Have you ever thought about beauty? I mean really sat down and thought about what it is, where it comes from, and why it matters? I never really did until recently, so you are let of the hook, but now let us reason together.
You most likely have heard it said: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, a sentiment that I ultimately reject. Now I do not rule out people’s preferences, but what it ultimately boils down to is, the intrinsic beauty of something, is not dependent on what people feel or think about it.
Before I go much further allow me to give you what I think beauty actually is. Beauty is the degree of something to mirror God’s glory, power, and good, or simply God. This means that beauty has both internal and external elements. It may mirror God internally, but externally it may be very hard to see, or it may seemingly appear to mirror God on the outside, but inside it is a void. Thus true beauty includes both the internal and external elements. This is an important distinction that will come up later.
When God first created this world, He exclaimed: “It is very good”, and by this I do not think He meant to exclude the idea: “It is very beautiful”. The original creation mirrored, reflected, God’s glory to a very high degree, and this is good. Now God perfectly mirrors God, and is perfectly good, thus God is the most beautiful and good thing / being in existence. Please note that there is a difference between beauty and goodness. Although beauty has both internal and external properties, goodness only has one, the internal. It does matter if things appear beautiful, for that’s part of how you determine how beautiful something is, while goodness is determined purely from the internal properties. It is good because it is, not because it looks good. Beauty is beautiful because it is, and looks so, and both elements must be present in order for the beauty to be maximized, but more on this later.
Now God is other than us, to the degree that all we can know about Him is what He reveals to us, namely in Scripture and Creation. This means that they are our sources for all knowledge about God, but even with these sources flowing from the very hand of God, our finiteness cannot fully comprehend God in His infiniteness. Thus our postulating on Beauty is not postulation in absolute perfecting degree, but in reasonable degree. That is we can understand reasonably, but not with reason that is irrevocably certain. So, following this I will be making more broad statements than specific statements regarding beauty. I believe if we can grasp the concept, we are better off than we were before.
Now if beauty is how closely something represents God, then God is the standard by which we judge beauty. Thus beauty is beautiful to the degree that it mirrors God’s beauty; His glory. It then can also be said that beauty is beautiful to the degree that it pleases God. This is so because if God is the ultimate source and ideal for beauty and good, then He can be pleased by nothing higher than Himself, thus the closer anything rises to His level of goodness or beauty, so greater is the good and beauty of that thing. In other words the closer something reaches the ideal beauty in God, the more beauty inheres in the object.
This is a great breaking point in which to stop and discuss levels of beauty. Before we can talk about actual things and their beautifulness, we must talk about their ideals. Beauty is a measurement. It describes the degree of something in relation to something else. In all measurements things are compared to the perfect ideal Think about baking. You read a recipe and it calls for a cup of water. When it says a cup it is referring to a perfect ideal of a cup. Our job is to measure our water amount according to that ideal. So we poor or add water until we get as close to that perfect cup of water as we can. If a cup is 8 ounces of water, and we have 10 ounces of water, we have a near cup of water, but not a perfect cup. So it is with beauty, there is a perfect standard of beauty, God, and we measure the things around us and compare them to that standard. The closer they are to the standard, the more beautiful they are.
Perhaps at this point some will think that I am inferring that all things created by God could, in their ideal, be equal in beauty, and you want to run from that idea. Perhaps you will ask me to look at a sunset and compare its beauty to that of a maggot, and you will then after asking me to look, exclaim, “Ah HA” and think me rebutted. I will ask you then to ponder this, does the evidence of beauty, or the appearance of it, have anything to do with the actual state? Just because you cannot easily see the beauty in a thing, doesn’t make it less beautiful. Just as Jesus dying on the cross was a horrible thing, ugly in sin and pain, so it was also hiding one of the most beautiful things in history, the redemption of God’s people. Thus on the surface it looked ugly, but underneath the true beauty shines forth. So it is with our lowly maggot, in appearance ugly, but the complexity, purpose, and function glorify God in ways more easily seen in a sunset. Do not confuse your limitations in vision with the beauty of an object, just because you cannot easily see the beauty, may not reflect on the object but rather yourself. Just as some men can, through much training and study, see more beauty in certain paintings than others, so others with laziness and dullness of vision do not see the beauty that is so easily seen by the first man. In neither case does the man’s ability have any affect on the actual true beauty of the painting. So, it is possible that as fallen men, we more easily see beauty in some things, which are not necessarily more beautiful, than other things.
Now I am not saying that creation was equal to God in beauty, or glory, because the nature of it is not such. Creation is perfect, in that it was flawless, but not prefect in that it reflects the Glory of God to the degree that God does. It seems that God created a creation that reflects His glory, but He also hides some of His glory in it and from it. Thus creation by definition is not as beautiful as God.
But, before you stone me, allow me to finish now that I have your head spinning. If Creation is lower than God, then it cannot perfectly reflect His glory, for it is unable to, thus it is possible that different parts of creation were created to better mirror God’s glory and beauty than other parts. This I think is most evident in man, for of no other part of creation did God say that He created it in His likeness and image, than man. Thus I believe we can infer that man is the most beautiful of creation, because out of creation his ideal is to be an image of God more so than any other part of creation. That is man was designed to best reflect God’s glory out of all of creation. Now in regards to the rest of creation I think it hard to say whether it is equal in ideal beauty or not.
