Our Beautiful God
by R.C. Sproul
I’ve always found it interesting that the Bible often makes reference to the beautiful. In fact, if you took the time to look up every reference to “beauty” or every reference to “the beautiful” in a concordance, you would see that the word beauty in one form or another occurs frequently in the pages of sacred Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. First Chronicles 16:29 is one of the places where we read of beauty: “Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!” (NKJV). This passage conjoins the holiness and glory of God with respect to the idea of beauty. We are called to come into the presence of God and to worship what is beautiful about Him—His glory and holiness.
Other texts also talk about God’s beauty. “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4). In Psalm 29, David calls upon us to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. In both places, the Lord (or significant aspects of His character) are called “beautiful.”
I’m afraid that the idea of the beauty of God has been all but eclipsed in our contemporary culture, both in the secular community and in the church as well. I’ve said many times that there are three dimensions of the Christian life that the Scriptures are concerned about—the good, the true, and the beautiful. Yet we tend to cut off the third from the other two. Some Christians reduce their concern for the things of God purely to the ethical realm, to a discussion of righteousness or of goodness with respect to our behavior. Others are so concerned about purity of doctrine that they’re preoccupied with truth at the expense of behavior or at the expense of the holy. Rarely, at least in many Protestant circles, do we find a focus on the beautiful.
This reflects a striking imbalance given that the Bible is concerned with goodness, truth, and beauty. God, Scripture tells us, is the ground or fountain of all goodness. All goodness finds its definition in His character. In the final analysis, God’s character is the measure of goodness. At the same time, the Scriptures speak about God as the author, source, and foundation of all truth. In the same way and in the same dimension, the Scriptures speak about the beauty of God. His Word tells us that all things beautiful find their source and foundation in the character of God Himself. So, God is ultimately the norm of the good, the norm of the true, and the norm of the beautiful.
We live in a time of crisis in the secular culture and in the church with regard to the beautiful. I hear all the time from Christian artists—musicians, sculptors, painters, architects, writers, dramatists, and others—that they feel cut off from the Christian community. They tell me that they are treated as pariahs because their vocation is considered worldly and unworthy of Christian devotion. That’s a sad commentary on our state of affairs, particularly when we look at the history of the church and we see that the Christian church has produced some of the greatest giants in music, in art, and in literature. Where else but in Christian history do you find a Milton, a Handel, a Bach, or a Shakespeare—men who have been pioneers of greatness in the arts?
If you were to go to the Louvre in Paris or to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and peruse the history of art, you would see that it’s dominated by a religious orientation, and specifically, a Christian orientation. Ever since the people of God have existed in community, art has been a significant concern. When we go to the Old Testament, for example, we see there that the first people filled with the Holy Ghost were the artisans and craftsman that God selected to prepare the objects for the tabernacle. That’s divine inspiration—these artists were inspired by God the Holy Spirit. He inspired them for their craftsmanship of the tabernacle and its furniture, for the metalworking in the tent, and for the making of the gowns and robes for Aaron—which were to be made for glory and for beauty. God was concerned not only to use artists in the building of His sanctuary in the Old Testament, but also to endow those very artists with the power of His Holy Spirit to ensure that what they were doing met with the standards of beauty He set.
At the same time, we also see in the Old Testament strong prohibitions against the misuse of art. One of the Ten Commandments even prohibits the making of graven images that become part of the practice of idolatry, and so there is a hedge put around the use of art in the Old Testament. Though there were some forms of art that received the blessing of God, there were other forms of art that did not receive the blessing of God.
One cannot come away from the pages of Scripture with a simplistic conclusion that all art is good art or that all art is bad art, that art is always lawful or that art is always unlawful. What we can come away with is the understanding that God saw art and what it communicates as being important enough to include in His tabernacle—to include the beautiful where people would meet to worship Him. Beauty is important to God because He is beautiful, and so what is beautiful must be of importance to His people as well. Christian artists should be encouraged to create beautiful art, and Christian people should be encouraged to appreciate the beautiful alongside the true and the good, for the Lord Himself is beautiful.