The Gospel and the Beauty of God

Having focused on the themes of God, God’s place, and God’s people in the Old Testament we have laid a foundation for the remainder of this exploration. We will now bring these three themes into dialogue with the gospel. By threading these themes through the gospel we will seek to shed more light on the topic of beauty.

The birth of Jesus signaled an entirely new and distinct phase of God’s self-revelation in history. All the fullness of God dwelt bodily in the human man Jesus Christ. Jesus the true man reveals to us the human being. Jesus the true God reveals to us Yahweh. In Jesus, we see God and man with utmost clarity. To see Jesus is to see God. Jesus is the embodiment of the very nature of God and therefore manifests to us the very beauty of God. A few texts of Scripture illustrate this point.

John’s gospel tells us about the Word that was in the beginning with God and yet distinct from God (Jn 1:1-3). This Word became flesh and made his dwelling with humanity “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). He affirms that this revelation is unique and definitive. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (Jn 1:18). Jesus has explained the Father. He has led the Father out into the light for all to see. Jesus is the living exposition of God. In Jesus we see the beauty of God.

Paul agrees with John that the glory of God is seen particularly in Jesus. He speaks of the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). The glory and beauty of God is firmly located in the person of Jesus Christ.

This beauty is made manifest in the person of Christ as he works our salvation. Paul can speak of the “gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4) and the “gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim 1:11). It is in the gospel that we see the beauty of God most vividly. This is a shocking fact, one that we will spend ample time unpacking.

In the person and work of Jesus the beauty of God is not redefined. It is clarified, explained and illustrated. All the perfections of God discussed earlier find their greatest expression in the person and work of Jesus. From the virgin birth to the second coming we see in this man the very beauty of God. The fact that Jesus is the revelation of God to us has massive ramifications for our thinking on beauty.

Implications   

  • Since Jesus is the fullest revelation of God it follows that our thinking on beauty must ultimately be tied to him. In Jesus the beauty of God finds its greatest expression. A biblical view on beauty will therefore be a Christ-centered perspective. If we would think aright about beauty we must think deeply about the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Since the gospel is the place where the beauty and glory of God are concentrated it follows that our thinking on beauty must also be tied to the cross and resurrection. As one man put it so well, “beauty happened once and for all in a garden outside Jerusalem’s walls.”[1] A biblical view on beauty will therefore be cross-centered. If we would think aright about beauty we must not think merely of Christ, but of Christ crucified.[2]
  • Since the incarnation and the gospel are central to all thinking on beauty it is impossible to have a full or accurate understanding of beauty without bringing all of our thinking into this orbit. Any discussion on the beauty of God that fails to make it to Christ is tremendously flawed. Any discussion about the definition and standard of beauty that does not ultimately have Christ and his work at its center will inevitably miss the mark.
  • If Christ defines beauty then beauty must be understood primarily as self-sacrificial service and generosity for the sake of another.[3] The life of Jesus, which manifested the very nature of God, was one continual act of service to God and to sinful man (Mk 10:45, Rom 15:2-3, Phil 2:5-11).[4] The cross, the greatest manifestation of this service, is superb beauty. In it we behold a cruciform majesty. The pierced feet of Christ are beautiful because they are the feet of a servant who would tread the globe to serve and save the world. The pierced hands of Christ are beautiful because they are hands of healing and welcome. Christ crucified is magnificent because it is here we see God give his all for the least deserving. It is the cross that teaches us that beauty is a giving of the self away for the sake of another. It is a posture, an act, a movement—all rooted in love and service.[5]
  • The beauty of God is at heart a paradox. The gruesome cross is the canvas upon which God paints his greatest masterpiece. The place of ugliness is the place where beauty is truly found. The hideous cross is the context for the greatest splendor. The man beaten to a pulp, nailed to a tree, suffering, gasping, dying—this is where beauty is found. The bright darkness of the cross is where beauty shines most brilliantly.[6] How can this be? It is here that God is demonstrating the glory of his character to us. It is here that we see his love, grace, holiness, justice, wrath, wisdom, power, and faithfulness. It is here that we see his beauty and glory. The sum total of God’s perfection is his beauty and it is at the cross that we see the fullness of these perfections. If the cross stands at the center of the beauty of God it must also be at the center of our understanding of beauty. This paradox instructs us that beauty is always found in the most unlikely places.
  • God’s definition of beauty is an attack against the world’s definition of beauty. One intention of the cross is to destroy the wisdom of the world (1 Cor 1:19-20). The cross has a way of obliterating the values, philosophies, standards, and definitions of human beings. This is one reason why it is so offensive. I think the cross is an assault on man-made definitions and standards of beauty. The embodiment of beauty comes as an unattractive man from some backwoods town, who lives the life of homeless vagabond, dresses in common clothes, hangs out with the lowest of people, and is hung on a cursed tree. This is beauty. Beauty is the hand that blesses children, touches lepers, heals blind men, and washes undeserving feet. Beauty is a mouth that speaks forgiveness and grace to the prostitute, the tax collector, and the murderer. It is the mouth that eats with the sinner and sings praise to God in the face of death. Beauty is dusty and tired feet that refuse to stop until the good news is proclaimed to all. Beauty is a pierced side, nailed hands, impaled feet, bleeding brow, and gasping lungs. Jesus is beautiful. Look as he gives himself away—this is beauty! How different is this from the world’s thinking on beauty. The cross annihilates our skewed thinking on beauty and reestablishes its true definition.
  • The beauty of God seen in Christ is focused primarily on character not physical appearance. There is one comment in all of Scripture pertaining to the physical appearance of Jesus. Isaiah tells us that he had “no form or majesty that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is 53:2). It is my opinion that the choice of this physical appearance was not random but intentional. God clearly prepared the body that Christ would take to himself in the incarnation (Heb 10:5). He could have taken on a physical appearance that was “beautiful” in the eyes of the world but he did not. He could have come as the most attractive, well-dressed, well-groomed, and most physically fit guy on the planet. The fact is, he did not. What is he showing us through this? It appears he would show us where genuine glory and beauty are located; not primarily in physical appearance but in the character and movement of self-giving.