Remember God didn’t create sin or evil, man corrupted the world. God’s good and beautiful creation was cursed by God on man’s account and thus fell, along with man, from its ideal. So now everything we see in creation is fallen, and thus nothing is at its ideal anymore. Thus I argue that the closer something is to it’s pre-fallen ideal, the more beautiful that thing is, because originally in its ideal, it was created to bring a certain amount of glory to God. Another thing to note is we do not really know what things looked like pre-fall, nor to the degree that sin has marred the beauty in a thing, thus we really do not know how close things are to their ideal state, and it is totally possible that now some things didn’t fall as far as others from their ideal beauty.
Now allow me to arrive at the practical. We know that things are more beautiful, the more that they reflect the glory of God. We also know that man is the highest created thing, that is he, out of all creation, was made to reflect God the most. We also know that sin taints the beauty of things, because it mires their ability to reflect God. Sin corrupts the appearance of things, and their internal state. Not only is man not as beautiful on the outside, he is not as beautiful on the inside. Both his ability and appearance are now tainted and fallen. Man’s ability to be beautiful is fallen because his will is corrupt, and he chooses to not be beautiful, to glorify God, but to glorify himself. So man seeks to mirror himself, and to radiate his glory, and in doing so, he chooses to not radiate God, and thus he chooses to not be beautiful. That means that to the degree something or someone is freed by God from the corruption of sin, is the degree that it is beautiful. The more God removes sin and unrighteousness, reverses the curse, the more beautiful something can and will be.
What does this look like in our world? How does one determine what painting is more beautiful, or a song more glorifying? Well I do not think we can know for certain, for the hidden things belong to God, and such things He has hidden from us. I think we can use some broad concepts to help us, but we cannot know every narrow detail.
I would argue that the beauty of man’s work is evident in two area’s, the first is to what affect has righteousness or unrighteousness influenced his work, and the second is to what degree is the man using his talent in regards to its perfect ideal. Permit me to give an example to clarify my meaning. I would argue that music becomes more beautiful as the degree of righteousness increases its influence on talent. What this means is that more talent is perfected towards its ideal state, the maximum talent intended by God, and this talent is influenced by righteousness, not unrighteousness, is the degree that it is beautiful. So as a musician’s talent nears his pre-fallen ideal, and this talent is positively influenced by righteousness, so his music is more beautiful. And likewise the farther his talent wanes from his pre-fallen ideal, and is corrupted by unrighteousness, the farther it falls from its beautiful ideal.
This means that it is possible for someone with great talent to have the beauty of his music diminish when his talent is corrupted by unrighteous motives and influences, just as a man with little talent may do more beautiful things because they are motivated by righteousness.
Thus I am arguing that to judge the beauty of something, one must understand that talent alone does not dictate the beauty of something, and thus the ends alone do not make something truly beautiful.
Many people judge the beauty in things by their complexity, proportionality, harmony, and ability to express what is the intended message. I argue that such things are not enough; one must also judge the underlying influences of righteousness or unrighteousness.
I am saying this because I believe that from the condition of the heart, so flows everything from the man. Thus a painting can have complexity, proportionality, harmony, and a clear message, but the influence behind it be a hatred of God and righteousness. This hatred would corrupt the ultimate beauty of the painting, keeping it from being what it could be if the influence behind it had been righteousness. A painting painted with unrighteous motives does not reflect the beauty of God as much as an equally complex, proportionality, harmony, but righteously motivated painting would. God is not only glorified in outward actions and appearances, but also by inward motives.
This ultimately means that God can create more beautiful things than Satan, just as pre-fallen man can over fallen man.
The problem for us in judging beauty, is we do not know men’s hearts, so this part makes us liable to err when determining the true beauty of something.
Also it should be noted that what is important in life is not how much something pleases man, but pleases God, lets us not forget our place, or how we are to view this world. It is of God and for God.
Of course it goes without saying that if something can be beautiful, it can be ugly. Ugly would then be non-beauty. Just as sin isn’t a thing, but a lack of righteousness, so ugliness is a lack of beauty. I guess then, as far as things are corrupted by sin, it can be said that everything under the fall is both beautiful and ugly at the same time, in that part reflects God’s glory, while part of it absorbs it. The question really then is how much of it is beautiful and how much of it is ugly. More specifically something that was ugly would be something that hides the glory of God more than it reflects it.
I do not think that there is anything perfectly ugly that is created, for to be perfectly ugly would mean that the creation fell so far that even its very self gives no evidence of any of God’s attributes. As I can see this not being able to happen, for it would require something to not exist, for even existence of something demonstrates God’s power to create, and for something to not exist makes a discussion about its ugliness moot.
In conclusion beauty is objective, although we as mere men may never be able to objectively with certainty know the true state of beautiful things. True beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but some beholders may be able to see more of the beauty inherent in the object than others. This is because men are tainted by sin, so that even their views of beauty are flawed. A murder may think murder is beautiful, but he is corrupted, so it is that other men may think a thing to be beautiful, when it really is just their own prejudices and not a true observation of the object.
Beauty inheres itself internally and externally in objects based on the degree that they internally demonstrate God’s glory, and externally project it. Thus a sunset internally shows God’s glory for it shows the hand of an intelligent creator who has artistic and pleasing tastes. It externally demonstrates God’s glory, through its brilliance, color, appeal, and magnitude. It causes men’s hearts to leap for joy and in awe praise God; some do not do because they suppress God’s truth in unrighteousness.
So we too must glory in things that bring God glory, in the beautiful. Praise those things that clearly demonstrate God’s glory, and if it isn’t clear strive to make it clear, for perhaps beauty is there where we do not yet see.
At least that’s how I see it.