This article is the second in a three-part series on beauty. Click here to read the first article, Beauty and the Beholder
In my previous article, “Beauty and the Beholder,” I said that the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is not only wrong—it’s dangerous. The phrase devalues beauty and erroneously views beauty as subjective. To counter these wrong claims, I explained how beauty is extremely valuable and how God is not only the objective judge of beauty—He is the perfect standard of beauty.
But to say that God is the perfect standard of beauty seems a bit odd. After all, God is a spirit. Forget about judging any of His aesthetic qualities—you can’t even see him. How does God epitomize beauty even though He’s invisible? In order to answer this question, we first have to address another one: what is beauty?
What is Beauty
When we say something is beautiful, we’re normally suggesting that it (or he or she) simply looks good. That the person or thing stands out in a good way. The common dictionary definition follows suit while adding some vital information. Merriam-Webster’s full definition is “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.”
This definition reveals four interesting points.
Though these points are good, without a Christian worldview they can be used wrongfully. For example, to view anything that gives us pleasure as beautiful would give us a horribly twisted view of the divine standard, God Himself. Therefore, we must address these points as Christians, and that brings us to the purpose of beauty.
In my previous article, I emphasized that beauty is supposed to point us to God. This implies that real beauty is never morally wrong. But on a higher level, beauty, just as the dictionary said, “pleasurably exalts mind and spirit.” When confronted by astounding beauty, we are given a sense of the divine. We are mesmerized by something seemingly out of this world. And the one word that describes this is awe.
Beauty awes us. “Pleasure” seems too inferior a word to describe real beauty. The qualities of something truly beautiful overload our senses with so much good that we cannot help but say, “Wow.” We cannot help but be awed.
Experiencing the Beautiful
The awe generated by real beauty points us to God, the standard of beauty. “The invisible things of Him (which includes God’s beauty) from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made . . .” (Romans 1:20). So by seeing the beautiful in this world, we have a sense of who God is. Therefore let me ask this question: what have you been awed by?
It could be a magnificent landscape with looming mountains and towering trees with the scent of pine needles and grass in the air. Sometimes it’s a delicious dish that filled your mouth and slipped down your throat too quickly making you hold onto the taste still lingering on your tongue. Maybe it was a gorgeous person who made you second-guess every word you said. Or a night when the sky was filled with millions of tiny sparkling lights and the chilly air wrapped around you created wisps whenever you breathed.
But it’s not just God’s immediate creation that awes, God’s creation through the works of man awes as well. An attention-grabbing painting that guides your gaze around the canvas allowing you to take in the details as well as the whole. A piece of music so enthralling and wonderful that it lifts up your heart so much it’s almost a spiritual experience. A work of literature that creates beautiful images in your mind’s eye while simultaneously being a cerebral masterpiece. A film that uses a sweeping score, arresting visuals, and excellent acting to make your emotions rise and fall causing you to experience life from another point of view. These are but a few examples of God’s creation through the works of man.
Why You Should Use the Standard of Beauty
We see God’s beauty reflected through His creation. When examining it, we discover many qualities and we use them to judge beauty. We see the overall unity and harmony in a landscape or a piece of music. The proportion and balance of the human face or a photograph. The diversity and convention in film or the night. The vibrancy and splendor of the universe or a painting. All these qualities and many more combine to create a predetermined result giving rise to beauty.
If you noticed these qualities are quite general. That’s because beauty is not determined by a hard set of rules. The problem is most people believe otherwise and that’s how phrases like “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder” become so prevalent.
Everyone has their own preconceived rulebook which they use to judge beauty. They aren’t using the divine standard of beauty, but their own. Now it is true that people like different things. You and I probably do not like the same things. But that doesn’t mean one is beautiful and the other is ugly. The difference is in our preferences or taste.
Having your own personal preferences is fine, and we need to keep and even refine our taste. But far too often, we pull out our own little book of biases and use that as the standard of beauty rather than God’s standard of beauty. When you see beauty as a combination of perfect qualities rather than a set of rules, you’ll see true aesthetic beauty.
Beauty is bigger, greater, and deeper than we think. It’s more widespread and far more perfect than we realize. Normally, we allow our cultural biases or personal taste to define beauty for us. But if we cast aside our prejudiced ideas and cling to God’s standard of beauty, maybe we will expand our definition of beauty to include so much more. Then we’ll recognize the beauty all around us and become so awed by it that we’ll finally see it for what it is: a reflection of the beauty of the Lord.
This article is the second in a three-part series on beauty. Click here to read the first article, Beauty and the Beholder.