traditionally envisioned is still even possible in Nietzsche’s view of the universe. Indeed, since his vision anticipates a violence against the universe by the self-satisfied and superior new man he hopes to create, it would seem he creates only in order to destroy. His new Dionysus becomes the human god of madness and religious ecstasy, who must embody the uninhibited “will to power” as the only means of overcoming the nihilism of his “God is dead.” Humanity must become its own god of brute independence and will to power to overcome the God of humility and love found in the Judeo-Christian faith of the Bible. In this case, we must conclude that evil becomes good, and what has been characterized as beautiful in Judeo-Christian tradition is now seen as the ugly, and even as evil. Has not this honest and logically consistent philosopher upended all hope of ever discovering what is good, true, and beautiful in God’s universe? If he has not actually succeeded in anything so radical as that, then can we still consider the questions of what is beautiful, true, and good? Ugly and evil? And, can we consider them in our creative works? See “The Beauty of the Lord.”

[1] W.H. Auden, “The Poet & the City,” in The Dyers Hand and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books), 1968, pp. 78-80.

[2] Roger Lundin discusses the background to this modern development of literary romanticism and idealism that shifted the creative focus from the types of transcendent reality to the tropes born of the powers of the “imaginative self” and creative human mind (“The Beauty of Belief,” in Treier, Daniel J. Mark Husbands, Roger Lundin. Editors. The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press], 2007, pp. 199-202).

[3] Charles Darwin, from his Autobiopgraphy, p. 26 from http://charles-darwin.classic-literature.co.uk/the-autobiography-of-charles-darwin/ebook-page-26.asp

[4] Lundin, “The Beauty of Belief,” p. 199.

[5] Lundin, “The Beauty of Belief,” p. 201.

[6] Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: a Treatise on Economics (San Francisco: Fox and Wilkes in cooperation with The Foundation for Economic Education, 1963), p. 74. This is the problem with all theories that relativize human efforts to find and objectify types and truth; that is, they also relativize themselves: “Marxian polylogism asserts that the logical structure of the mind is different with the members of various social classes. Racial polylogism differs from Marxian polylogism only in so far as it ascribes to each race a peculiar logical structure of mind and maintains that all members of a definite race, no matter what their class affiliation may be, are endowed with this peculiar logical structure” (ibid, p. 75). In reality, these subjectivizing notions have never, and can never, be established, since they are indeed self-refuting. If it is true that classes and races display different logical structures of mind, then all efforts to engage in a “disinterested search for truth” or “beauty” are disqualified, including the Marxian conclusions that there are such polylogisms!

[7] Os Guinness, The Dust of Death: A Critique of the Establishment and the Counter Culture – and a Proposal for a Third Way (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press), 1973, p. 23.

[8] Lundin, Beauty of Belief, p. 202.

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Can we disagree [on doctrine] and still be friends?

Stephen T. Hague, February 2019 (pdf file here: Can we still be friends and disagree on doctrine by Stephen Hague)

Simeon_Stylites_stepping_down

Two pole sitters in proximity

A more erudite sounding title could be, “Why we do not elevate tertiary interpretive matters to the level of fundamentals or foundational doctrines.” But, my son tells me the present title is much better! The question is, how do we find certitude on one hand, and allow for differences and even freedom in what we believe and affirm, on the other hand? In order to consider this question, I attempt to define a few important related terms (fundamental, interpretation, heresy) and to make some distinctions. Some folks answer the question using the helpful analogy of red-light (fundamentals, primary), yellow-light (interpretations, secondary), green-light (unclear and uncertain, tertiary), from which I will borrow.

[left: two monkish pole-sitters arguing theology from a distance]

 

What is a fundamental?

Fundamentals are the primary doctrinal lines below which one cannot rightly claim to know the fundamental truths of the gospel, or the red lights we cannot pass through. Considering the confusion surrounding the term fundamentalism, it is perhaps better to use the term foundational. When we say foundational to the gospel, it means that which is a true test of orthodoxy, and necessary to claim a saving knowledge of God in Christ. In other words, to deny them would place one outside the circle of biblical orthodoxy. A sure test of whether something should be considered foundational, is to ask whether denying a particular truth could mean a repudiation of the whole system of Christian doctrine, or of other foundational truths.[1] In this sense, the foundations of the gospel of Christ are non-negotiable, absolutes, essential to that gospel. All-the-same, we must recognize that even these have not always been agreed upon universally. That is, we must also affirm that foundational truths are themselves the result of interpreting Scripture, but that the large consensus of the church and its historical creeds are in agreement with them. That is, we would make a distinction here with what might be called “disputable interpretations” (discussed below under “What is and interpretation?).

For example, it is somewhat unfortunate that the twelve volumes of The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth (written 1910-1915), have long been summarized as affirming five main (below) fundamental themes taught in Scripture, because there are many other extremely important and vital doctrines and principles discussed in these volumes and in Scripture.[2] And, there were very many subjects they addressed that are not adequately summarized in five points (similarly to what is often done to John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion)! Importantly, they were not debating millennialism, baptism, church governance, or any of the secondary or tertiary matters people so often today confuse with the fundamentals.[3] More importantly, we must also be careful that we do not equate our human and fallible summaries of the fundamentals and foundational truths as themselves “the gospel.”

Nevertheless, efforts like The Fundamentals can be a useful summary of what is understood as foundational and primary beliefs necessary to the Christian faith and, in their case, they helped solidify and unify Christians during the early part of the twentieth century so-called “Modernist-Fundamentalist conflicts.” They also serve in nearly every essay as apologetic responses to many of the issues confronting them at the time, both inside the church and outside.

A common summary of the five “fundamentals” from that era:[4]

  1. Scripture: infallibility, inerrancy and the accurate, historical nature of the Bible
  2. Creation of literal Adam and Eve
  3. Virgin birth and deity of Jesus
  4. Bodily resurrection and physical return of Jesus
  5. Substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross

In revisiting these, with hindsight, we can see that some of these were stressed in their context, in response to things they perceived were the battles of their day. For example, in as much as we affirm the virgin birth of Jesus, it seems almost quaint in 2018 by contrast with our battles that have become far more intense on the most fundamental levels (whether a man is a man or a woman a woman, or should someone be called ‘it,” “she,” “he,” “they,” or “them”!), as we struggle to respond to the dark  fruit of two hundred years of Historical Criticism. It makes one wonder if the authors of The Fundamentals could have ever imagined how far we would come in our discussions today? This is not to diminish their work, for it still holds value, but while holding tenaciously to the foundations of the gospel and the Bible, it is imperative that we attempt to address our contemporary context. The authors of the Fundamentals set a good scholarly and apologetic model for that sort of endeavor to explicate, proclaim, and apply the gospel to every new generation.

Our list of foundationally important truths would at least include these matters (somewhat along the lines of The Fundamentals): for example,

  • God’s existence and triune character
  • Jesus Christ’s humanity, deity, and perfections
  • Jesus’ substitutionary atonement
  • Jesus’ bodily resurrection, his ascension, and his yet future return
  • The necessary role of grace in salvation

Even these five points are not the sum-total of foundational truths, but certainly good examples of truths that if denied would lead to a repudiation of the whole system of Christian doctrine. Yes, we can still be friends if we disagree on the foundational and primary truths, but no we cannot fellowship in the truths of the whole gospel!

The danger is that whenever we treat anything at the level of the gospel itself, such as the tertiary/secondary interpretative matters noted previously, then we have begun to teach and preach something beyond the gospel, and gone beyond the Scripture. Graham Goldsworthy’s comments on the question of what is the gospel are so excellent; I encourage you to consider them in full here:

Almost everyone uses the word “gospel” in both a religious and a secular way. In the religious world it is used often without any real consensus as to what is meant by the term. Even when the word “gospel” is proposed as a biblically based term, there are some significant differences among, say, a Christadelphian, an evangelical, and a liberal view of gospel. Among evangelicals there are also differences in the way he word is used. It is a matter for some concern that some books and study courses on evangelism seen to assume that every Christian is absolutely clear about what the gospel is, and that what is needed most is help in the techniques of explaining the gospel to unbelievers. Experience suggests that this assumption is poorly based and that there is a great deal of confusion among believers about what the gospel is. Preachers may have a theoretical gospel and an operative gospel. Theoretically we will get into a theological mode and produce, as far as possible, a biblically based notion focusing on the person and work of Christ. But in pastoral practice it is easy to be pragmatic. Our operative gospel will be the thing that preoccupies us as the focus of our preaching and teaching. It may be a particular hobbyhorse or a denominational distinctive. Baptism, a particular view of the second coming, social action, creationism, spiritual gifts, and the like are all easily raised to the status of gospel by becoming the main focus of our preaching. This is especially deplorable when these spurious gospels are made the basis of our acceptance of other Christians.

“The gospel is the message about Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection.”[5]

What is an interpretation?

