I am an art teacher. If anyone should have beauty figured out, it should be me.
On the subject of beauty, I thought initially it wouldn’t be that hard to share my thoughts, or to find quite easily, the exact definition. Yet, as I dove into the waters of what is beautiful, I found myself overwhelmed by the goodness of God.
I sat across from my colleague, in a discussion on beauty, and I wept. “I am undone by the beauty of God … and it is a good thing,” I said between sobs. I was trying to reign it in. Why could I not say what beauty really is? Could I fit it into a box, and see it lovely there? A hundred thoughts on beauty – from what I know of God, art, the creation, and mankind – were a vortex in my soul. This shouldn’t be so difficult to define. I was drinking from a fire hydrant it seemed.
Yet, in my quest, I find beauty in the multi-faceted diamond of God’s character and goodness. He has allowed us to find beauty subjectively, but He has also created an absolute standard of beauty that cannot be compromised by a sinful world. Both.
I want to journey with you on a search for the beautiful. I want to look at museums, a movie, and a Man.
Because of my background in art history and love for great works of art, I naturally know beauty to be found on canvas, in sculpture, carved in wood and set in stone. It comes via watercolor, by use of oils, or drawn in pastels. I have seen the beautiful in yarn and tapestry, metals and glass. Go as far as the Louvre or get close at the Kimbell. The museums tell the story of the great artists and their work. We humans are co-creators with a unique role of reflecting God’s character, including His beauty initiative to the world. We are stewards and living stories, given a chance to create for glory. What a privilege!
As image bearers throughout the ages of time, men and women have used paint and ink and all kinds of materials to reflect something greater than themselves. Many have told a story on canvas and paper, on walls, in chapels, from farmlands to cities. They share stories of pain and redemption in a world desperate for truth and goodness and beauty. Beauty stimulates a desire for goodness and truth. My friend and fellow art teacher, Charlotte Seifert, told me that in the classical sense, we are growing towards virtue, towards a life that is good and true and beautiful. When we make and create, she notes, we are doing what God does: “Making things is good; it affirms both our humanity and the divine. When we work in truth, we are seeking to express something that is real. When we make things that are beautiful, we affirm the transcendence of this beautiful world and the beautiful Savior Who is making all things new.”
I could talk about some of the greatest artists, the art movements throughout history, or the search for beauty in the epic, and it would be worthwhile. But, what I want to highlight has more to do with the pattern of humans with their art.
We save and restore and keep great works of art behind glass for a reason. We don’t allow camera flashes or human touch to mess with what we hold sacred behind the glass. We sell tickets and create an exclusive tour to visit the treasures of art throughout the ages. Why? Quite obviously, they have value in our stories. They reach our souls. Like a great song, they stir worship. Simply, they are beautiful to behold. And so, the museums reflect our esteem for beauty by the strokes of mankind.
Storytelling can take more than one art form.
Movies captivate us. Another way to create a visual message of beauty to the generations is through film. One of the more recent films I have enjoyed for the case of beauty was “The Greatest Showman.” This story is different from what our world traditionally touts as beautiful.
A young P.T. Barnum is an orphan on the streets, desperate for food. He steals from a food cart in the alleys and is run down and beaten for his crime. Face down on the cold ground, he falls to his knees. A hand reaches out, and from behind a veil, a lady with some deformity holds out an apple for him. She smiles and hands it freely to a boy about to lose all hope. At that moment, if you aren’t crying, you see with clear eyes the beauty of the exchange. What the world had cast out, even neglecting as hideousness, she redeems in a moment. A seed is planted in young Barnum.
Later, in his story, he realizes that beauty is found in the broken. He turns upside down what his peers thought was beautiful with a bold stroke. What the society had defined as freakish, ugly, malformed, under-developed, hidden, despised and rejected, is called beautiful and unique, with design and purpose. Those cast off gain strength in what makes them different. We witness this and feel our hearts compelled by it in their song, “This is Me.” In a powerful triumph of the beautifully broken, they sing with great passion: “I am brave, I am bruised. I am who I’m meant to be, this is me. Look out ‘cause here I come, and I’m marching on to the beat I drum. I’m not scared to be seen. I make no apologies. This is me.” They were becoming beautiful from their broken parts. We could call this redemption.
And so, I have nowhere else to go but to the Man.
Taking the broken and rendering beauty by redemption is not a human idea.
