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Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder, Part 3: The Marring of Beauty

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

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Source of Beauty

The Marring of Beauty

If not for the presence of sin, all creation would still be beautiful, and by extension all creations of man would also be beautiful. Yet sin subjected creation to futility (Romans 8:20), and thus sin brought ugliness into the world. Because of sin we now have dis-order, dis-proportion, and dullness. Just as something is beautiful when it rightly reflects the qualities of God that make him beautiful, so something is ugly when it possesses qualities contrary to the nature of God. The presence of sin in our own hearts (Jeremiah 17:9) is the reason we cannot simply trust ourselves to determine what is beautiful. We must look to absolute standards outside ourselves. Sin is also the reason we must carefully judge all man-made creations, including music.

Remembering that the idea of beauty is encapsulated in the biblical concept of “glory,” we can see the relation- ship between sin and ugliness in passages like Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” To fall short of God’s glory is to fail in delighting in God as we should.

There are two primary ways that we can fail to bring God glory in this area. First, when we delight in something to a more fundamental degree than we delight in God, we fall short of his glory. Glorifying God is delighting in his unique excellencies. To take delight in something else to the same or greater degree is sin. Likewise, when we fail to take delight in God at all for his unique qualities, we fall short of his glory. God described this kind of sin when he said through Jeremiah,

For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).

Second, when we delight in something that possesses qualities contrary to the nature of God, we also fail to bring God glory. To call something beautiful that is not is to contradict the beauty of God himself. This is why distinguishing between the beautiful and the ugly is so important. To call something ugly that is beautiful when compared to God is to call God ugly. To call something beautiful that is ugly when compared to God is also calling God ugly.

Let me illustrate it this way. My wife has beautifully decorated our home. If I were to proclaim, “These decorations are ugly,” what would I be saying about my opinion of my wife’s decorations? Likewise, if I were to say, “I think it’s much more beautiful to decorate with graffiti on the walls and bouquets of dirty socks,” would I not also be saying something significant about my opinion of my wife’s decorating?

Glorifying God is taking delight in him because of qualities in his nature. Therefore in order to glorify him, we must also delight in other things that resemble him and despise things that do not resemble him.

Next: The Redemption of Beauty

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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.