Interpretations are those conclusions we come to through the full process of biblical exegesis, employing sound hermeneutical principles. Indeed, we cannot have any of the foundational truths I have mentioned without interpretation. Even the most “obvious” truths require interpreting the words and contexts of scripture accurately. So, I am not speaking about that aspect of interpretation here, but rather those areas we would call secondary or tertiary interpretations, that place them on a scale from clear foundational and indisputable truths to those that are less clear to varying degrees. These interpretations are secondary because they may have more than one reasonable option. An interpretation of this level, and especially those that might be considered debatable (disputable), is that which can be understood as the interpretive line above which the Scriptures do not clearly go, but which can have more than one possibility in many particular cases, and which should therefore not be elevated to the level of a foundational doctrine. Therefore, we can consider them secondary; they are like the yellow lights that we pass through only very cautiously, but in doing so it does not threaten to repudiate the whole system of Christian doctrine. Therefore, they are nonessential to the integrity of the gospel.

In the case of interpretations of a secondary, yellow light, level, even here there is not always a consensus whether, or not, a particular interpretation is rather a foundational doctrine. This is where the confusion and divisions most commonly occur: when people differ on the interpretation of a particular passage, word, or teaching of Scripture, but also disagree on the level of its foundational quality, or whether it is tertiary or secondary.[6] Following the intersection-light analogy, we might add that the green light is truly tertiary, and should not factor in any discussion of foundational truths. Once again, we will not always agree on the line between secondary and tertiary, but nevertheless, our definition of foundational doctrine should guide us in determining when something is tertiary, secondary, or foundational.

As noted above, even foundational truths are derived from interpretation of Scripture. All the same, in order to distinguish the terminology, I am stressing with this term “interpretation,” in regards to the secondary and tertiary matters, the debatable nature of these that generally places them outside the consensus of the creeds of historic orthodoxy. Indeed, generally speaking, these are not treated as foundational truths in the creeds. Although this is not to say that specific (and denominational) emphases sometimes do not appear in the historic creeds, it does suggest that we should be very careful not to elevate secondary and tertiary matters to the level of primary foundational truths.

Yes, we can still be friends and maintain fellowship in the truth of the primary truths when we disagree on secondary or tertiary matters of interpretation!

What is a heresy?

Heresy, in common definition, includes beliefs and interpretations that could be shown as erroneous in light of other Scriptures and the historic creeds (as is often thought is the only meaning of heresy). All-the-same, another way heresy can be understood is the elevation of any particular interpretation or theological concept to the level of a fundamental. This would include a degree of over-emphasis that becomes a test of orthodoxy, or made into an absolute, making it necessary for a person to believe in order to be considered orthodox and a true Christian. This is especially so with secondary and tertiary interpretations, whenever they are elevated to a primary and fundamental status, when indeed they are disputable. But even foundational truths could become so emphasized that other foundational truths are eclipsed (for example, on the triunity of God, a stress on God the Son that essentially obscures, but does not deny, the Father or the Spirit might be in such a category).

Sects are particularly defined by this kind of stress on, and elevation of, particular doctrines, concepts, or interpretive viewpoints on particular texts, at the expense of the foundational truths of Scripture. But, as defined here, they may even be true concepts, or possibly true interpretations, but in their elevation to the level of foundational dogma as tests of orthodoxy, they become heretical. This is when we elevate nonessentials to the level of essential to the gospel.

It is fair to include in the non-foundational category such concerns like why God allowed evil to enter the Garden of Eden?; where did Cain find his wife?; why did Abraham lie to Pharaoh?; why did Lot choose the land to the East and Abraham the land to the west?; what did Paul mean by head “covering”;? what is the millennium in Rev 20?; the subjects, timing, and modes of baptism; suitable church attire; the frequency of the Lord’s Table; form of church governance (ecclesiology); forms of worship styles and liturgies; abstinence from alcohol; church architecture; church traditions; and many particulars of end-times eschatology. Many more things could be added to this list, of course, such as the cultural norms noted previously of length of hair, length of dresses, women and slacks, hair length, color of cars, playing cards, and yes even shoe styles![7]

Often when Christians use the term “legalism” (as a heresy) they are referring to the phenomenon of tertiary, secondary, biblical interpretations becoming tests for orthodoxy. And, this often includes non-absolute cultural traditions, sometimes called cultural norms, being elevated to the level of biblical doctrine or foundational truths (length of hair, dresses, color of cars, playing cards, etc). Of course, the more common meaning of “legalism” is any effort through our works to obtain or attain righteousness and salvific blessings of grace. Indeed, even believing certain things can wrongly (heretically) be considered a sufficient work for salvation, but that is not what we mean by a saving knowledge of God.

What is a ‘saving” knowledge of God? And what is the test for orthodoxy?

When we speak of necessary foundational truths, it is easy to inadvertently communicate the idea that believing in them itself saves us; that belief itself is what saves us. We do not proclaim that believing the foundational truths of the gospel will save, but that when God saves us by his regenerating work, sure evidence of that is that we will believe with conviction those foundational truths. We must thus be careful not to confuse believing the foundational truths of the gospel with having received the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in converting us to saving faith in Jesus (as James said, “even the demons believe,” 2:19). We must assert that just believing doctrines is not what saves us, but God saves us by regenerating our hearts/minds and accounting us as righteous in Christ. And that is why we are enabled to believe the foundational truths of the gospel, as well as use our minds and interpretive skills to enjoy the illuminating work of God’s Spirit in helping us study those matters that are not 100% clear in Scripture and come to what are reasonable, and differing conclusions. When we insist, therefore, that a particular interpretive matter that is not clearly foundational must be held as absolute dogma by all Christians in order to be considered orthodox and true believers, then I believe we have crossed that line above which Scripture does not go.

This is why it is generally accepted that certain interpretive matters not be considered foundational tests of orthodoxy, and why we acknowledge we are all as finite creatures on the path of sanctification in both character and in our level of interpretative understanding. We must charitably and humbly accept the fact that we all are unable to resolve every question the Scripture poses, and so we are unable to have certainty about everything. Even so, we do believe that we can have sufficient assurance and certainty of the foundational truths of Scripture and the gospel of Christ, as well as sufficient assurance of much else. Since there are many (especially numerous passages of Scripture) concepts and interpretations we might justly consider nonfoundational, I do not mean to suggest that we cannot grow in our assurance and convictions regarding those matters. We must only keep them in their proper place as interpretive matters, and matters of (freedom of) conscience, in which we allow for differences and for growth and change in understanding without charging one another with heterodoxy or heresy. And yes, we can still be friends and have true fellowship and cooperation in the gospel of Jesus!

To conclude, having said all of this, I do not mean to suggest that doubt and ambiguity must characterize our convictions and beliefs and understanding of all matters qualifying as interpretive and secondary or tertiary. It can be affirmed that as we study carefully the Scripture, and prayerfully ask God’s help to use the hermeneutical and exegetical tools he has given to us, that we will grow in our knowledge, understanding, and assurance. We are not to stand still, nor on the other hand are we to flounder and be “tossed about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14); we are to strive for that greater assurance and certitude, while at the same time demonstrating true charity to one another on the non-essentials, while having unity in love on the essential, foundational truths of the Scripture. As Paul goes on to say, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ (4:15). Certainly though, we must often be willing to admit our ignorance, since we cannot know nor understand everything. This is not complacent relativism either, or as some might charge that we are opening the door to treating doctrine as but a buffet from which we pick and choose at will. We are expected to believe and work towards greater belief and certitude of the whole teaching of Scripture, as we are able. We do not have freedom to treat the truths of the Scripture as just a smorgasbord from which we pick and choose what we prefer. That is, we are called “to know the certainty of the things” we have been taught as Luke expressed to his friend Theophilus (Lu 1:4; also, Jn 7:17; 8:32; 10:4-5).

Friends Painting by Andre Kohn; Friends Art Print for sale

Yes, we can still be friends when we do not agree, but we know with certainty the gospel of Jesus!

[1] To qualify this a bit, it can be said that departure from a tertiary, interpretive, disputable, or non-foundational doctrine or principle, can have far-reaching consequences in many other areas of important and foundational beliefs. For example, to propose and accept that there is a contradiction in a biblical text (as often is done), even if minor, could threaten our belief in the inspiration and infallibility of the Scripture. This is precisely why we find in the Fundamentals an emphasis on foundational, fundamental importance of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible.

[2] This term has gotten very bad press in recent years, being associated with both perceived anti-intellectualism of conservative Christians alongside the extremist violence of Moslem terrorists. Yet, the twelve-volume series called The Fundamentals were quite scholarly and carefully written by a range of scholars from very diverse backgrounds (sixty-four authors from practically every denominational viewpoint at the time).

[3] Having searched nearly all the volumes of the Fundamentals and scanned the tables of contents, as well, I could find no debates about these tertiary and divisive interpretive matters such as millennialism or baptism, etc.

[4] It is not clear who first summarized these five points, but in some lists I find mention also of the reality of the miracles recorded in the Bible and those done by Christ, but this point could be counted under #1. In several sources, it is attested that the first formulation of five points was at the 2010 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, but they did not use the word “fundamental” but called them “essentials” (see George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, p. 117). They were not considered binding on members of the Presbyterian Church, but rather considered as a general description of what Presbyterians at the time believed.

[5] Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, pp. 81-83.