 


[1] Bruno Forte, The Portal of Beauty: Toward a Theology of Aesthetics, vii.

[2] John Navone, Toward a Theology of Beauty 20. Navone says, “His cross, no form of beauty for worldly eyes, reveals what God’s beauty and glory are really about…the crucified and risen Christ is the form and splendor of the Beautiful.”

[3] Bruno Forte, The Portal of Beauty: Toward a Theology of Aesthetics, viii, 27-28. Forte says that beauty is the “self-emptying of the eternal Word.” He states that beauty in its “highest form” takes place at the “hour of the abandonment of the cross.” He later describes beauty as “crucified love.” Jeremy Begbie argues that we find God’s beauty in the economy of salvation.

[4] Stephen M. Garrett, “The Dazzling Darkness of God’s Triune Love: Introducing Evangelicals to the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar,” Themelios 35:3 (2010), 421-22. Balthasar discerned a “dialectic between the deep and threatening darkness of the cloud and the blinding and consuming light of the fire.” This dialectic discernible in the Exodus event climaxes in the cross of Christ according to Balthasar. “The Christ-form integrates the darkness of the cross and descent into hell with the Trinitarian love of God such that ‘the form which gives expression to the meaning of a radically sinful existence which yet stands under the sign of the hope for redemption…takes the modalities of fallen existence upon itself so as to transvalue them by redemptive suffering.’” Balthasar rightly discerned that “Jesus Christ radiates the splendor of God’s glory because he is perfectly in tune with the Father’s will, obeying the Father even unto death and thereby fulfilling his mission to the world. This is the beauty of Christ’s holiness. There is, thus, a dazzling within the darkness of the glory of Christ, something that is alluring within the tragic, when the Father through the Spirit glorifies the Son in his death and decent into hell that reveals the triune love of God for us in Christ’s glorious resurrection.” Balthasar argues that the self-emptying (kenosis) of Christ is the definitive revelation of an eternal glory—the uncreated glory of the Triune God. In other words, the service of Christ at the cross reveals that the eternal nature of God is that of a humble, self-sacrificial servant. From his perspective the cross was a public display of what has been going on for eternity within the Godhead. In the relationship of the divine community there has always been movements of service, love, and humility. The cross points to something that always existed within the very heart of God.

