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The Baseline for Beauty

Perhaps you have sat in on a public debate where conflicting values come into play—-a debate, say, how to balance economic growth with the need for preserving the community. Or how to balance the right of free speech with respect for others' feelings? Behind those discussions lies the desire for beauty, truth, and goodness. It can be confusing, to say nothing of exhausting. What is our touchstone for understanding these ultimate values? The Bible tells us that in the end, beauty, truth, and goodness come from God himself, because they reflect his character and being. Sometimes we get confused about these overarching virtues when we lose sight of God. That helps explain why we sometimes distort the truth, fail to work for the common good, or put beauty to wrong use, leading to lust, covetousness, and idolatry.

But there’s a corrective to the false use of beauty. That is to recognize that true beauty comes from God, from his being, character, and works. Some of the many words the Bible uses for God’s beauty include majesty, glory, honor, loveliness, comeliness, delightfulness, and excellence. He embodies all things beautiful. When one apprehends the divine, one is moved to proclaim, “How great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty!” (Zechariah 9:17). It’s not enough just to know about God—-we need to experience him, to know him personally in order to receive the life and blessing that come only from him. In short, we need to worship, which can be conceived of as a kind of wondrous gazing. When we do that, we can then discern echoes of God all around us, from creation to the work of our hands. Like the Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence…think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). When we contemplate these things, we are in fact turning our lives in the direction of God, whose magnificence radiates in Jesus Christ. When we look at Jesus, we see infinite beauty in tangible form, the “Word made flesh,” “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). May we enjoy his beauty, goodness, and truth, and in turn express that to others.

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