[6] This relates, for example, to the ongoing debate in my denomination between those who are “strict” subscriptionists to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and those who advocate for general, or “system,” “subscription to the system of doctrine” contained in it. J.Frame makes the noteworthy point that “Scripture nowhere says that the church must be governed by human theological documents” (Systematic Theology, p. 628). He also makes the startling statement that even though confessional documents have done the church a good service in many ways, “the attempt to maintain orthodoxy in the church by confessional subscription has not, historically, achieved its goal” (ibid., p. 655).

[7] Sometimes, the notes in popular study Bibles (like Schofield’s) have become the source of absolute truth and held on par with Scripture itself. This too is an obvious danger. Even confessions of faith and creeds can become elevated to the level of inspired and authoritative revelation, even if inadvertently, and thus makes revisions nearly impossible even when deemed proper considering further study and understanding of Scripture.

Seerveld’s insights on organizations of Christians: frenetic imperialism or selfless passion?

Calvin Seerveld’s observations of the organizations created and led by Christians, he offers many sobering and astute insights. For example,

“There is nothing worse than a Christian organization that lacks the Holy Spirit’s presence. A Christian labour union without Christian dynamic, a Christian college that does not breathe the spirit of Christ in its classrooms, a church dominated by rancor, mistrust, and maneuverings, are all terrible farces, prostitutions of Christ’s name. Such so-called Christian institutions, organizations, are really whitewashed tombs hiding dead men and women within. Just because an organization is put together by Christians or has Christian in its name is no guarantee of actual holy-spirited, Christian witness and activity.”

“When the leading spirit driving an organization is one of selfless passion to show God’s presence, Christ’s blessed ruling order at work in its given social area, then that concrete, temporal human social structure is a truly Christian organization. Its sins may cry out to heaven and incompetence plague its operation, but if its living conception, dynamic, and direction is one of openly impassioned, joyful struggle to incarnate the Lord’s wisdom, then you have a human grouping moved by the biblical faith.”

See entire article here: https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/4601/the-pros-of-christian-organizations/

Calvin Seerveld
Spring 2013 Issue: Persuasion
by Calvin Seerveld
March, 2013

God is love but hates some things

It has often impressed me how the Bible uses body imagery to convey fundamental truths about God, us, and life. As, for example, in Prov 6 where we are told clearly seven things God hates. Yes, I realize it is not popular to speak of God hating, but this theme we do often find in the Bible, and are seriously deficient in our understanding of God’s character to omit it. In fact, I would say that without understanding clearly what God hates, we will not get the whole picture of God who is everlasting love, all truth, all good, all merciful, all just, all compassionate, and in whom there is nothing false. We must present the whole picture of God as he is shown to us in the Scripture; since if we loved a God who did not hate evil and injustice and lies, then it could be said we loved a God unworthy of our love. So, we can be very glad that God hates these things, since they are worth hating, and also they show us God’s character and that he is most worthy of our complete love and worship.

Seven things (not the only seven, but a scriptural device to indicate the complete seriousness of this declaration: that is, “it is true that God hates these things, listen up!”):

Prov 6: 16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19 a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

As for the body imagery, the seven things God hates are pictured as follows:

  1. Haughty eyes (all pride and arrogance)
  2. Lying tongue (any untrue words that mislead others)
  3. Violent hands (any kind of works of wickedness that bring harm to others)
  4. Devious heart (any wicked plans against others)
  5. Evil feet (anyone who runs rapidly to do evil against others)
  6. Lying tongue (untrue words that destroy people)
  7. Divisive tongue (untrue words that divide people)

Interestingly, the emphasis in this text seems to be on the harm of lying tongues; they are included here right along with violent hands and evil feet.
By inference, in this case of seven things God hates, we can deduce seven things God loves:

  1. Humility (humble hearts)
  2. Honesty (truthful speech of tongue)
  3. Righteousness (hands that work towards shalom)
  4. Goodness (hearts that strive to bless others)
  5. Holiness (feet that pursue what is good)
  6. Honesty (truthful witness of speech of tongue)
  7. Truthfulness (honest speech of tongue that brings peace)

So by stating seven negatives that show the fullness of what God hates, we can draw inferences by contrast of what he truly loves. This is not the only way (stating truths in bold negatives) the Bible teaches us these sobering, but beautiful, truths, because many times we are told directly by precept, example, and story. In sum, we are given a gospel-picture, using body imagery, of the contrast between those who are becoming sanctified in the truth (new hearts) and character of God in contrast to those who are on the path of death (hard hearts).

In a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to share with others the goodness of God, since they see so much hateful hypocrisy and dishonesty among the people who name the Christian faith, that we can be thankful that the Bible so clearly and consistently presents the goodness of God, that he hates the things that should be hated. He hates the hypocrisy and the dishonesty, and the violence done to others through slander and schemes of evil. God hates evil! Though we live in a time when people are confused about what evil is, generally speaking most people still believe there is such a thing. Therefore, we can rejoice that God has given us complete clarity on what is evil in his eyes and what is good.

The Beauty of the Lord: the good, the evil, and the ugly

“. . .  that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD.”
Ps 27:4


“From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” Ps 50:2


Contents

I. Beauty, Good, and Evil 

II. Beauty, God, and Ugliness. 

III.  Beauty and Love in Human Relations. 

IV. Beauty and Beautiful in the Bible.. 

V. Select Bibliography.

I. Beauty, Good, and Evil

How is it that beauty, one of the richest words and concepts in theology, is now so convoluted and transmorphed that it has come to mean something rather trivial? The very idea of beauty has fallen into such a confused array of notions, and especially when speaking of God and beauty, that it may be nearly impossible to reflect on it meaningfully, so please bear with me as I give it a meager effort.

We have come into a time when many people refuse to own any faith in God, especially the God of the Bible because he is so much in need of a moral defense in the popular imagination. Against the moral high-ground of those who sincerely think of themselves more highly than God, they accuse him of gross immorality and injustice for creating such a world as this, or at least one in which evil is possible. Not that the problem of evil is an easy one, nor that we gloss over it, but we live in a time when many people have been persuaded that God, if there is one, cannot be good, at best, and may even be evil (even though they in the same breath do not want to define evil for fear of judging). This being the situation, how then can we speak of God’s beauty? How are we even to define beauty itself? Is it at all possible?

Consider the kinds of buildings and architectural aesthetic wasteland of many places in the world, and in the USA. The American urban aesthetic has created such an extraordinary blight of ugliness that one must marvel at the seeming incomprehension or concern of the American consumer. We live near such an area, one we must drive through to get to our cloistered neighborhood. It is a well-serviced compilation of random businesses and “strip malls” of which consumers seem to be oblivious to its visual blight, since it has absolutely no aesthetically redeeming virtues and yet people keep shopping. It may be convenience that matters more than appeal, and perhaps the idea that the janky looking and kitschy places have the better prices. Since those fancy highfalutin places are always more expensive, we assume they must charge more for all those unnecessary trappings. In consequence, the visual oppression we fund is real, and is a kind of aesthetic abuse on our sensibility and sensitivity to architectural beauty and that of our environments. The word desensitized may be quite inadequate here; we come to submit to the bland vision of the corporations or business owners whose least concern is to create humane aesthetic environments for us beleaguered consumers.

Our aesthetic ignorance may be forgivable, since surely we all need educating in this area, and have plenty of room for growth. I know well. Yet, unwillingness to evaluate the cultural environments and landscapes that we have created, and refusal to envision a world of greater beauty than the ones we have created, is really not excusable when we consider the glory God reveals through his world and how we were created to reflect his glory, as the “crown” (Ps 8) of his creation. We the created were created to be creative with what he has given us to that end. How is it that we who have tasted of the overwhelming good bounty of God’s glorious presence and his creative extravagance beyond all measure, that far surpasses our human comprehension, so often have such tawdry gratitude and kitschy responses?

“ . . . to attune one’s aesthetic sensibility is ipso facto to attune one’s moral sensibility. Otherwise put, to improve one’s ability to make aesthetic judgments is to improve one’s ability to make moral judgments.”[1]

Consider for a moment the idea that a good God could not create this world we know. We must ask, how do we speak of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, without something to give us a backdrop for definitions of these concepts? Against what do we paint a picture of evil, by contrast, to understand precisely what evil is. What makes something evil by definition? What makes something immoral or ugly in our eyes, and to our judgment? Could such categories exist alone without antonyms whereby we have a context in which to find defining contrasts? Can we understand what the bad is without knowing the good, the counterfeit from the original? Can we ask that if there is no good God, no gloriously beautiful God who is morally perfect, could there be any such categories as evil and ugly and immoral? Would not all things be counted equal and beyond assessing? Is this not where we have been headed as a society that finds it increasingly difficult to pass judgment, even on what would have in the past been considered a great evil (e.g., the Nazi genocide of the Jews)? Judgments are considered passé old-fashioned morality, and so we are left with personal preferences, likes and dislikes at best, so that my good can be your evil, and your beautiful can be to me quite ugly, even reprehensible. This is not just fear of being judgmental, this is a complete loss of a context to define such categories. How can one even consider the question of whether there is a God who is good or evil? We may be left only with the unanswerable question, “Is there a God?” But could we ever truly ask whether God could be good or evil, beautiful or ugly, since we would have no test to judge such categories except personal taste or preference. In other words, when the source of our ethical and aesthetic evaluation is purely subjective, as rooted in each individual, and not in any objectively universalizable criteria based on absolute categories, then we will be left with no criteria or standard by which to even discuss whether something is good or evil, beautiful or ugly.