[5] Bruno Forte, The Portal of Beauty: Toward a Theology of Aesthetics, 43. Dostoevsky in his book The Idiot posed the question through the young nihilist Ippolit, “Is it true prince, that you said once that ‘beauty’ would save the world?…What sort of beauty will save the world?” The beauty of the crucified God is the answer to this question. Beauty is not merely static but it moves, indeed it saves. John Navone states, “the self-giving power of beauty itself saves the world.” Toward a Theology of Beauty, 82. Jeremy Begbie touches on this idea of movement when he states that in the “story of Jesus…Trinitarian beauty has, so to speak, been performed for us.” The Beauty of God: Theology and Arts, 22.

[6] Ibid, 53.

The Beauty of God’s People

The Scriptures tell us that the created world is one of the most eloquent heralds of God’s beauty and glory (Ps 19:1, Rom 1:19-20). The reason creation is a testimony to the beauty of God is because it mirrors its Creator. This is especially true of humanity. If the heavens declare the glory of God then human beings shout it.

The creation account clearly climaxes in the formation of man and woman. They alone are fashioned in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28) and therefore invested with great value and purpose. If God is beautiful it follows that something created in his likeness would reflect that beauty. Human beings therefore mirror the beauty of God both individually and corporately.

There are a few texts that make this point explicit. God looks upon humanity and declares it “very good” (Gen 1:31). The Psalmist tells us that God created man “a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps 8:5, cf. Heb 2:6-8). Paul tells us that man is the “image and glory of God” (1 Cor 11:7). This text clearly ties the image of God in man to the reflection of God’s beauty and glory.

The image of God in man suffered severe damage from the fall into sin. Individually and relationally human beings no longer function the way intended and therefore do not properly reflect the beauty of God. It is the rupture of the garden disobedience that introduces ugliness to the planet. All distortion of beauty is rooted in Genesis 3. Our confusion and misunderstanding of beauty begins here.

Ironically, the heart of the first transgression was the rejection of God’s definition of what was good and desirable. Eve dismissed God’s word and established her own word as the final authority. God declared the tree “not good” or desirable. Eve determined the tree to be “good for food and a delight to the eyes” (Gen 3:6).[1]

In essence Eve said: “That definition you have about what is good and desirable is interesting, but I believe I am more capable of determining what is really desirable and good for me. Thanks for the recommendation. I will be just fine ruling the universe, determining right from wrong, and defining reality.”

The knowledge of good and evil was not intended for creatures. The vocation of the creature is to submit to and obey God’s knowledge and determination of what is good and evil. By partaking of this tree, humanity grasped for moral autonomy and self-legislation.[2] By reaching after forbidden fruit Adam and Eve were grasping for divinity.

They rejected their place as creatures and joined Satan in his heavenly coup. This one act of rebellion rippled through the whole of the human race. We have all been guilty of the vain pursuit of becoming deity. Since the fall we’ve been trying to determine for ourselves what’s right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. Rather than reflecting our Creator, we attempt to annihilate him and usurp his throne.[3]

One cannot overstate the devastating consequences of our sin and rebellion. We are deeply fractured people. Though the residue of original beauty and glory is still with us the dark cloak of sin has greatly covered its luster. We stand in need of mending and restoration. Just as we were dependent upon God to create us in his image so we are dependent upon him to restore that image within us.

Implications   

  • The image of God is one of the most important doctrines and themes running through Scripture for thinking about the issue of beauty in mankind. It is like a roadmap on the journey toward beauty. It points us back to the Triune God as the source of beauty. It directs us to understand the original intention, design, and beauty of humanity. It shows us the true north of being human and thus reveals how far we’ve gone astray. It leads us forward to the Triune project for restoring the image in us and takes us all the way home to our final glorification. The image of God is a doctrinal workhorse for constructing a theology of beauty.
  • Beauty is extrinsic to human beings. That is, our beauty does not originate from within us, it is not intrinsic to us, but it comes to us from outside. Our beauty is located in the one true Beauty whom we reflect.[4] Our beauty is therefore secondary, it comes from and points back to the primary beauty, which belongs to God alone. To put it another way, our beauty is a borrowed beauty. It does not belong to us and we cannot take credit for it.
  • Beauty is a gift from God that cannot be earned or attained. God created humans and he created them in his image thus endowing them with beauty and glory. The ability, power, and determination to create something or someone beautiful belong to God alone. Determining and attaining beauty is beyond the capacity of a human being. We are simply recipients of God’s initiative in this regard.
  • The image of God in man is an all-encompassing human reality. Many theologians have attempted to locate the image of God in certain parts or actions of man.[5] I believe there is little warrant for trying to define the image of God by dividing up man into different parts or actions. The whole of man in his being, relationships, and activity is a reflection of God.[6] If this is the case, we must affirm that our body and physical makeup are included in the image of God.[7] Internal and external beauty are therefore linked to the image of God in man. The upshot of all this is that the image of God is not only concerned with the internal character and unseen beauty of an individual. It also has something to say to external appearance.
  • If the essence of beauty is found in the sum total of God’s perfections expressed in his eternal tri-unity and his action in the world, then ugliness finds its definition in that which is contrary to this beauty. Sin, which is a falling short of the glory and beauty of God, must therefore stand at the center of our thinking on ugliness. If God has the final word on beauty, he also has the final word on ugliness.
  • The narrative of the fall instructs us that rejecting God’s word and living our own way is characteristic of sin. Like Eve, we attempt to establish our own standard of right and wrong, good and evil, beautiful and ugly. Freedom in the area of beauty comes only through rejecting every standard of man for beauty and embracing God’s standard as the final word on the matter. This includes repentance for our failure to believe his word.

