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Is there a biblical standard for judging beauty?

Imagine I tell my wife that I want to take her to a special place for our anniversary. We arrange for a babysitter for our children, we dress in our finest clothes, and we hop into our car to set off for our romantic “mystery” destination.

JunkYard2Becky’s excitement soon turns to bewilderment as I pull into the local junk yard. I park the car, open the trunk, and pull out a small table and chairs. I proceed to set up the table, putting a candle in the middle, place settings on each side, and a picnic basket next to the table.

“Here we are, dear,” I exclaim, “all set for our romantic dinner.”

“A romantic dinner in a junk yard?” Becky questions.

“Sure,” I answer. “I thought this place would set the mood nicely. Don’t you just love how the rust on the scrap metal glimmers in the lowering sunlight and how the smell of garbage adds that extra touch to our evening?”

“No, I don’t,” she replies with a frown. “I don’t find this setting pleasing at all.”

“Oh, come on, “ I object. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? You just need to re-adjust your perceptions.”

The situation is silly, of course. No one in their right mind would consider a junk yard beautiful or romantic. There are certain smells and sights that are objectively ugly!

Yet in a culture of relativism, the scenario above sounds strangely plausible. If people do not believe in absolute standards by which to determine beauty, who is to say that a junk yard is not beautiful?

A Christian believes in absolute standards of truth and righteousness. Such standards may be discerned from the Word of God and the nature and character of God.

But what about absolute standards of beauty? Do they exist?

The idea of “beauty” traditionally describes an object or idea in which we take pleasure simply for what it is. In other words, if we delight in something for what it can do for us, we don’t necessarily call that thing “beautiful.” We call something like that “good.” We call something beautiful when we take pleasure in it apart from any practical benefit we may receive from it. A beautiful object has intrinsic qualities in it that cause delight.

For example, I take pleasure in my computer because it allows me to accomplish a lot of things, but I wouldn’t call my computer “beautiful.” On the other hand, I take pleasure in watching a sunset even though it does absolutely nothing for me. It is this kind of delightful thing that I would call “beautiful.”

Is this notion of “beauty” found in Scripture?

In order to answer this question, we must first recognize that although we commonly use the term “beauty” today in signifying this concept, biblical authors use many different terms to describe this same idea. In your English translation you might find the idea of beauty encapsulated in words like sweetness, splendor, majesty, pride, excellence, loveliness, purity, admirability, glory, or even goodness. Words like these are often translations of Hebrew or Greek terms that resemble our idea of “beauty.”

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 Scripture 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 because 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 “beautiful,” 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 beautiful 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 descriptions 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 man-made 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, theologians have long categorized absolute standards of beauty into three groupings: (1) order, (2) proportion, and (3) radiance.

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 relationship 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.

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.

The Redemption of Beauty

Since sin marred beauty in creation, the atoning work of Christ on the cross and subsequent regeneration of individuals by the Holy Spirit is the way in which man’s capacity to correctly take pleasure in God and other things worthy of such delight is redeemed. Because of sin, every man is born without the capacity to delight in God (Romans 3:10—12), yet because men are God’s creation, they are born with an innate need to delight in something. This causes them to spend their lives finding ultimate satisfaction in things that are not God and things that are inherently ugly.

The gospel of Jesus Christ provides the supernatural means by which people are enabled to see the beauty of God in the person of Christ. We find this explained in 2 Corinthians 4:3—6:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Veiled Beauty

Unbelievers cannot apprehend the beauty of the gospel and of Christ. This is what the text means in verse 4 when it says that they do not see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” They do not perceive its wonders and its value and its beauty, and therefore they do not submit to the gospel since they do not recognize its value.

We submit to things only when we appreciate their value, not when we simply know about them or believe in them with our minds. We follow after what we delight in, not just what we know.

Someone may understand the facts of the gospel, but unless he recognizes the beauty and value of the gospel, he will not submit to it.

Revealed Beauty

Yet there is hope. Just like God created beauty at the beginning, so he has the power to illumine hearts so that they apprehend the beauty of the gospel. And when he does this, when God illuminates the heart, then the beauty of the gospel of the glory of Christ is revealed!

Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of the beauty of God because he is the very image of God. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory [or beauty], glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ is “the radiance of the glory [or beauty] of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

Regeneration restores in an individual the ability to recognize what is truly beautiful, first in the person of Jesus Christ, and then in other things. This does not mean that unbelievers cannot recognize beauty or even create beauty. God’s common grace enables even the unregenerate to do so.