The poet W.H. Auden identified several dilemmas the modern world-ethos has created for us and the contemporary artist, summarized as follows:[2]

  • The loss of belief in the endurance of the physical universe. The artist has no confidence that what he makes will endure.
  • The loss of belief in the significance and reality of sensory phenomena. The artist has no confidence in the nature of the world and can be true only to subjective sensations and feelings.
  • The loss of belief in the norm of human nature which will always require the same kind of man-fabricated (tradition) world to be at home in. The artist has no assurance that the next generation will comprehend or understand his work.

As generalized as these trends may seem, we can summarize the impact of these losses with two key thoughts generally accepted in our time:

  • Types are truths that are found, but since there are no universals there are no types to be found.
  • Tropes are truths that are made, and since there are no types the artist must create tropes[3]

There has been a dramatic shift from seeking types as truths as found (and thus transcendent), seeing significance in nature as signs (of God), or as signifying meaning (types), to having the burden of making meaning from within, and without reference to universals or transcendent truths. Meaning then becomes about tropes, or particular instances of a property that have no universal or typological relation to other instances or properties.

In the realm of scientific inquiry into the nature of the universe, this shift was escalated by Charles Darwin’s hypothesis about nature that led to a divorce of the human spirit and nature (and of course, God, and the idea of God, from all of nature). In this divorce, nature and its beauties (and signifying qualities) become nothing, but out of which each artist must vainly struggle to make one’s own truths. There is no design to be found in the universe, because there is no intelligence behind it. In his autobiography, the fruit of such ideas is seen in Darwin’s despair at no longer even enjoying music and art:

“I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did.

. . . The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.” [4]

There becomes no means for the artist anymore to “strain out” the truth from a knowable external reality, but must create it from the “carnival of random beauty in senseless motion.”[5] In this shift, it meant a seeming loss of any God behind the world of creation, and a silence so deafening that the world qua world had nothing more intrinsically to say.

We can add that Sigmund Freud accentuated this silencing of creation, as well, with his internalization of the process of actualization and realization of what it means to be a person in relation to the world, and especially with the notion that, at best, God (and such concepts) is but a projection of the mind of the human person.

“How are we to believe in anything if we consider truth to be something that has been created entirely by our desire to believe rather than something that has been discovered through our capacity to learn and receive?”[6]

Beauty in such a world is whatever the eye says it is. Beauty, as such, is strictly “in the eye of the beholder,” that is, along with the concept of “truth,” just tropes to be created not discovered.

In the realm of economics and philosophy, Karl Marx also escalated the shift from an objectifiable understanding of the world in his desperate effort to discredit all critiques of his (delusional) economic ideas. As Von Mises put it, Marx severely attacked reason and logic in claiming that “There is no such thing as a universally valid logic. What mind produces can never be anything but ‘ideology,’ that is, in the Marxian terminology, a set of ideas disguising the selfish interests of the thinker’s own social class.”[7] This revolt against reason was a sleight-of-hand, that while attempting to undercut all evaluation and criticism of his radical ideas, it ironically undermined his own economic theories about class in relation to his elevation of the supposedly superior ‘bourgeois’ mind versus the ‘proletarian’ mind. Beauty in his universe thus became only what he envisioned was suitable to advance his utopian vision of a remade society, created largely through violence and the destruction of the old order of civilization.

Perhaps it can be to the credit (or discredit) of Friedrich Nietzsche who famously had one of his characters, as a madman, declare that God [or the idea of God] is entirely dead, and that we are the ones who have killed him, that he thus pushed the logic of atheism to the greatest extreme thought possible. As Os Guinness summed it up, “If God is dead and ‘no new god lies as yet in the cradle and swaddling clothed,’ there is no alternative except to face the nihilism and then from the ashes of former values and ideals to exercise the will to power which creates overman.”[8]

For Nietzsche, beauty was no longer just a surrogate for belief, as in many others, but “simply one more product of the will to power. . .”[9] To him the virtues considered beautiful in Christianity, as weakness and humility, are the greatest misfortune humanity has ever seen. The truth for Nietzsche must become the will to power, not meekness or weakness (which is an evil), and that will to power is one of pride and strength, to be noble and outstanding and splendid as the entirely self-sufficient god-like “Overman.” Nevertheless, with this idea he peculiarly seems to come full circle with claiming to have discovered truths (out of his nihilism) not just invented them, albeit they are his truths to replace all Christian truths but objectifiable ones all the same. Despite his efforts to put forward art as a kind of new religious transformation brought about by this will to power, the question remains whether art as traditionally envisioned is still even possible in Nietzsche’s view of the universe. Indeed, since his vision anticipates a violence against the universe by the self-satisfied and superior new man he hopes to create, it would seem he creates only in order to destroy. His new Dionysus becomes the human god of madness and religious ecstasy, who must embody the uninhibited “will to power” as the only means of overcoming the nihilism of his “God is dead.” Humanity must become its own god of brute independence and will to power to overcome the God of humility and love found in the Judeo-Christian faith of the Bible. In this case, we must conclude that evil becomes good, and what has been characterized as beautiful in Judeo-Christian tradition is now seen as the ugly, and even as evil. Has not this honest and logically consistent philosopher upended all hope of ever discovering what is good, true, and beautiful in God’s universe? If he has not actually succeeded in anything so radical as that, then can we still consider the questions of what is beautiful, true, and good? Ugly and evil? And, can we consider them in our creative works?

Nevertheless, can we define anything apart from that which constitutes it, apart from its source and origin? If God alone is the source of life, truth, love, and beauty, then he is of necessity the sole criteria for defining those same things. Yet, if God is not the sole originator and source of all things, then there are absolutely no criteria available to give us definitions of anything. Surely, we can discuss water without knowing which river or spring it flows from, but can we break it down into its respective truths of how it came to be, that it is rather than that it is not, who made it, how does it hold together integrally, how is it to be understood in relation to all other things, how all things are somehow contingent and dependent on it as the necessary substance for life to exist? The same can be asked of all air, matter, every molecule and atom and component in our space-time universe. That it is, that is the big question. That is the question. To be or not to be is not the question. Rather, that we are, that is the question. “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is a beautiful question. That we are is a true statement, and that is what makes it beautiful. Unless, of course, if we intend to deny that we are, as the flat-earthers deny our round globe, we will be kin to the conspiracy folks who would have us believe that this life is but a chimera, an illusion, a charade, that really is not. That this life is but a slight-of-hand or trick of aliens, or that we are but a dream, and of course the moon-landing was staged by the U.S. government. Then, perhaps I am not writing this sentence, that everything including me, my pen (keyboard actually), are not. They do not exist. Ugliness, in this case, would be most fully epitomized, for such a view requires belief in absolute absurdity, illogic, a total denial, a nihilist belief in nothing, or nothingness. Such a self-refuting notion is ugly because it requires something – or someone – to affirm nothing, and that this is all that is! It is ugly since it asks us to deny what is, to affirm it to be nothing. But to be is something, and one who is cannot not be, and thus cannot deny one’s existence, nor affirm nothing, while at the same time existing.

Beauty must be a good to be something worthy of our consideration. Indeed, we must begin with an agreement that in the very least there must be categories of good and evil, regardless of whether we agree on what is good or evil, right or wrong, true or false, beautiful or ugly. Otherwise, we cannot ever say anything at all about God, the universe, creation, or humanity in relation to our definitions of those categories. This is not to say we can agree on those definitions, but without agreement that there are such things, then we cannot even have a discussion or a real thought about them. This is to say, that we must agree that if A cannot be non-A (the law of non-contradiction), we cannot say that A is non-A without absolutely refuting oneself. That is, if there is no “law of non-contradiction,” if nothing true and good can be said about anything, then there is an end to all discourse, discovery, discernment, and differentiation of the good, the true, and the beautiful. The result of nihilistic denials of differentiation, as in the law of non-contradiction, is exemplified in concepts like those found in the movie, “The Purge,” in which all bets are off and everyone can do as they like for one day without any moral or legal ramifications. Ironically, and bitterly, is the idea that to vent all violence and hateful aggression in people’s hearts will push the crime rate lower in the following year, since all that immorality and evil violence will be vented. Yet, immorality and evil vented without check will not produce non-violence nor shalom; violence does not beget non-violence, nor does evil beget the good and the beautiful. Beauty cannot originate in the ugliness of deceit or hatred or evil and violence. Beauty is found in God alone, its originator, the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful. That means we do have a context to determine what is good, true, and beautiful, and by contrast identify and define their contraries.