 


[1] Throughout the creation narrative it is very clear that God alone holds the prerogative to determine what is good and what is not. Seven times he declares the creation to be good (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). One time he declares what is not good: a solitary existence for man (Gen 2:18). God makes it clear that it is not a good thing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because death will ensue (Gen 2:17). When you follow the narrative the audacity of Eve to state what is good is shocking. She is essentially assuming the authority of God to assess and determine reality. She is making an authoritative declaration that is outside of her capacity and role.

[2] William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker House Academic, 2002), 23.

[3] Luther argued that at the root of all sin is the “Annihilatio Dei,” the attempt to annihilate God. Mark Seifrid, “Justified by Faith and Judged by Works: A Biblical Paradox and Its Significance,” SBJT 5:4 (Winter, 2001), 91.

[4] F. Duane Lindsey, “Essays Toward a Theology of Beauty,” 125. Augustine was one of the first theologians to use “Beauty” as a proper name for God. A smattering of theologians has followed his example throughout church history.

[5] Bruce Ware, “Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God,” JBMW 7:1 (Spring 2002), 15-16. Ware traces the history of interpretation and discusses the various ways the image of God has been understood. He summarizes the various interpretations under three views. 1) Structural views- proponents of this position argue that the image of God is found in some aspect of our human nature that distinguishes us from animals. The image of God from this perspective was often located in the will, mind, intellect, or soul. 2) Relational views- proponents of this view argue that the image of God is seen in relationships. Arguing from a Trinitarian base this position believes that community is the key to understanding the image. 3) Functional views- proponents of this view argue that the image of God is located in the various functions and responsibilities of man. Since the discussion of the image of God is in the context of Adam ruling and subduing those holding this view argue that this is the primary significance of the image.

[6] Ibid, 16-17. Ware calls this position “functional holism.” It integrates the structural, functional, and relational viewpoints and argues that the entirety of human existence contributes to our understanding of the image of God.

[7] John Frame, “Men and Women in the Image of God” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, eds. John Piper & Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 227. Frame says, “Our fundamental principle, that everything human images God, requires us to hold that the human body, also images God.” He goes further to defend how the body is integral to human existence and therefore necessary for understanding the image of God.

The Beauty of God’s Place

If God is beautiful it follows that his dwelling place, which is filled with his presence, will also be beautiful. The Scriptures affirm that the dwelling place of God is indeed a location filled with beauty. We see this specifically in the language regarding his heavenly dwelling, the tabernacle, the temple, and Mount Zion.

“Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation” (Is 63:15). “Then the cloud covered the tent and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40:34, cf. Ex 40:35, Lev 9:6, 23, Num 14:10). “The priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (1 Kgs 8:11, cf. 2 Chron 5:14, 7:1-3, Ezek 43:5). “Oh Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells” (Ps 26:8). “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary” (Ps 96:6, cf. Ps 27:4, Is 60:7). “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth” (Ps 50:2).

In choosing to create and dwell with his creatures God has graciously given mankind a glimpse of his beauty. The chosen dwelling of God is the place where his beauty will most clearly emanate. This helps us understand why heaven is often described as a place of brilliance where even perfect beings are incapable of an unhindered vision of God (Is 6:1-8). It helps us understand why strolling into the holy of holies would result in immediate death (Lev 16:2).

