Beauty and Christianity’s Primary Endeavors
Once we understand that beauty is close to glory in meaning, we will without any difficulty find beauty at the heart of many Christian endeavors. The most obvious is worship. Worship is the act of returning to God affections corresponding to His beauty. Psalm 29:1-2 captures this: “Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, Give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” Worship is then an act of rightly perceiving the revealed beauty of God and rightly responding to that glory.
The gospel itself is a proclamation of God’s glory to a sinful world. Paul calls it “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). The glorious God created men for His glory (Is 43:1), but all have sinned and fall short of that glory (Ro. 3:23). God will be glorified either through the destruction of His enemies or through His mercy on believers (2 Thes. 1:8-10). Justifying sinners without being unjust is the grand glory of the gospel message (Ro. 3:20-28). Salvation being by grace alone through faith alone gives no glory to man, and all the glory to God (Eph 2:8-9, 1 Cor 1:27-31). The grand purpose of saving men is not simply their justification or eternal life, but their obtaining of glory (2 Thes. 2:14; Ro. 5:1-2; 8:29-30; 1 Pe. 5:10).
Therefore, evangelism and missions is a proclamation of God’s glory to the world: what is most valuable, how we have prized lesser beauties over God, how the most beautiful and ugliest acts met at the Cross. Through the beauty of grace through faith, we may come back to the beauty lost in the fall. First Peter 2:12 says that believers are to live before unbelievers in an honorable way, “that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good (kalos) works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Pet. 2:12). The word for good in 1 Peter 2:12 was Plato’s favorite word for the beautiful. It is by the beauty of our lives that we commend, or adorn the gospel (Tis 2:10). In fact, it is my contention that what persuades in apologetics is not the force of logic, or the appeal to facts, but the overall beauty of the combined harmony and elegance of the evidences, reasons and appeals to self-evident truth. The beauty of the comprehensive explanatory power of Christianity, and the beauty of changed lives, changed cultures and changed art is what persuades the heart. And as Pascal said, the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.
Once in the faith, sanctification and discipleship is a process of being conformed to the beautiful image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). Paul describes Christ’s work of sanctification as essentially a process of beautification. Christ beautifies His Bride, so as to present her to Himself in perfect beauty (Eph. 5:25-27). Discipleship is a process of being renewed according to the beautiful image of Christ (Col 3:10). Paul stated it was his desire to present every person perfect in Christ (Col 2:28). One of the clearest marks of this maturity is the ability to distinguish between what is beautiful and ugly, good and evil, true and false (Heb. 5:14), being able to approve the things that are excellent (Phil 1:10).
The church is the primary means by which God’s beauty will be seen by both the world (Eph 3:21) and by angels (Eph 3:10). All ministry which edifies the saints and grows them into the image of Christ is part of this beautification (Eph. 4:11-16).
One’s vocation can be traced back to Genesis 1:28, when God blessed Adam and Eve and encouraged them to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”. Man’s calling was to spread the glory of God over the earth, as the waters cover the sea. Through reproduction, mankind would be numerous enough to shape, tame and transform all of creation. God remedied the formlessness that existed on day one by beautifying the creation for a further six days. Man was essentially given a similar sub-creative task: to transform the wildness of the world outside the Garden. In essence, the Garden was meant to expand to encompass the world with its beauty. Although fallen, man’s vocations are still meant to do this: to bring God’s order, beauty and goodness to the world. That’s why all that we do can be done in Christ’s name (Col 3:17) or heartily as to the Lord (Col 3:23). Whatever we do is to be done for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
In light of this, a Christian understanding of leisure is also grounded in beauty. Recreation is truly re-creation. We do those acts of restoration, of creativity, that bring beauty into the world, or at the very least, do not defile us or bring more disorder or ugliness.
All of life can be an act of contemplating God’s glory, or consecrating acts for God’s glory. Either way, we unite with beauty in perception or action. For this reason, George Herbert called this attitude “The Elixir”, in the poem by that name. In Herbert’s time, the fascination with alchemy led some to believe that an elixir, or philosopher’s stone, was a substance that would turn base metals into gold. Herbert believed that either consecration or contemplation could turn all of life into the gold of God’s glory.
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.
Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
And give it his perfection.
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.
All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—”for Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
About David de Bruyn
David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.