Goodness, beauty and truth

The goodness of God renders Him amiable.

God's goodness renders Him beautiful, and His beauty renders Him lovely; both are linked together (Zechariah 9:17). And we, created in God's image, are attracted to whatever is beautiful.

With good reason Augustine of Hippo cried out: "Too late came I to love thee, O thou Beauty both so ancient and so fresh."

The Triune God, Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, is the Fountainhead of Beauty, wherever and in whatsoever shape and form it is experienced. In manifesting Himself to us, God comes in judgement, in mercy, in holiness, in grace: that is, in his splendour and beauty. For just as white is the aggregate of the seven-streaked rainbow, so God's holy beauty is a compendium of His attributes.

Scripture overwhelms me when it speaks of the beauty of God's holiness. I was raised up to think that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, that it is something relative. I was taught that the artistic heart expresses its own intrinsic sense of beauty. Not having thought these things out, I initially assumed that I am autonomous as far as art and creativity are concerned.

The case turned out to be otherwise. Truth, goodness and beauty all come down from above: they proceed from God. Three intertwined divine characteristics: one is insufficient, two miss the mark, three give us a fair concept of reality as it flows from God, subsists through God and tends towards God. "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." The poet's dictum is impressive, but found lacking. No beauty and no truth can be enjoyed apart from goodness: the three are interdependent.

God, having disclosed to me that truth, goodness and beauty are in His Son, impels me to still pursue them in ever-increasing fashion. My soul is attracted to loveliness: God made man thus, to be irresistibly drawn to the beautiful.

David's ambition was quite explicit: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life (GOODNESS, MORALITY), to behold the beauty of the Lord (AESTETHICS), and to inquire in his temple (PHILOSOPHY, TRUTH)" (Psalms 27:4). An abundant life indeed!

It must be observed, though, that in a created order, beauty can only be a simulation of heavenly glory, of things no eye has seen. Apropos, Dürer was on the right track when he wrote: "What beauty is I do not know. Nobody knows it but God." And yet Dürer left behind an inestimable legacy of beauty.

But "the True Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world," always leads us to the love of beauty. Now where an adequate appreciation of beauty is lacking, a defective theology will necessarily be found. An obedience to the most fundamental of all commandments ("Thou shalt love the Lord thy God...") qualifies you and me to approach and enter the sanctuary of beauty.

But man cannot behold beauty directly: no one can see God's face and live, as Moses was instructed. Nevertheless we can see it as in a mirror, dimly, with our faces covered. But it is there, and the faithful know in which direction to look. "And let the beauty of the Lord of God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands..." (Psalms 90:17).

Despite all human failures, beauty is to be discerned even upon the earth. "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined" (Psalms 50:2). "Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary...O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth" (Psalms 96:6,9). Thus beauty is always related to God, for it proceeds from Him; and since this is so, it gives us all the more reason to enjoy the Chorale, recite Paradise Lost, and frequent the Museum of Fine Arts.

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness..." (Hyperion). "Nothing is beautiful except the true; the true alone is worth loving; it should reign everywhere, even in fables" (Boileau).

Are you bothered by beauty? Enough to be stimulated to manlier thoughts, deeper feelings, a contrite heart? For "unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us."

The whole earth is filled with God's goodness, God's glory, God's beauty. And the more "human" we are (that is, the more we are like Christ morally), the more we will be enabled to see it and appreciate it.

And in doing so love God all the more.