It also helps us grasp why the tabernacle, temple, and the new earth are places of such jubilance and worship. The place where God chooses to manifest his beauty will inevitably be a place of great joy and celebration. It is in this context that we can understand the psalmists longing to go to the temple (Ps 27:4, 42:1-11). The beauty of God has a magnetic quality drawing and awing people.[1] God designed us to be riveted by this beauty.

 Implications   

  • Beauty is tied directly to the presence of God and his chosen dwelling place. The presence or absence of God is therefore the distinguishing factor between beauty and its opposite.[2]
  • Since God determines his dwelling place he also determines what he will beautify. In other words, God alone determines where his beauty will reside and where it will not. Beauty from this perspective is the lone prerogative of God.
  • The main ingredient in beauty is God himself. The fact that his presence beautifies his chosen dwelling place further reinforces that beauty simply cannot be understood apart from God. The presence of God and beauty are inextricably linked and therefore any definition of beauty void of God is mistaken.

 


[1] Ibid, 24. Navone says that beauty has “a subtle power of attracting or calling to us. The Greeks recognized this when they named the beautiful to kalon, from the verb kaleo, meaning to call or beckon. True beauty is the attractiveness of what is truly good for us.”

[2] This point is established quite emphatically when the glory of the Lord is said to leave the temple in the book of Ezekiel (10:18-19, 11:22-23). The glory and beauty of God can and does depart from a place if God chooses to leave (cf. 1 Sam 4:21—the Hebrew word Ichabod literally means the “glory has departed”).

The Beauty of God

Theology by definition starts with God. Theology is the study (logia) of God (theos). We must begin here. God is the origin and embodiment of all perfection. Beauty begins with, is defined by, and is seen most clearly in God. In other words, God himself is the exposition of beauty.[1]

Biblically speaking, beauty can refer to physical appearance[2], physical apparel,[3] physical dwelling places,[4] creation,[5] valuable possessions,[6] positions of honor,[7] and spiritual character.[8] Of the various ways the language of beauty is used in Scripture, God is clearly the biblical and theological starting point for our thinking on this topic.

Scripture is replete with language that describes God as beautiful. The Psalmists long to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Ps 27:4, cf. Ps 63:2, 97:6). The peoples are promised to “behold the king in his beauty” (Is 33:17). “Splendor and majesty are before him” (1 Chron 16:27) and his “glory is great” (Ps 138:5). “How great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty?” (Zech 9:17). His holiness, purity, brightness, and excellence also point to his beauty (Ps 8:1, Is 6:1-8, 1 Tim 6:16).[9] The Triune God is a beautiful God. He has eternally existed as a beautiful God. Any discussion on beauty must therefore begin with the one who epitomizes the word itself.[10]

How exactly should we think about or define the beauty of God?[11] I would argue that beauty is a term like “glory” that captures the sum total of God’s attributes.[12] Beauty is not merely one divine attribute among others, on the contrary it is that which characterizes individual attributes as well as summarizes the whole of God’s character. God’s justice, love, mercy, freedom, sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, immutability, self-sufficiency, and all his other attributes dwell in perfect harmony within his Triune being and are manifest in his plans and actions with perfect precision. This is beauty.[13]

Beauty is a dynamic, living reality within the Triune God.[14] The beauty of God is the dance of the Trinity—-the eternal and timeless movement of mutual self-giving, love and honor among the three persons of the Godhead.[15] The Triune beauty is marked by unity and distinction.

We behold beauty in the oneness and relational dynamics of the Trinity. The one God who exists in three persons is beauty. There is also distinct beauty in the individual persons of the Trinity.[16] We see the beauty of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit; this is the beauty of God.