But what this means is that a believer has no excuse when it comes to making value judgments about beauty.

The Judgment of Beauty

Once a person becomes a Christian — once his capacity to recognize beauty has been restored — that person has an obligation to correctly judge things beautiful or ugly. God commands believers to “test everything” and “hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The word translated “good” here signifies the intrinsic excellencies of something, and its first definition in Greek dictionaries is “beautiful.” It is contrasted with “good” from verse 15 of the same passage, a word that identifies something that is beneficial. In other words, here Christians are specifically commanded to evaluate everything in order to determine whether something has intrinsic worth.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Perhaps the passage that most clearly articulates such a command is Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Here we find a list of absolute standards by which we must judge all things. The phrase rendered “think about” literally means, “take into account.” Everything we encounter must be judged by the qualities in this list. Each of these terms is worth considering:

  • “true” — truthful, honest, real, genuine
  • “honorable” — noble, of good character, worthy
  • “just” — conforming to the standard, righteous
  • “pure” — holy, chaste, innocent
  • “lovely” — literally “towards affection,” pleasing
  • “commendable” — worthy of praise, admirable
  • “excellence” — moral excellence
  • “worthy of praise” — commendation, approval

These qualities could be grouped into the three categories of truth, goodness, and beauty. Something is true when it agrees with reality; something is good when it meets real needs; and something is beautiful when it is worthy of pleasure.

In all three of these categories, there is a subjective realm (what we think) and an objective realm (what really is). With truth, we may subjectively think something is true that is objectively not true. For example, I may truly believe that grass is red, but that doesn’t make it true. So in the case of truth, we must always change what we think is true to match what God says is true in his Word. John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” With my belief about the color of grass, I have to readjust my beliefs to match reality.

With goodness, we may subjectively think that something is good for us when it is objectively not good. For example, I may think that drinking cyanide daily is good for me, but that doesn’t make it so. Here, too, we must always change what we think is good to match what God says is good. With my views of cyanide, either I would need to adjust my thinking or reality would eventually sink in!

The same is true with beauty. We may subjectively think something is beautiful — we may take pleasure in something — but what we think may not match with what is objectively beautiful. For example, I may take pleasure in a particular work of art or song or style of music and think that it is beautiful, but that does not make it beautiful. According to this passage, we are to take into account things that are worthy of praise, things that are admirable. This implies absolute standards. Here again we must change our tastes to match what God says is beautiful. Our responsibility as Christians is to change what we take pleasure in to those things that are actually worthy of our pleasure — those thing that are actually beautiful.

Change Your Taste

During the years I was in college and the one year before I was married, I ate a lot of junk food. I grew to love junk food. So when I eventually married, and my wife began to prepare healthy, well-balanced meals for me, I’ll admit that I really didn’t have a taste for it at first!

But over time, after abstaining from junk and dieting on healthy cuisine, I soon developed a taste for that which was actually good.

Similarly, Christians can change their tastes to match what is actually worthy of their delight. There are three truths about the Christian life that if you come to understand will really help you in this realm of beauty:

  1. We like what we know. Some people think, “Well, I happen to like that, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” That is simply not true. We develop a taste for things we regularly feed ourselves. We like what we’re accustomed to.
  2. We can change what we like by changing what we know. Unbelievers are constrained to do what they like, but not believers. Christians have freedom in Christ to give things up even if they really like them. And Christians have freedom to bring things into their lives that they might not really like at first.
  3. As Christians, we have an obligation to like what is worthy of liking. We have the responsibility to judge all things and evaluate whether something is worthy of our delight based upon absolute standards about the nature and character of God. If we determine something to be unworthy, we have an obligation to call it what it is and rid ourselves of it. And if we determine something to be truly worthy, then our delight in that thing magnifies our delight in him who is ultimately beautiful.

This essay was excerpted from Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World by Scott Aniol (RAM, 2010).


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.

18 Responses to Is there a biblical standard for judging beauty?

  1. Your distinction between the subjective and the objective forms of beauty is an important one. It could be argued that which is subjectively beautiful to someone can only be so because of their previous experiences, for subjective perception stems from prior encounters. This would appear to be a “tabula rasa” argument. I believe you are suggesting that because of the fall of man, then from birth there are no blank slates but rather slates predisposed to subjectively interpret beauty through the lens of a sinful world. If this is so, an I would agree that it is, we must look to the objective standard of beauty in Scripture, because our original sin taints our own subjective perceptions. The further expansion of this being it is impossible for someone living outside of a relationship with Christ to hold an objective standard for truth, beauty, or goodness that is both precise and valid for they enter this pursuit from a tainted position that prevents them from arriving at a proper conclusion.