II. Beauty, God, and Ugliness

When discussing aesthetics, and questions of the good, the beautiful and the true, we must have a coherent theology of the beauty of the Lord our God. A theology of beauty must logically begin with the beauty of God. Yet, the beauty of God is beyond our measuring and depicting in words. Even so, his glory is manifested in what he has made, and it gives us glimpses of his infinite and gloriously beautiful person. God’s glory revealed in his creatures and creation speaks of his magnificence, and as all human words it falls short of fully capturing our meaning. This is a subject not often addressed, because we rightly shy away from any pictorial presentations of God in his essence. Indeed, the latter would be impossible. We can, nevertheless, find considerable scriptural warrant for seeking to know the glory of the Lord revealed, which is the magnificence of his essence manifested in his creation revealed to the ancient prophets.

But what is glory?

  • God’s glory glory could be said to be the [holy-separate] sinless perfections (magnificence) of God’s essential being that consists of all his perfect attributes.

And, what is holiness?

  • God’s holiness holiness can be considered as the [holy-separate]sinless perfections (purity) of the attributes of God’s glory (his essential being). Yet, this should not be taken to suggest any separation of God’s attributes from his essence.

Defined in this way, we can conclude that glory and holiness are most beautiful, since they denote God as gloriously and perfectly good in every possible sense, and therefore God is inexhaustibly beautiful in all of his perfections.[10] The tautology is a deduction, from

  • If there is a Creator God who is infinite and eternal, who is all glorious in his being and holy in all his perfections,
  • then this God must be beautiful beyond all measure and imagining (though we are not speaking of physical attributes, even so, if we were to behold God in his glory we could never see anything more beautiful).[11]

The conclusion to this sentiment is,

  • therefore, truth is one example of what is beautiful, since God in his perfections is true and therefore all that he creates reflects the truth. All the same, beauty is not the truth (they are not to be equated,[12] even though we can say that the truth is beautiful, and that the beautiful is beautiful because it truthfully reflects and reveals the glorious and infinitely beauteous Creator);
  • therefore also, integrity is beautiful: honesty, faithfulness, truthfulness, kindness, compassion/love, righteousness, holiness, generosity, and yes creativity, and all the virtues are beautiful when they truthfully reflect the Creator God;
  • and therefore the beauty of the Lord correlates with the holiness of the Lord, his excellences and loveliness:

“His goodness renders him beautiful, and his beauty renders him lovely; both are linked together (Zech 9:17): ‘How great is his goodness! And how great is his beauty!’”[13]

“For as God is infinitely the greatest Being, so he is allowed to be infinitely the most beautiful and excellent; and all the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fulness of brightness and glory.”[14]

“. . . God is beautiful in the eternal reality of his triune being, and God is beautiful in the unique reality of his incarnate being.”[15]

 But what is evil and ugliness?

Since God is perfect in all of his glorious being and sinless attributes, then departure from such a person, in rejection of his beautiful integrity and truthfulness, will lead to characteristics unlike his perfections. As I heard someone astutely say, to become unlike God leads us to dislike God. The consequence of human sin (Gen 3) brought harm to the harmony of creation, and in large part because it was a rejection of integral truth for a belief in lies. Therefore, this loss of harmony and unity is ugly because it produces discord, disharmony, and terrible brokenness. This brokenness includes the moral, spiritual, and the physical. Brokenness in our relation to God the Creator, in our relations to other humans and to the creation. Brokenness, especially within ourselves, characterizes all humans who are born in imperfection. I have yet to meet a person who claims to be without imperfections, though there are plenty of people who will quibble over words like sin, and who do not want to consider themselves sinners. Sin suggests guilt against someone, and for those who deny God they do not want to be accountable to someone they do not believe in. All-the-same, regardless of what words we use, we are a broken and wounded people, each of us, and have broken and wounded others and this creation in untold ways. As sinners, we are a “glorious ruin” (Francis Schaeffer’s term). That is, we are beautiful, but a wounded and broken beauty.[16] This I hope we can all agree is an example of what is ugly, as well as the following:

  • Deceit is ugly because it is untruth that misleads.
  • Bribes are ugly because they are dishonest and distort the truth.
  • Fraud is ugly because it deceptively takes from others what is undeserved.
  • False credentials are ugly because they claim credit for oneself that is unearned.
  • Slander is ugly because it untruthfully does real unjust harm to others who are innocent.
  • Theft is ugly because it falsely takes gain without honest labor and thus lacks honor.
  • Hate is ugly because it rejects the fundamental character of God who is love.
  • Evil is ugly because it inverts the beauteous integrity of God who is perfect in glory and holiness.

I hope we can agree on these evils as truly lacking in beauty, are false and ugly, whether or not you acknowledge God at all, and even if you deny that he is the originator of all truth, goodness, and beauty. All-the-same, without an infinite and all-creative God who is glorious and perfectly beautiful in all attributes and characteristics, and who is the backdrop that enables us to have true definitions, then there is no real context to differentiate beauty and ugliness, good and evil, right and wrong, as reflected in human words, thoughts, and actions[17].

True beauty is honorable, faithful, truthful, and just, since what is good in God’s estimation is beautiful. All of the vices of sin create discord and disrespect for God, others, and the creation. It is thus dishonorable to treat God, others, and the creation untruthfully. That is, to live according to what is false is to live an ugly life, one unchecked by the holiness and beauty of the Lord. Contrarily, when anyone or anything reflects God’s glory in integrity, there is a revelation of God’s beauty. In this way, truth, beauty, and goodness can never be separated.

“Alongside its partners, goodness and truth, beauty is a signpost of God’s glory and, rightly perceived, this glory is so great that neither the brokenness of this world nor our false piety can block its rays from bursting forth.”[18]

“The beauty of our lives is so important to Christ that his purpose now is to sanctify the entire church ‘that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish’ (Eph 5:27). Thus, we individually and corporately reflect God’s beauty in every way in which we exhibit his character. When we reflect his character, he delights in us and finds us beautiful in his sight.”[19]

“We are most human when love is our motive. It is the same with creativity. God created us through the universe’s most creative and intimate act. We are the result of the creative act of a creative God. He designed us in his own image; he designed us with both intellect and imagination; he designed us with both reason and passion; he designed us to dream, to risk, and to create.”[20]

The creation itself is mostly beautiful, and often beyond comprehension and adequate words to describe and discuss it. Humans and animate and inanimate creation reveal the glory of God and thus convey his beauty. We all have a memory of sorts, as in most all world-mythologies and religions, as if we long for something that was good, and beautiful, and desirable – so good – but now out of reach, that we may mistake the memory for the reality, as C.S. Lewis states it:

“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.” [21]

Most people frequently marvel at the beauty of the world, and often so much so that they even come to revere and worship it as god in various ways. Nevertheless, the broken world of creation is a fickle god, and it does not leave the worshipper satisfied, since indeed many things in the creation can destroy the worshipper. Since earthly beauty is temporary, a fading flower (Isa 28:1; 40:6-8), it cannot possibly be an ultimate reference point, nor the source of our integration. For example, Ezekiel condemns those in Jerusalem who trusted in their beauty and renown (Ezek 16). Certainly no finite creature can find an infinite reference point of integration and integrity in what is finite. Further brokenness is the only possible fruit of something finite seeking its integration in what is finite. Only God who is infinite is perfectly suitable for us as finite creatures to find our integration. And this is why it is another example of ugliness when broken people make broken things (that might even appear beautiful) out of a broken creation and bow down to worship them, and especially so when they make broken idols that mostly resemble the worshippers themselves. This is to live according to something altogether false, and lacking in integrity, and this is why it is not beautiful but a great evil. This kind of loss of integrity is an evil that is ugly, and when the worshipper becomes increasingly like the ugly finite thing being worshipped, and beauty and integrity are altogether lost.

We have not yet addressed the fact that perhaps beauty is not the best word here in this discussion, for it has had feminine connotations in English, as well as stress on strictly physical and external features (“handsome” has been used historically for males). Beauty is not a matter of appearance, as in petty surface aspects (especially not something like “pretty”). Rather, the idea as rooted in the Creator is of infinite grandeur, incomparable magnificence, intrinsic nobility, everlasting splendor, resplendent beyond measure, and boundless munificence of perfections. We must be careful in such a definition (of beauty in this world) not to fall into the classical notions of beauty that are represented in idealized forms absent of any indications of decay or death or the fall. In this Neo-Platonic idea of Ideal Forms, and in Aristotle’s notion of beauty as forms that are embodied in the physical world in proportion and harmony, the objective is to represent the transcendent perfections, not the brokenness of the world.[22] All-the-same, in a biblical presentation of beauty, that beauty is both internal and external. And where the internal reflects the integrity of God and the external is a faithful representation of that integrity, there must also be brokenness presented because a truthful representation can only be properly beautiful when it is truthful. A beautiful picture, as a beautiful story, should encompass the full range of human experience, the joy and sorrow, suffering and pain, and even ugliness, can be truthfully and thus beautifully presented in works of art. Such presentations are not beautiful because they show the brokenness for the sake of showing brokenness,[23] but in order to convey the deep meaningfulness of life and the struggle to be human and to live integrally in a world filled with exquisite delights often accompanied by great griefs and loss and failure.