The beauty of God is shared exclusively among the three persons of the Trinity. In God’s generous work of creation and redemption God gives himself to us. This gift of Himself is the gift of revealed and shared beauty. That which is exclusive to him is now made known to the world.[17]

Implications         

  • The unseen internal character takes priority in defining beauty. God is not a physical being and yet he defines beauty. Beauty is therefore not exclusively tied to the physical and tangible.[18]
  • The physical component of beauty is the outward expression of the inward being of God. The glory of God, which is often a physical expression of brilliance, corresponds to his internal splendor. The principle of internal and external correspondence is an important one in any discussion of beauty.
  • Beauty is a corporate and relational reality. It is in the mutual self-giving, honor, love, and unity of the three persons that we behold beauty. This has significant ramifications for our individualistic Western mindset. Beauty happens in relationship.
  • Since God is the origin and definition of beauty he is also its standard. In other words, beauty must be gauged by conformity to the character of God. That which reflects God is beautiful. That which fails to reflect God cannot be described as beautiful.
  • Since God embodies and defines beauty he has the final word on what is and what is not beautiful. As creatures it is simply our task to conform our thoughts to his in order to live in reality. Any definition of beauty, which fails to conform to the divine definition, is quite simply an illusion.
  • Since beauty refers to the entire character of the person it is an error to equate beauty with just one aspect of a person. This is why it is possible for a person deemed “beautiful” by the world’s standards to be ugly and vice versa.[19] John Navone captures this idea. “There is a paradoxical depth-dimension to the Christian experience of beauty in superficially unattractive persons whose profound goodness outshines all else. There is also the correlative experience of human ugliness in superficially attractive persons.”[20]

 


[1] Louis J. Mitchell, “The Theological Aesthetics of Jonathan Edwards,” Theology Today 64 (2007), 38. Jonathan Edwards argues along these same lines. “God is not only infinitely greater and more excellent than all other being; but he is the head of the universal system of existence; the foundation of all being and beauty; from whom all is perfectly derived, and on whom all is most absolutely and perfectly dependent; of whom and through whom, and to whom is all being and all perfection; and whose being and beauty is as it were the sum and comprehension of all existence and excellence; much more than the sun is the fountain and summary comprehension of all the light and brightness of the day” (emphasis mine).

[2] Gen 12:11, 14, 29:17, Deut 21:11, Judges 15:2, 1 Sam 25:3, 2 Sam 11:2, 13:1, 14:27, 1 Kgs 1:3-4, Esther 1:11, 2:2, 3, 7, Job 42:15, Prov 6:25, 11:22, 31:30, Song of Songs 1:8, 15, 16, 2:10, 2:13, 4:1, 7, 10, 5:9, 6:1, 4, 10, 7:1, 6

[3] Ex 28:2, 40, Josh 7:21, Prov 4:9, Is 52:1, Jer 13:18

[4] Ps 48:2, 50:2, 96:6, Is 5:9, 60:7, 64:11

[5] Is 40:6, 1 Pet 3:4

[6] Ezek 7:20, 16:5, 17, 25, 39

[7] Ezek 16:25, 28:12, 17

[8] Ps 27:4, 96:6, Is 4:2

[9] For further texts that describe the beauty of God or utilize similar language see Job 37:22, Ps 19:1, 21:5, 24:7-9, 63:2, 102:16, 104:1, 108:5, 111:3, 113:4, 145:5, Is 2:21, 42:8, 48:11, Rev 19:7, 21:11.

[10] F. Duane Lindsey, “Essays Toward a Theology of Beauty: Part 1, God is Beautiful,” Bibliotecha Sacra (April 1974), 126. Gregory of Nazianzus spoke of God as “all beauty and far beyond all beauty,” he believed that “God alone is beauty…in the original and exclusive sense.”

[11] Ibid, 121. Lindsey maps out three basic theories regarding the nature of beauty. 1) The formal theory, which locates beauty in certain qualities inherent in realities. 2) The psychological or emotional theory, which locates beauty in the eye of the beholder. 3) The relational theory, which locates beauty in the relationship of the objectives qualities to the subjective response. My view is in line with the formal theory. Lindsey also has a helpful discussion regarding how beauty has been understood and defined historically. Philosophical and theological ideas have been wed together in these three inherent qualities that many have argued make up beauty. 1) Unity or integrity, that is, a well-knit, internal unity, or a completeness of the whole; 2) Proportion or harmony, that is, an orderly and harmonious relation and arrangement of the parts; 3) Splendor, a certain definite capacity for manifesting its pattern. Many theologians have rightly argued that God exemplifies in himself and in his actions perfect unity, proportion, and splendor.