  2. In response to your three observations above:

    1. Rather than stating “We like what we know,” I propose a more accurate revision might be “We have achieved a comfort level with what we know.” Yes, often we do like what we know but in other instances, I believe it is the fear of change that outweighs our desire to pursue that which is pleasurable.

    2. The revision to observation 1 challenges this assertion as well. Is the issue that Christians are unwilling to give up that which they like, or is it that Christians are unwilling to give up that with which they are familiar?

  3. God is certainly the epitome of beauty and should be the ultimate standard for Christians. However, since our culture has been hijacked by the philosophy that humankind is the judge for beauty, most believe anyone can be an authority. In the worldview of our culture, each of us is allowed his/her own set of standards or no standards at all for the evaluation of items. The statement, “I know what I like” should suffice as enough credential to make a decision on what is beautiful.

    As Scott points out, Christians have a standard that God has given us in his Word and also in his creation, which is all around us. There is such variety and so much from which to choose. Preference is all tangled up within our ideas of beauty. Some prefer one color to another, or a certain flower over another. We could submit that every sunset is beautiful because God made it, but certainly some people could judge that some sunsets are more beautiful or striking than others. Is beauty on a sliding scale? Could one sunset be considered ugly since there have been more beautiful sunsets? What about animals? Is there such a thing as an ugly golden retriever?

    What about people? A husband tells his wife she is beautiful and to him and God, she is. But to other people, there may be no real beauty that they observe. This same husband tells his wife she is even more beautiful to him after 50 years of marriage than when they first married. Certainly it isn’t that she is more physically attractive—but they have shared so much in life. They have a shared relationship that encompasses memories, probably children, faith, and time. Is this a gift that God gives to us that we are able to see beauty in a deeper or different fashion?

    Do we distinguish between physical, personal or spiritual beauty? According to Isaiah 53:2, Jesus had no physical beauty that we would be attracted to him—so does God even value physical beauty that fades over time?

    Since God’s creation is beautiful, and we are part of that creation, humans are beautiful. Because humans are made in the image of God, there has to be beauty (however hidden in some) in all people. God finds every person valuable and worthwhile, so there must be beauty there too. Sin has distorted and marred the image, but it is still evident.

    Being in God’s image has enabled all of us with the potential to “create” beautiful things and to see beauty. When we look to God to discern beauty, it could look quite different than if we were trying to satisfy our own pleasure quotient.

  4. Lori, you raise some of the very issue that are most difficult to account for; they’ve been problems every since (and likely before) Plato: what about the effects of the fall on natural creation, and what about judgments of human beauty, especially those of a spouse?

  5. I think Robert is right when he said that it wasn’t so much that people like something but that the familiarity makes it comfortable. Most of us have to be pushed out of our comfort zones–we don’t volunteer to leave them. Change is difficult for anyone. If Christian leaders desire for their people to aspire to God’s definition for beauty, they have to be willing to teach the principles slowly and clearly. People will not change when they see no real reason to be uncomfortable. It takes time for people to see a reason to be counter- culture.

  6. Human will is an essential part of a human being. The will can influence on human decisions, and the following actions and behaviors. In a general sense, a success of a person who has a strong will would be greater than that of a person who doesn’t have. It seems to be evident that human will is an effective source of achieving something. However, human will has one fatal weakness: the will not always work efficiently. It sometimes works well, but sometimes not. This signifies that human will is an unreliable source. The sinful nature of a human being cannot make human will perfect. As long as a human nature is sinful, human will is impaired.

    The sinful nature includes a possibility of hindering to change people’s taste. Human will is not an ultimate means to be able to change a taste. Therefore, changing taste cannot be an issue of human will. It is an issue of the Spirit. Only the Spirit of God can help human beings transform their taste to a good one, which God desires.

    “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what the sinful nature desires; but those who live accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Romans 8:5)

  7. There is no doubt that God is BEAUTY because of His intrinsic worth and qualities to be praised and glorified. Whether he does a good thing for us or not, we still have pleasure in Him. Yes indeed.

