Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Objectivity of Beauty Part 3 (Beauty in Scripture)


Although Scripture does not directly address the question of beauty’s objectivity, it does include other teachings from which we can make certain inferences on this question.

Throughout Scripture we find that the Lord puts a premium on beauty and on the aesthetic dimension of life. For example, when the Lord gives instructions for building the Temple, the Lord’s design is beautiful and includes aesthetically pleasing specimens of representational and abstract art.
[1] As the Psalmist says, “Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” (Ps. 96:6) Throughout Scripture the Lord delights to describe physically pleasing women and clothing, and He doesn’t hesitate to pronounce these things as being beautiful.

The Lord’s creation reveals that He is a masterful artist, since He has filled every continent with beauty beyond compare. When Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1), it is the beauty and majesty of God’s creation to which the Psalmist refers. On the seventh day, when the Lord admired everything He had made, it is clear that He was exercising His aesthetic sense. Despite the ugliness sin has brought to the world, the beauty of God’s artistry remains evident.

All this shows that beauty is important to the Lord.

We can go one step further. Beauty is part of the nature or character of the Trinitarian God. A simple word search in a concordance will reveal that in many of the places in which Scripture speaks of beauty it is in relation to the Lord Himself. For example, the Bible refers to “the beauty of the Lord our God” (Ps 27:4; 90:17), “the beauty of [God’s] holiness” (1 Chron 16:29; Ps. 29:2), and so on. God shines on His people as “the perfection of beauty” (Ps. 50:2) while the beauty of His holiness is an object of praise (2 Chron. 20:21). It follows from these and other passages that beauty is an aspect of who God is. It is part of His character.

To summarize the discussion thus far, we have seen that the Bible teaches two things about beauty. First, Scripture shows us that beauty is important to the Lord. Second, Scripture reveals us that beauty is an aspect of God’s character.

The Objectivity of Beauty

In order for beauty to be important to the Lord it must exist objectively. After all, the Lord could not say in the Psalms that creation actually declares His beautiful handiwork if the difference between beauty and ugliness is merely in the eye of the beholder. If the relativist view of beauty is correct, then all the Psalmist could say is that creation declares God’s beautiful handiwork to me, but if someone else finds no beauty in God’s creation, that is just as valid an assessment. Similarly, if beauty is in the eye/mind of the beholder rather than objectively within things themselves, then strength and beauty do not actually abide in God’s sanctuary as the Psalmist declares, since the only place beauty really resides is in one’s own subjective thought-processes.

This same conclusion (that beauty is an objective quality) can also be reached through Scripture’s teaching that beauty is an aspect of God’s character and a central feature of His holiness. It should be axiomatic that if God exists at all, then the attributes of His deity must necessarily be objective, just as if an elephant objectively exists, then all the essential properties which make the elephant what it is must also necessarily exist. Therefore the attributes of God, including His beauty, must necessarily exist as objective qualities.

This conclusion (that beauty is an objective quality) can also be reached through scripture’s teaching that beauty is an aspect of God’s character and a central feature of His holiness. It should be axiomatic that if God exists at all, then the attributes of His deity must necessarily be objective. Since this is true of creatures (if an elephant objectively exists, then all the essential properties which make the elephant what it is must also necessarily exist), how much more must it be true of God. Therefore the attributes of God, including His beauty, must necessarily be an objective quality.

Because human beings are made in the image of the Trinitarian God, every person has an imperfect yet genuine awareness of the difference between beauty and ugliness, just as every person has a genuine but imperfect awareness that there is a difference between right and wrong. Because we are images of God, the awareness of objective beauty is innate to us as human beings; because we are fallen, that awareness is imperfect and subject to distortion and corruption. Later on we will discuss some of the factors which distort and corrupt this awareness.

[1] For an analysis of the aesthetics of the Temple, see Gene Veith’s book, State of the Arts (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway Books, 1991).


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