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Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder, Part 2: The Source of Beauty

The following is taken from Sound Worship: a Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World.

Part 1: Introduction

The Source of Beauty

Essential to a definition of beauty is pleasure. People call something beautiful because of the pleasure they find in it apart from what it can do for them.

The Beauty of God

God himself is the one in Scripture most commonly associated with delight and pleasure. For example, notice the joy and delight God”s people find in God in the following passages:

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God (Psalm 43:4).

You satisfy the desire of every living thing (Psalm 145:16).

In each of these cases, God”s people do not find joy in him because of what he can do for them, although his works are certainly great and worthy of delight. Rather, God”s people delight in him simply because of who he is, because of qualities intrinsic to his nature.

What are these intrinsic qualities? Notice the words used to describe God in the following passages:

And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness (2 Chronicles 20:21).

Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like his? 10Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and array yourself with glory and beauty (Job 40:9—10).

O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth, who have set your glory above the heavens (Psalm 8:1)!

One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:4).

I will meditate on the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on Your wondrous works (Psalm 145:5).

They shall see the glory of the LORD, the excellency of our God (Isaiah 35:2).

For how great is his goodness and how great his beauty (Zechariah 9:17)!

God is called “beautiful,” “glorious,” “majestic,” and “full of splendor.” These are qualities inherent to the nature of God and qualities in which his people delight.

So here we find the essential concept of “beauty” used to characterize God himself. God has unique qualities that bring pleasure to people separate from what he does for them. God is Beauty.

But I want you to notice something further in Scrip- ture about this pleasure in God who is beautiful. Finding pleasure in God is not optional. God”s people are commanded to find joy in him:

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice (Philippians 4:4).

What this means is that these qualities of beauty inherent in God”s nature and character are worthy of pleasure; they must be delighted in. Failure to delight in God for his inherent excellence is tantamount to sin. Another way of saying it is this: it is not pleasure in God that makes him beautiful. It is objective qualities of beauty that require pleasure. These qualities in God are absolute standards of beauty.

In Scripture, this necessity to delight in God because of his intrinsic worth is called glorifying God or praising God. To glorify or praise God is to find joy in him because of qualities in his nature that are worthy of such delight.

The Beauty of Creation

The beauty of God then extends to his creation. In Genesis 1 God calls his creation “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25), a word that has implications of beauty. Creation puts on display of the beauty of God:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19:1).

What God created may be considered beautiful be- cause it reflects and displays his beauty. In other words, the same qualities that make God beautiful are those standards by which his creation may be considered beautiful.

Further, God calls certain man-made creations “beau- tiful,” as well. For example, God commands Israel to build his Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) to display beauty. In prescribing how he wants the priestly garments made, God says,

For Aaron’s sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty (Exodus 28:40).

So even men can create things that are beautiful. Again, these human creations may be considered beautiful inasmuch as they possess qualities that reflect the beauti- ful qualities of God.

This is all important as we seek to discover whether absolute standards of beauty exist. The notion that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” flows from a kind of thinking that says, “Whatever I find pleasurable is beautiful to me.”

Yet as we have seen from the beauty of God, something does not become beautiful simply because someone delights in it. Something is beautiful because of its qualities whether or not people find it pleasurable. A sunset is beautiful whether or not someone acknowledges the fact. And it is therefore possible to delight in something and think it is beautiful when it is in fact not beautiful.

Absolute standards of beauty exist, and they are found in the very nature of God.

Qualities of Beauty

What, then, are these qualities intrinsic to the nature of God that serve as the absolute standards of beauty? We can find such qualities from three sources.

First, we can discern qualities of God”s beauty from de- scriptions of his nature. Divine attributes such as holiness, purity, reason, harmony, order, balance, goodness, majesty, splendor, righteousness, and loveliness provide the qualities that we should delight in and emulate. Second, since God”s own handiwork displays his beauty, we may look to qualities within creation to determine standards of beauty. Romans 1:20 tells us that God”s invisible attributes, such as his attribute of beauty, may be perceived in creation. Third, since God calls certain manmade creations beautiful in Scripture, we may use them as models for what is beautiful.

When considering both God”s beautiful creative works and the works of man to which God ascribes beauty, theo- logians have long categorized absolute standards of beauty into three groupings: (1) order, (2) proportion, and (3) radiance.

Next: The Marring of Beauty

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

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