    Generally speaking, “beauty” is perceived by the sight, a combination of color, shape, and form, one of the five sense organs: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.
    However, do the blind still perceive certain things beautiful? They cannot see
    colorful objects or visual arts but can smell, taste, touch, and hear. Is “beauty” perceived not only by a visual sense, but also by the other four senses?

    Please help me understand if I am wrong or misunderstood. When we taste a new drink and like it, we don’t say “it is beautiful” but “it is good.” Regardless of the drink that gives our body harmful effects or nutritious ingredients, we appreciate the taste of the drink because it gives us pleasure. The pleasure from the sense of tasting is not recognized as in “beauty” but in “goodness.”

    Scott states that the idea of “beauty” traditionally describes an object or idea in which we take pleasure simply for what it is. The NIV translation of “beauty” in Job 40:9-10 is “majesty.” Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and array yourself with glory and beauty (Job 40:9—10). Also what’s the difference between splendor and beauty? I believe that beauty is more than an object or an idea that gives pleasure. I would like to articulate that BEAUTY reveals itself not only in a visual object but also in an idea that stimulates human’s “imagination” with pleasure. The statement that God is beauty does not only mention visual attraction that gives pleasure, but it includes all combinations of God’s majestic nature and character.

    In addition, according to Scott, a formula of “absolute standards of beauty” is made. Absolute standards of beauty= objective qualities of beauty + pleasure. Scott emphasizes that we are responsible to judge all things and evaluate whether something is worthy of our delight based upon absolute standards about the nature and character of God. This statement brought this to my attention. How can Christians help unbelievers to be able to understand absolute standards of beauty? Even non-Christians can see absolute standards of beauty in order, proportion, and radiance, into which theologians have categorized absolute standards of beauty.

    How can Christians build ability to judge and evaluate things on the basis of absolute standards of beauty as God sees? The end of the 3rd stanza of NICAEA written by J.B. Dykes (1861) gives us a clear answer to the question above. Only when we are in His power, in love, and purity through Jesus Christ, we can see absolute standards of beauty as God sees.

    Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see, only thou art holy; there is none beside thee, perfect in power, in love and purity.

    Moreover, my third comment would be that we have pleasure and delight in God not just because God commands us to do so, but because WE LOVE Him as our only Creator, Sovereign One, and our Resource.

    Furthermore, I would like to comment on Nami’s claim that only the Spirit of God can help human beings transform their taste to a good one, which God desires. God gives humans free will. Christians need to pursue not only knowledge of aesthetics of arts, but also knowledge of God’s Word, which opens the eyes of the spiritually blind to the truth of beauty as looking for hidden treasure.

    My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. (Proverbs 9:7, NIV) To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. (Proverbs 9:9, NIV)

    -Da Jeong Juliana Choi

  8. If God is beautiful, then that which is a reflection of Him also is beautiful. The fall affected all of creation, thereby tarnishing the original beauty. Yes, the creator can still be seen in creation but it is only a reflection of the original beauty because of creation’s fallen state. Therefore, in a fallen world can anything really be beautiful?

  9. The opening illustration of this article represents Protagoras’ relativism – “Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not”. This concept is not only far from being outdated, but rather, it has been thriving even more with today’s postmodernity. Unlike Socrates stepped into the mission of fighting against Sophists with moral truth that he was in the quest for, Christian nowadays can fight against world values with God’s absolute truth and moral standard found in Scripture.

    I agree that essential qualities of God shall serve as the absolute standards of objective beauty. However, I want to argue that since the fall of man, human are no longer being able to create “absolute” objective beauty, and need to reconcile with God through and in Jesus Christ in order to truly recognize and judge beauty as objective. Though I rather see it as a result of reconciliation instead of the redemption of beauty for there is nothing to be “redeemed for” if objective beauty is never lost.

    Moreover, limited by the imperfection of the human mind and body, we have to discipline both or body and mind, just as Scott mentioned, so we may bring ourselves a couple steps closer to the joy in God’s beauty.

  10. 2Co 3:16-18
    (16) But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
    (17) Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
    (18) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

    According to this passage a “veil” keeps us from beholding the glory of the Lord, but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Verse 18 reveals something worthy of discussion: we who have accepted Christ are beholding the glory of the Lord. NASB says “beholding as in a mirror” This supports Robert’s statement that all beauty is a reflection, but the verse does go on to say “we all…are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. If we as Christians look into God’s Word we will be changed more and more (degree by degree) into the image of God’s glory. This supports Julianna’s post (from last week on Aesthetic Correspondence) that the beauty of God is found in his holiness. If true beauty, God’s beauty is found in His holiness, then we can experience and find beauty within His creation here and now, but as Paul writes in verse 18 it is beholding the glory of the Lord as in a mirror. It is but a poor reflection of beauty as it really is, but it is beauty, nonetheless.