[12] I think this train of thought is rooted in Scripture itself. In Exodus 33:18-34:8 Moses requests that God allow him to glimpse his glory (again I am taking glory as largely synonymous with beauty). God’s response to this is to hide Moses in the cleft of the rock while he passes by proclaiming his name to Moses. The proclamation of the name I take to be the revelation of his glory to Moses. It is interesting that he proclaims to Moses a litany of his perfections and attributes. Note the text carefully: “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation’” (Ex 34:6-7). This indeed is the beauty of God. These attributes existing in perfect harmony and used with perfect precision demonstrate his beauty. It is noteworthy that an unshielded vision of this glory would devastate any human being. The glory and beauty of God is something that can only be perceived by the naked eye of God himself. Just as God alone knows the mind of God (1 Cor 2:11, Rom 8:27, 11:33-34), God alone knows the splendor of God. See also Christopher W. Morgan & Robert A. Peterson, The Glory of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 29, 44. “Glory then becomes a sort of theological shorthand to encompass and communicate all that he is…God’s glory points to his transcendence, his extraordinary nature, his beauty, his excellence—all of which set him apart and far above all that he created” (emphasis mine).

[13] This is the view taken by Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, and Karl Barth. Owen Strachan & Doug Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards on Beauty (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010), 23-45. Bruno Forte, The Portal of Beauty: Toward a Theology of Aesthetics (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 1-12. F. Duane Lindsey, “Essays Toward a Theology of Beauty: Part 1, God is Beautiful,” Bibliotecha Sacra (April 1974), 127-128.

[14] F. Duane Lindsey, “Essays Toward a Theology of Beauty,” 131. Karl Barth argues, “the Trinity of God is the secret of his beauty.”

[15] This view is well expressed by Jeremy Begbie in The Beauty of God: Theology and Arts, eds. Daniel J. Treir, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin (Downers Grove: IVP Press, 2007), 24. “If beauty is to be ascribed primordially to the Triune God, and the life of God is constituted by the dynamic of outgoing love, then primordial beauty is the beauty of this ecstatic love for the other. God’s beauty is not a static structure but the dynamism of love. The proportion and consonance of God, his brightness or radiance, his perfection and his affording pleasure upon contemplation are all to be understood in the light of the endless self-donation of the Father to the Son and Son to Father in the ecstatic momentum of the Spirit.”

[16] John Owen, Communion with God (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2004), 16. Owen argues that in our salvation “there is a distinct communication of grace from the several persons of the deity” which then forms the basis for “distinct communion with them.” I am taking this thought one step further and arguing that the distinct communication of grace belonging to each person of the Trinity serves as a unique manifestation of a particular glory or beauty. This is a beauty that belongs to each person of the Trinity for they are equal in essence. However, it seems that God has chosen to manifest aspects of his glory uniquely in the distinct activity of each of the three persons within the Godhead. Christopher W. Morgan & Robert A. Peterson, The Glory of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 90, 97. “Jesus has come from God and, therefore has independent glory, yet the glory of God himself…Jesus is God’s radiance possessing shared but independent splendor.”

[17] Louis J. Mitchell, “The Theological Aesthetics of Jonathan Edwards,” 39. Mitchell explains that Edwards understands the language of glory (synonymous with beauty) to function on two levels. “God’s glory is God’s excellence, beauty, and fullness within the triune society of the Godhead. But glory also stands for the overflow of God’s excellency or beauty into creation.”

[18] I am not arguing here that beauty is not physical. I am arguing that it is not primarily physical. The beauty of the physical world, which includes the earth, the sky, the sun, the trees, the ocean, the animals, and human beings are reflective of the beauty of the Triune God who has no physical form (at the creation stage of redemptive history). The beauty of creation is fundamentally a secondary beauty in that it is reflective and extrinsic. It is a real beauty but a beauty that finds its ultimate source in the unseen God. See also Nancy Leigh Demoss, “Celebrating Biblical Womanhood: Philosophies of Beauty in Conflict,” JBMW 9:2 (Fall, 2004), 40-41.

[19] Prov 11:22, 31:30

[20] John Navone, Toward a Theology of Beauty (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996), 72.

 

Gospel & Beauty: A Cruciform Majesty

“He has transferred unto himself the filth of my sins, and communicated unto me his purity, and made me a partaker of his beauty.”

Gregory of Nyssa

The cross turns the world upside down. Power is weakness, wisdom is foolishness, greatness is service, humility is glory—this is the logic of Calvary. You cannot speak of love, justice or peace apart from Good Friday. The cross defines reality. Luther was right, “the cross alone is our theology.”