“All forms of beauty touch our desire for wholeness, yet a broken beauty offers something different. A broken beauty is not only true to the human condition, but it can embody the essence of the gospel of redemption, or at very least, manifest its fruits.”[24]

The story of beauty is that of God sovereignly bringing redemption to his broken people and world, and the stories of redemption are not just all perfection of form and order, but rather a seemingly haphazard path of going from darkness into light, from damnation to deliverance. Thus beauty is shown because of the transfiguration of the deformed character and lives of broken people. This may also explain why at the very heart of all human life, stories, cultures, and religions is a deep memory of something lost that is only matched in intensity by a pervasive longing for the beautiful and redemption; and even when that longing is utterly distorted by our brokenness, since this especially reflects a residual sliver of hope to find that beauty in redemption, deliverance, the good and true winning despite all odds. Beauty in this sense must include this vital element of hope, true hope, in the eventual restoration of God’s creation. Our longing for beauty is both retrospective, yearning to return to Eden, but in terms of redemption it is mostly prospective, looking in faith to the day of our restoration. We do not seek a lost Paradise but await the coming Paradise of God in a renewed creation. As Wolters states it, “We must choose restoration rather than repristination.[25]

“. . . a broken beauty can be a redemptive beauty, which acknowledges suffering while preserving hope.”[26]

Without hope, the story of a disfigured world of broken and misaligned people would be one of nihilism. There is no beauty in nihilism, because there is no truth in that rendition of the story. If the evil wins in the end, if wicked character is not transformed into a righteous one, and love fails to conquer hatred, if the liar never repents to tell the truth, then the story only ends in an ugly tragedy. Thankfully, this is not the final or true story of reality, even if it is the story of some in the larger story. The whole story is the one we tell of the gospel: God sovereignly purposes in creating and redeeming his creation, and it is uniquely and inexpressibly beautiful. As Paul declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom 10:15). In response, we must worship and praise God that the whole story is one of a divinely orchestrated romance of redemption that ends with a great Wedding Feast of rejoicing at having finally by his great mercy and grace become a people that reflect God’s glorious and beauteous integrity in Christ. Because all creation is in God’s presence, we must see that truth, beauty, and goodness can never be separated within creation or in the process of redemption. Beauty and virtue, becoming good and walking in truth is the essence of truly restored integrity, with the image of God fully regenerated, and is requisite to dwell in his everlasting holy and glorious presence in the new creation. In all of this, our aesthetic response is part of our praise, for we delight to create and to enjoy creation as included fully in the redemptive work of God; we also can take immense joy in the aesthetic creations of others, since all things reveal the glory of God himself!

“Now if God is most beautiful and in fact the well-spring of all other beauty, then any beautiful objects we apprehend in nature or among the arts are just so many reminders of God. In this way, then, aesthetic experiences of all kinds will improve one’s knowledge of God and thus are a direct boon to one’s epistemic well-being.”[27]

III. Beauty and Love in Human Relations

But what is love? God is love, but love is not God. Many films today seem to treat romantic love as God, as that which completes and fills up and completes both the lover and beloved; they also show the search for romantic love as the highest religious-like experience one could hope for. Yes, romantic love is beautiful, since love itself is rooted in the character of God and characterizes everything about God, but such love is no more able to sufficiently supplant, or replace, God himself than any of his other gifts and virtues he shares with us. To remove the giver of love, the giver of virtue, the giver of shalom, from his gifts is to remove the river from the spring. Without the love of God, all romantic love is like a kind of theft that never satisfies: stolen fruit is sweet, but . . .

Prov 20:17 Food [bread] gained by fraud tastes sweet,
but one ends up with a mouth full of gravel.

Prov 9:17 Stolen water is sweet;
food eaten in secret is delicious!
18 But little do they know that the dead are there,
that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.

Francis Schaeffer often made the point in his works that the word love has so lost any clear meaning today, that he felt it necessary to qualify it as beauty in human relations. That is, beautiful human relations can only be called loving if they exhibit the virtues of true relational beauty. It is not enough to claim love and truth, but lack the reality of either. “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful[trustworthy] man who can find?” (Prov 20:6). After Schaffer witnessed real ugliness in the relations of his associates during a stage of his life when he was involved in a painful and costly seminary and denominational conflict, he went through a deep soul-searching experience, pacing many weeks in the loft of a Swiss chalet, and walking in the Alps, trying to determine if what he believed was real. If people professing faith and claiming to know the truth could be so mean and unkind and ugly in their relationships, in how they treated one another, he could not make sense of what he believed. He could not understand how people who have the beautiful gospel of Jesus could be so harsh and unloving towards one another, untruthful, and more grasping at power and prestige than at honoring Christ with beauty of character. Thankfully, he came out on the other side of his dark night, and the great ministry of Labrí was born on that same mountain. In sum, beauty, truth, and goodness can never be separated in God’s order, and especially in his works of redemption in us and his creation.

  • To have the truth without love is as unworthy, and ugly, as having love without the truth.
  • To have a truly beautiful witness of the glory of God in Christ, our love for one another (in our beautiful relations) is our most crucial testimony to the truth we claim to love.

IV. Beauty and Beautiful in the Bible

Select biblical words for beauty or related to beauty:

Old Testament

  • צִבְאוֹת beauty, ornament, decoration, glory, splendor
  • מַרְאֶה: seeing, appearance of a person (what he looks like)
  • נֹעַם: kindness )of God( Ps 27:4; 90:17; kindly ways, words.
  • יְָפִי: י֫וֹפִּי, יְפִי, sf. יָפְיַֽךָ, יָפְיוֹ: beauty
  • צְבִי: צֶֽבִי; cs. צִבְאוֹת: ornament, glory

New Testament

  • δόξαν (Exo 28:40) brightness, radiance, splendor Lk 9:31f; Ac 22:11; 1 Cor 15:40f. Glory, majesty
  • καλός, ή, όν beautiful Lk 21:5. Good, useful, free from defects, fine Mt 7:17ff; 13:8, 23, 48; Mk 4:8, 20; Lk 14:34; J 2:10. Morally good, noble, praiseworthy
  • τρυφή, ῆς, ἡ indulgence, reveling 2 Pt 2:13. Luxury, splendor Lk 7:25
  • στέφανος δόξης (Lam 2:15) crown of glory
  • εὐπρέπεια ας, ἡ beauty Js 1:11

 Select biblical texts for beauty/beautiful and related motifs

Ps 27:4 One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD (connotes delightfulness, pleasantness)
and to seek him in his temple.

Ps 50:2 From Zion, perfect in beauty (yipèoy), God shines forth. (cf. hpy – 3636, note that God himself is not connected with this root in the OT)

Ps 71:8 My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long.

Isa 60:7 All the flocks of Kedar will be gathered together to you, The rams of Nebaioth will minister to you; They will go up with acceptance on My altar, And I shall glorify My glorious house.

Isa 63:12 Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, Who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name, (Isa 63:12 NAS)

Isa 63:14 As the cattle which go down into the valley, The Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So didst Thou lead Thy people, To make for Thyself a glorious name.

Ps 96:6 Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

Ps 84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD Almighty!

Cf. Is 5:1 I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.

Isa 4:2 In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.

Isa 28:5 In that day the Lord Almighty
will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath
for the remnant of his people.

Isa 61:3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Jer 11:16 The Lord called you a thriving olive tree
with fruit beautiful in form.
But with the roar of a mighty storm
he will set it on fire,
and its branches will be broken.

Ezek 16:14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty,
because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Gen 6:2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. [28][1]

Gen 12:11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.

Gen 12:14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman.

Gen 24:16 The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again.

Gen 26:7 When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”

Gen 29:17 Leah had weaka eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful.

Gen 49:21 “Naphtali is a doe set free that bears beautiful fawns.i

Num 24:5 How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwelling places, O Israel!

Deut 21:11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.

Josh 7:21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia,f two hundred shekelsg of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels,h I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

1 Sam 25:3 His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings.

2 Sam 11:2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful,

2 Sam 13:1 In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.

2 Sam 14:27 Three sons and a daughter were born to Absalom. The daughter’s name was Tamar, and she became a beautiful woman.

1 Ki 1:3 Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful girl and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.

1 Kings 1:4 The girl was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no intimate relations with her.

Esther 1:11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.

Esther 2:2 Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king.

Esther 2:3 Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful girls into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them.

Esther 2:9 The girl pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven maids selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem.

Esther 2:12 Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.

Job 38:31 “Can you bind the beautifulc Pleiades?
Can you loose the cords of Orion?

Job 42:15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

Ps 27:4 One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
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 seek him in his temple.

Ps 37:20 But the wicked will perish:
The Lord’s enemies will be like the beauty of the fields,
they will vanish—vanish like smoke.

Ps 45:11 The king is enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.

Ps 48:2 It is beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth.
Like the utmost heights of Zaphona is Mount Zion,
theb city of the Great King.

Ps 50:2 From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.

Prov 6:25 Do not lust in your heart after her beauty
or let her captivate you with her eyes,

Prov 11:22 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.

Prov 24:4 through knowledge its rooms are filled
with rare and beautiful treasures.

Prov 31:30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Eccl 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

S of S 1:8 f you do not know, most beautiful of women,
follow the tracks of the sheep
and graze your young goats
by the tents of the shepherds.