  11. Robert, this is the same argument I have. And I believe that the best we can do in creation is a reflection of the absolute beauty.

  12. Juliana states that the reason that we delight in God is not just because that God commands us to do so, but also because we love Him as our Creator, Sovereign One, and our Resource. It is understandable in a sense; however, I just want to point out that it is also God’s COMMANDS for us to love Him and to love our neighbors.

  13. The standard of beauty, what it is and how we recognize it, comes down to the Word of God. In Baptist circles that I have been a part of a standard of morals is highly emphasized as well as a conservative, foundational view of God’s Word. However, a standard of beauty or even a teaching on beauty or glory is nowhere to be found. Many times the Christian life in these teachings is boiled down to a list of “don’ts”. “Don’t watch rated R movies” or “don’t drink alcohol.” But there is rarely, if ever, an emphasis on what the Christian should do. That is, with regard to the filling of ones mind and the seeking of experiences for the senses. There are plenty of sermons on working and serving in the church, but teachings or discussions on what a Christian should take pleasure in or find beautiful are difficult to find. So, there are these churches who love God’s Word, teach God’s Word, and uphold God’s Word, but completely miss what it has to say about beauty. Why is there this gaping hole in the teaching of some churches today?

  14. With all the arguments prior to the section of “Revealed Beautiful”, I have trouble with this statement: “This does not mean that unbelievers cannot recognize beauty or even create beauty. God’s common grace enables even the unregenerate to do so.” In order to clarify this assertion, I suggest that we need to discuss about what type of beauty that the unregenerate recognize. Or, how we shall perceive the works form unbelievers as beauty, or even works from believers but with secular purpose, etc.

  15. Maybe some of this will be answered if we understand beauty and ugliness not as opposed extremes but rather, ugliness as the absence of beauty. I submit this is analogous to understanding darkness as the absence of light or evil as the absence of goodness. We then understand it is all a matter of degrees, and only in God do we find any of these in perfection. Yet, there is some degree of beauty to be found in creation, which points to its Originator-Artist who designed that beauty into it.
    The criteria from Phil 4:8, however, are not fully objective. I guess we will always be left with some degree of uncertainty when trying to measure or define ‘beauty’ and draw lines as to what is and is not beautiful. Maybe there are three sources which may help to discern beauty:
    1) The Word of God – which we need to study and know to ‘get a feel’ for what is beautiful (e.g., how are the psalms written; how is Jesus described, etc.), as well as some philosophical concepts as to how to judge beauty, such as Phil 4. I believe we can pick it up less in certain terms than by example and by implication. Reading the Bible, we will learn what God finds beautiful.
    2) Nature – surely, Art Nouveau has had a lot of success in mimicking nature in architecture, furniture, paintings, and crafted objects. Looking at nature, we can see God’s taste for beauty and imitate it.
    3) I believe there is also some innate sense of beauty in all of us. The sunset example seems to be typical of what we’d universally agree is beautiful, even without being Christians or having thought about it philosophically.

    This last sense has to be trained and refined as some have commented above. That would include Bible study but also occupying ourselves with art and its value – something that is sadly neglected in our education system. Roger Scruton, for one, has written on these issues but even he, while asserting there are objective standards, does not dare spell them out in his books. Still, reading between the lines, they transpire and I’d recommend them as source material.

  16. Wen-Chuan,

    I don’t think it is that “taking pleasure” is negative, at least in the churches I’ve been a part of. Christians take part in pleasurable activities. I think it has to do more with not understanding that there is a standard of beauty that God upholds or if there is an understanding of it, the practical application of what that means for today’s Christian life is neglected. That is the point of my question, why is it, that these conservative churches miss and/or neglect this aspect of a disciplined Christian life.

  17. As I ponder Robert’s question, “in a fallen world can anything really be beautiful?,” my response is “absolutely not.” When I modify the question to “in this fallen world is anything beautiful found?,” I answer “definitely.” After those two questions, I add another one: “what made this fallen world a place which still creates beauty?” How can we explain the difference between the truth and the reality?

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