Our task is to bring everything in life into gospel orbit, to create a robust dialogue between all things and the cross. As we do so our thoughts are formed and chastened. Certain ways of thinking and being are put to death while new ones are brought to life. The gospel is a gracious yet painful dialogue partner.

God will use his gospel to challenge, convict, and reshape our vision of reality. Every arena of life must be submitted to the gospel of God. The aim of the Christian is none other than to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27). God intends that the gospel shape, challenge, and rule our lives in every way.

Beauty is a captivating reality that has always been a driving and shaping force in every culture at every period in history. Our culture and time frame are no different. Whether the magazine rack, a commercial, or the latest movie we are consistently confronted with the question of beauty. It is never far from our mind or desires.

We are called to pull the theme of beauty into the gospel orbit. Even the notion of thinking biblically and theologically about beauty drives us to some very basic questions. What is your starting point for thinking about beauty? How do you define beauty? Who defines beauty? Why do we think of beauty the way we do? In what ways is your perspective on beauty driven by your culture? Do you have a theology of beauty? Where would you start? How does your view and thinking about beauty affect your every day life? How important is the issue of beauty to you?

We are all profoundly influenced by our culture. Beauty in our world is tied to a certain physical appearance. This cultural view of beauty is a standard of judgment we use to assess others and ourselves. It shapes our thoughts, actions and goals in subtle yet profound ways. Beauty is a force.

We need a biblical and theological framework for rightly thinking about such a powerful reality. I suggest three anchor points for building a cross-centered view of beauty: the beauty of God, the beauty of God’s place, and the beauty of God’s people.[1]

We will work through these themes from an Old Testament perspective and then comb back through them again in light of the gospel. As we work the themes we will explore important implications from each section. The next few blog posts will be dedicated to exploring this theme.


[1] A similar three-fold division is used by Graeme Goldsworthy in his book The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2001). He understands God’s kingdom as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. These are three significant themes of biblical theology and so happen to be important to a theology of beauty.

 

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Coming

It is fitting that the final pillar of encouragement centers on the return of Jesus. It is no surprise that the New Testament links encouragement to his second coming. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 makes this link explicit.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede th

ose who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

It is absolutely certain that the same Jesus that bore the wrath of God to rescue us will come back to retrieve those who have trusted him. It is so certain, it is future history as one author has called it. It is certain that you have trusted him will receive a renewed, resurrected bScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PMody at that time.

It is certain that you will be reunited with fellow believers who have died before you at that time. It is certain that when he returns you will be with him forever. He will not leave us as orphans. He will come for us.

Be encouraged! Things are absolutely going to get better. For the Christian, life in this fallen world is as bad as it gets. For the person rejecting Christ this is as good as it gets. It will get better for the Christian, this is not the final chapter of the book.

What we are experiencing here and now is temporary. Do not be drawn into the lie that you only have one shot at life, you will live forever! Every disappointment, every crushed dream, every unmet expectation will be eclipsed by a life that will never end. Be encouraged. He is coming for you Christian!

At the foundation of our framework for encouragement is our God. He calls us to be encouraged and to encourage one another as we recognize the image of God in others, as we revel in the good news of the cross, as we gather together to smash hard hearts and breathe hope into each other, and as we remind one another that this is not the end of the story.

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Church

The presence of the church in the world is intended to be a tremendous source of encouragement. It is for encouragement that we gather and it is encouragement that we are called to bring to the world.

The book of Hebrews tells us that encouragement is an important means of safeguarding one another and developing perseverance in the faith.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).

Daily encouragement is the remedy for the slippery slope of unbelief, hardness of heart and falling away from God. This slope is a reality for everyone one of us. I cannot count the number of times I have come to church on a Sunday morning with a rock for a heart. I have felt the slippery slope—the slide into unbelief and callousness. I have also felt the softening touch of God’s Spirit as brothers and sisters encourage me. We need each other. Encouragement is designed to smashScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM the rock heart that can so easily overtake us.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says to “encourage the fainthearted.” The word translated fainthearted means “little souled.” The idea is that our circumstances, pain, suffering and discouragements can deflate us, they can press in on us to such a degree that our capacity for hope dwindles.

Encouragement infuses hope into our hearts, it expands the walls of our soul again. It increases our capacity for hope once again. When we gather, when we encourage one another, when we communicate the gospel promises to each other again and again—this is what happens.

We need each other. This life of faith thing is a community endeavor.