S of S 1:10 Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings,
your neck with strings of jewels.

S of S 1:15 How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.

S of S 2:10 My lover spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, and come with me.

S of S 2:13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.

S of S 4:1 How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.

Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from Mount Gilead.

S of S 4:7 All beautiful you are, my darling;
there is no flaw in you.

S of S 5:9 How is your beloved better than others,
most beautiful of women?
How is your beloved better than others,
that you charge us so?

S of S 6:1 Where has your lover gone,
most beautiful of women?
Which way did your lover turn,
that we may look for him with you?

S of S 6:4 You are beautiful, my darling, as Tirzah,
lovely as Jerusalem,
majestic as troops with banners.

S of S 7:1 How beautiful your sandaled feet,
O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels,
the work of a craftsman’s hands.

S of S 7:6 How beautiful you are and how pleasing,
O love, with your delights!

Isa 3:24 Instead of fragrance there will be a stench;
instead of a sash, a rope;
instead of well-dressed hair, baldness;
instead of fine clothing, sackcloth;
instead of beauty, branding.

Isa 4:2 In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.

Isa 28:1 Woe to that wreath, the pride of Ephraim’s drunkards,
to the fading flower, his glorious beauty,
set on the head of a fertile valley—
to that city, the pride of those laid low by wine!

Isa 28:4 That fading flower, his glorious beauty,
set on the head of a fertile valley,
will be like a fig ripe before harvest—
as soon as someone sees it and takes it in his hand,
he swallows it.

Isa 28:5 In that day the Lord Almighty
will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath
for the remnant of his people.

Isa 33:17 Your eyes will see the king in his beauty
and view a land that stretches afar.

Isa 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”

Isa 53:2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

Isa 61:3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Jer 3:19 “I myself said,
“‘How gladly would I treat you like sons
and give you a desirable land,
the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’
I thought you would call me ‘Father’
and not turn away from following me.

Jer 6:2I will destroy the Daughter of Zion,
so beautiful and delicate.

Jer 11:16 The Lord called you a thriving olive tree
with fruit beautiful in form.
But with the roar of a mighty storm
he will set it on fire,
and its branches will be broken.

Jer 46:20 Egypt is a beautiful heifer,
but a gadfly is coming
against her from the north.

Lam 2:15 All who pass your way
clap their hands at you;
they scoff and shake their heads
at the Daughter of Jerusalem:
“Is this the city that was called
the perfection of beauty,
the joy of the whole earth?”

Ezek 7:20 They were proud of their beautiful jewelry and used it to make their detestable idols and vile images. Therefore I will turn these into an unclean thing for them.

Ezek 16:7 I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels.b Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare.

Ezek 16:12 and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.

Ezek 16:13 So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.

Ezek 16:14 And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Ezek 16:15 But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.d

Ezek 16:25 At the head of every street you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty, offering your body with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by.

Ezek 20:6 On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands.

Ezek 20:15 Also with uplifted hand I swore to them in the desert that I would not bring them into the land I had given them—a land flowing with milk and honey, most beautiful of all lands—

Ezek 23:42 “The noise of a carefree crowd was around her; Sabeansf were brought from the desert along with men from the rabble, and they put bracelets on the arms of the woman and her sister and beautiful crowns on their heads.

Ezek 27:3 Say to Tyre, situated at the gateway to the sea, merchant of peoples on many coasts, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“ ‘You say, O Tyre,
“I am perfect in beauty.”

Ezek 27:4 Your domain was on the high seas;
your builders brought your beauty to perfection.

Ezek 27:11 Men of Arvad and Helech
manned your walls on every side;
men of Gammad
were in your towers.
They hung their shields around your walls;
they brought your beauty to perfection.

Ezek 27:24 In your marketplace they traded with you beautiful garments, blue fabric, embroidered work and multicolored rugs with cords twisted and tightly knotted.

Ezek 28:7 I am going to bring foreigners against you,
the most ruthless of nations;
they will draw their swords against your beauty and wisdom
and pierce your shining splendor.

Ezek 28:12 “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“ ‘You were the model of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

Ezek 28:17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.

Ezek 31:3 Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches overshadowing the forest;
it towered on high,
its top above the thick foliage.

Ezek 31:7 It was majestic in beauty,
with its spreading boughs,
for its roots went down
to abundant waters.

Ezek 31:8 The cedars in the garden of God
could not rival it,
nor could the pine trees
equal its boughs,
nor could the plane trees
compare with its branches—
no tree in the garden of God
could match its beauty.

Ezek 31:9 I made it beautiful
with abundant branches,
the envy of all the trees of Eden
in the garden of God.

Ezek 33:32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

Dan 4:12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the beasts of the field found shelter, and the birds of the air lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.

Dan 4:21 with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air.

Dan 8:9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land.

Dan 11:16 The invader will do as he pleases; no one will be able to stand against him. He will establish himself in the Beautiful Land and will have the power to destroy it.

Dan 11:41 He will also invade the Beautiful Land. Many countries will fall, but Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand.

Dan 11:45 He will pitch his royal tents between the seas atb the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.

Zech 9:17 How attractive and beautiful they will be!
Grain will make the young men thrive,
and new wine the young women.

Mtt 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.

Mtt 26:10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

Mk 14:6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

Lu 21:5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said,

Acts 3:2 Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.

Acts 3:10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Rom 10:15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”h

Ja 1:11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

1 Pet 3:3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.

1 Pet 3:4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

1 Pet 3:5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands,

V. Select Bibliography

Anderson, Cameron J., The Faithful Artist: a Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.

Auden, W.H. The Dyers Hand and Other Essays. New York: Vintage Books, 1968.

Balthasar, Hans Urs. The Glory of the Lord. A Theological Aesthetics, vol. 1, Seeing the Form, translated by Erasmo Leivà-Merikakis. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1982.

Begbie, Jeremy. Voicing Creation‘s Praise: Towards a Theology of the Arts. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991.

Brand, Hilary, and Adrienne Chaplin. Art and Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts. Carlisle, UK: Piquant/InterVarsity, 2001.

Bustard, Ned, ed. It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Baltimore: Square Halo, 2000.

Dunzweiler, Robert. “An Aesthetic Appreciation of God.”

Covington, David A. A Redemptive Theology of Art: Restoring Godly Aesthetics to Doctrine and Culture. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018.

Edgar, William. Created and Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2017.

Farley, Edward. Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic. Aldershot: Ashgate. 2001.

Gaebelein, Frank. “The Aesthetic Problem.” A Varied Harvest: Out of a Teacher’s Life and Thought. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967.

Guinness, Os. The Dust of Death: A Critique of the Establishment and the Counter Culture – and a Proposal for a Third Way. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, InterVarsity Press, 1994.

Hart, David Bentley. The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

Kelly, Douglas F., Systematic Theology, vol. 2: The Beauty of Christ – a Trinitarian Vision. Christian Focus, 2014.

Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. NY: Harper Collins, 2001.

—–. The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses, HarperOne; HarperCollins Revised edition, 2009.

Lindsey, Duane F. “Essays Toward a Theology of Beauty: Part I: God is Beautiful.” Bibliotheca Sacra (April 1974): 120-136 .

McManus, Erwin Raphael. The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2014.

Millbank, John, Graham Ward, Edith Wyschogrod. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2003.

Prescott, Theodore. Editor. A Broken Beauty. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

Rookmaaker, Hans. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1970.

Ryken, Leland, James C., Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III. Editors. “Beauty.” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Schaeffer, Francis. Art and the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973.

Seerveld, Calvin. Rainbows for the Fallen World. Toronto: Tuppence, 1980.

Sherry, Patrick. Spirit and Beauty: An Introduction to Theological Aesthetics. London: SCM Press, 2002.

Treier, Daniel J. Mark Husbands, Roger Lundin. Editors. The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. State of the Arts from Bezalel to Mappelthorpe. Wheaton, Ill, 1991 .

Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985, reprinted in 2002.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980.

In discussing J. Edwards, Lints writes: “It seemed natural to Edwards that this aesthetic sense also held the clue to the systematization of doctrine. Theology was not supposed to be merely a rational framework placed over the scriptural revelation in order to make the Scriptures intelligible to modern man, he believed. Rather, he saw the aesthetic harmony of the Scriptures as the underlying fabric for the theological framework. Beauty was a structural concept for Edwards, held primarily not in the eye of the beholder but in the very mind of God.”[29]

Why Do We Hunger For Beauty?

Jim Croegaert, ©1989  Meadowgreen Music Co./Heart of the Matter Music

Dark are the branches reaching for light
High is the path of the hawk in its flight
Turning and gliding greeting the night
Why do we hunger for beauty?

Moon hanging lonely there in the sky
Looking so holy; a host held up high
Off in the distance train going by
Why does it move us cause us to sigh
Why do we hunger for beauty?

Frost on the window never the same
So many patterns fit in the frame
Captured in motion frozen in flame
And in the patterns is there a Name
Why do we hunger for beauty?
Why do we hunger for beauty?

Beauty is found in God its source:

  • Biblical revelation
  • The gospel of redemption
  • Romantic love
  • Agape love
  • Familial love
  • All creation

[1] James S. Spiegel, “Wisdom,” in Austin and Geivett, Being Good, p. 68.

[2] W.H. Auden, “The Poet & the City,” in The Dyers Hand and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books), 1968, pp. 78-80.

[3] Roger Lundin discusses the background to this modern development of literary romanticism and idealism that shifted the creative focus from the types of transcendent reality to the tropes born of the powers of the “imaginative self” and creative human mind (“The Beauty of Belief,” in Treier, Daniel J. Mark Husbands, Roger Lundin. Editors. The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press], 2007, pp. 199-202).

[4] Charles Darwin, from his Autobiography, p. 26 from http://charles-darwin.classic-literature.co.uk/the-autobiography-of-charles-darwin/ebook-page-26.asp

[5] Lundin, “The Beauty of Belief,” p. 199.

[6] Lundin, “The Beauty of Belief,” p. 201.

[7] Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: a Treatise on Economics (San Francisco: Fox and Wilkes in cooperation with The Foundation for Economic Education, 1963), p. 74. This is the problem with all theories that relativize human efforts to find and objectify types and truth; that is, they also relativize themselves: “Marxian polylogism asserts that the logical structure of the mind is different with the members of various social classes. Racial polylogism differs from Marxian polylogism only in so far as it ascribes to each race a peculiar logical structure of mind and maintains that all members of a definite race, no matter what their class affiliation may be, are endowed with this peculiar logical structure” (ibid, p. 75). In reality, these subjectivizing notions have never, and can never, be established, since they are indeed self-refuting. If it is true that classes and races display different logical structures of mind, then all efforts to engage in a “disinterested search for truth” or “beauty” are disqualified, including the Marxian conclusions that there are such polylogisms!

[8] Os Guinness, The Dust of Death: A Critique of the Establishment and the Counter Culture – and a Proposal for a Third Way (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press), 1973, p. 23.

[9] Lundin, Beauty of Belief, p. 202.

[10] As Wayne Grudem expresses it, “This attribute, beauty, is defined in a positive way to show that God actually does possess all desirable qualities: ‘perfection’ means that God doesn’t lack anything desirable; ‘beauty’ means that God has everything desirable” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, InterVarsity Press], 1994, p. 219).

[11] We might also add here that beauty is not just an attribute of God, as Lindsey states it in discussing Jonathan Edward’s theology of the beauty of God: “. . . beauty is not merely an attribute of God but is that by which God is primarily distinguished as God. In addition to being the distinguishing perfection of God, beauty is the perfection of all God’s natural and moral perfections” (F.Duane Lindsey, “Essays Toward a Theology of Beauty: Part I: God is Beautiful,” Bibliotheca Sacra, April 1974, p. 127). 

[12] This is in strong contrast to the Romantic notion found wherever beauty is construed as truth: “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination – What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth – whether it existed before or not – for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty” (John Keats letter to Benjamin Bailey, November 22nd, 1817, in Keats’s Poetry and Prose, ed. By Jeffrey N Cox,[New York: WW Norton & Company, p. 102).

[13] Charnock, Existence and Attributes, p. 330.

[14] Edwards, Jonathan. “True Virtue,” chapter 2, in the Works of Jonathan Edwards. Edited by Edward Hickman, 2 vols (reprint edition, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 1.125.

[15] Lindsey, “Essays Towards a Theology of Beauty,” p. 130.

[16] See E. John Walford, “The Case For A Broken Beauty: An Art Historical Viewpoint” in The Beauty of God, Treier, Husbands, and Lundin, pp. 88-109.

[17] Beauty is in this way not to be construed as strictly a subjective value, as in “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” since as I am defining beauty here it is an absolute value in so far as it is rooted in the person and character of God, even though it has many and diverse subjective expressions as it is revealed in God’s world as people experience that beauty.

[18] Cameron J. Anderson, The Faithful Artist: a Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts (Downers Grove: IVP Academic), 2016.

[19] Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 220.

[20] Erwin Raphael McManus, The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art (San Francisco: HarperOne), 2014, pp.11-12.

[21] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Harper Collins, 2001, pp. 135, 136-137. Similarly, Lewis famously wrote, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses, p. ). Lewis’s insight has great value, but it lacks in two regards: he does not make it clear that drink and sex in themselves are not bad, but a gift from God, when he could have also said more clearly that removing God’s good gifts from their proper context are far worse than just being too easily pleased, they can be death to us. Grudem’s comments seem to me more balanced here: “Nevertheless, there is value in affirming this positive aspect of God’s possession of everything that is desirable. It reminds us all that our good and righteous desires, all of the desires that really ought to be in us or any other creature, find their ultimate fulfillment in God and in no one else” (Systematic Theology, p. 219).

[22] See John Walford, “The Case for a Broken Beauty,” in The Beauty of God, Trier, Husbands, and Lundin, pp. 87-89. Also, see Bruce Herman, “Wounds and Beauty,” ibid., pp. 110-120.

[23] As so often in modern media and culture, there is both a fascination with, and relishing in, the grotesque, horrible, and transgressive.

[24] Walford, “The Case for a Broken Beauty,” in The Beauty of God, p. 109.

[25] Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1985, reprinted in 2002, p. 63.

[26] Walford, “The Case for a Broken Beauty,” in The Beauty of God, p. 109.

[27] James S. Spiegel, “Wisdom,” in Austin and Geivett, Being Good, p. 67.

[28] The Holy Bible: New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984.

a Or delicate

i Or free; / he utters beautiful words

f Hebrew Shinar

g That is, about 5 pounds (about 2.3 kilograms)

h That is, about 1 ¼ pounds (about 0.6 kilogram)

c Or the twinkling; or the chains of the

a Zaphon can refer to a sacred mountain or the direction north.

b Or earth, / Mount Zion, on the northern side / of the

b Or became mature

d Most Hebrew manuscripts; one Hebrew manuscript (see some Septuagint manuscripts) by. Such a thing should not happen

f Or drunkards

b Or the sea and

h Isaiah 52:7

[29] Lints, The Fabric of Theology, pp. 175-176.

 

My sons . . . kindness and truth

Sandro_Botticelli_057 (4)My son . . .
do not let kindness and truth leave you;
bind them around your neck
and write them on the tablet of your heart.”
Prov 3:3

 

 

 

This is a remarkable juxtaposition of gospel themes that includes the important, but surprising, relationship between truth and kindness. This connection between truth and kindness is surprising because I suspect they are not often seen as mutually complimentary much anymore, since truth is often associated with harshness, intolerance, and judgmentalism. Yet, here we see this beautiful compliment of the truth to kindness and gentleness; as the truth is written on the heart (motifs of binding around the neck and writing on tablets of the heart), it will produce loving-kindness. These images portray the new heart, the heart that truly loves God and others has his truth and love as its internal motivating force guiding the person in wisdom. The heart that knows the truth is molded by the love of God that makes one kind and compassionate.

Often it is perceived that if you speak truth, defend truth, and do not compromise the truth, that it will be offensive to others, and therefore seen as unkind. Yet, there is in this text, the assumption that it is a particular kindness to others to embrace the truth, completely bound to the truth internalized, and to express the truth (not hide it or deny it) in kindness. Yes, it is all-too-true that one can wrongly speak truth in an unkind way; I know that I have at times, in over-zealous enthusiasm to share truth, hoped that others will believe my words (in both small matters and very serious ones), only to find my demeanor or tone disagreeable, and even hurtful. But this contradicts the very sentiment of this verse in Prov 3, that truth and gentleness and kindness should never be separated.

No-doubt, many have been thought to be unkind for speaking truth into a situation, even though done kindly and gently; yet, such reactions may only indicate that the heart of the recipients was closed to that truth being shared with them. To make matters worse, we might also become frustrated and impatient when others disbelieve us when we know we are speaking the truth. Nevertheless, the truth is going to triumph in the end, so it gives us even further reason to relax, be patient and kind, and gently show love.

To have truth and kindness bound around our neck and written on our hearts shows the completeness, the totality, that is characteristic of those who exemplify God’s character: truth is holy and irrevocable, as it if from God who is the truth in himself, and who never lies. And, his love is expressed as kindness in all of his dealings with his creation. Therefore, these traits perfectly picture the ideals of our calling to be holy(true) and loving(gentle and kind) people, since our God is perfect and eternally holy and loving in a loving-kindness that is everlasting.


Deut 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Deut 11:18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates

Prov 6:20 My son, keep your father’s command
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
21 Bind them always on your heart;
fasten them around your neck.
22 When you walk, they will guide you;
when you sleep, they will watch over you;
when you awake, they will speak to you.

Prov 7:1 My son, keep my words
and store up my commands within you.
2 Keep my commands and you will live;
guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.
3 Bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.

 

 

 

Morning News

Morning News

Paradise is on fire
get out of the car
and run
I thought I was
going to die
the fireman wrapped me
in a fire-blanket
the inferno wall of flames
on all sides
the tail-lights were melting
I called my husband
telling him
I am going to die
get out of the car and run
the town is gone,
Paradise is burnt to ash.
Several famous stars
also lost everything
along with the others
who shared Paradise.