Humans cast off. We hate wrinkles and blemishes. We devote ourselves to outward beauty by chasing youthfulness and perfection; we keep made-up and fit. A cosmetic industry worth $56 billion supports our obsession. We often want to maintain beauty, no matter the cost.
The Man, Christ Jesus the Lord, is the Creator of Beauty. He is the source of taking what was lost and broken and making it glorious and worthy and beautiful. This is His idea, not ours. He did more at the cross than just save us. He saved beauty. The ugly cross, the terrifying scars, the darkness of death in a tomb are ravaged by a holy God in His beauty, His gripping love that took it out of the hands of our enemy.
One of the great artists of our day is Makoto Fujimura, and in his book “Art + Faith” he says: “Beauty is connected to sacrifice.” This is what Jesus does in His business of restoring beauty. For, from the beginning, in Eden’s meadows, Adam and Eve lived in uncompromised beauty. Their DNA for beauty was given at first breath, and we bear this in our bodies and minds and souls, as well. There is nothing cosmetic about it, and beauty becomes vital to our souls.
Jesus calls for us to remember beauty. In “Reflections of God: The Theology of Beauty,” an IF:Gathering booklet from 2017, the author writes, “We can all suffer from a case of spiritual amnesia, a casual forgetting that enters like a fog between our hectic daily lives and the clear remembering of who God is. We see through a glass, darkly, as 1 Corinthians 13:12 notes. The world is a dim reflection of what God created it to be, an echo from the past, a blurred image at the bottom of a well, a distorted version of paradise. And we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, struggle to keep a clear picture of what God intended, confused by the brokenness around us and our own distracted lives. This world, we understand, is not as it was meant to be. Something beautiful has been vandalized.”
Jesus charges you to remember that He is good. Jonathan Edwards wrote that He is “altogether beautiful.” It was not a physical description, but a character portrait. Jesus’ life and ministry was, for Edwards “the most perfect example of beauty.” Since we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6), Edwards believed that people who understood the life and character of Jesus would be compelled to view Him as the most beautiful of objects. He radiates beauty as proclaimed in Psalm 50:2: “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.”
Jesus is a perfect reflection of beauty, and He has lodged this in our hearts for eternity. And if we don’t see it, Creation testifies all day and all night long, when we rise and when we sleep, in what we can see and what we cannot see. The sun boasts in its start, and the stars dazzle our eyes with His magnificent, creative hand. He loves beauty for beauty’s sake.
In the same “Reflections of God: The Theology of Beauty” article, the author states, “God is the ultimate prodigal painter. The greatest understatement in the Bible may be in Genesis 1:16 when it says that God ‘also made the stars,’ as if the brilliant cosmos full of light and color and unthinkable remoteness were just a creative afterthought. God could have made a single star and then quit. Instead, He made billions and billions of galaxies that no human has ever seen, tucked on the edges of the universe, fanned out purely for God’s pleasure. The stunning abundance and variety of celestial bodies reminds us that God is an overflowing, super-creative being who delights in the beauty of His creation.”
In the late 1800s, Maltbie Babcock, a young preacher, walked daily in the hills above Lake Ontario. He penned a well-known poem that was later set to music called “This Is My Father’s World.” I know many of you have sung this to your children: “This is my Father’s world. And to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.” The IF:Gathering articles reflects on this classic hymn in this way: “He made an ancient observation that the mathematical harmony and proportion of the universe – the dance of the celestial bodies like planets, moon and sun – is so orderly and beautiful that it is like a song, each natural law an instrument in the symphony of creation all playing to the glory of God.”
Beauty, by Babcock’s pen, is in something deeply woven into an eternal and enduring truth called the Shalom of God. The article goes on to state that, “Shalom is a Hebrew term that refers to wholeness, wellness, completeness, and peace. It is the underlying structure of good things working the way God intended them to work … When God created the world, He created it with a perfect balance and order that reflected His own personhood and shalom.”
We long for beauty and shalom. We even fight for it. We are evangelists of the true beauty that He created. The cause and fight for beauty is real, right now. He is the rightful Artist. Counterfeits are just that – fakes. Fight for beauty, for the Lord is worthy of His praise. Point like an arrow to the glory of His praise. He has a promise on you, in this journey for beauty: “God The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me … to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who brings good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!'” (Isaiah 52:7).
Jesus has beautiful feet, even with the scars.
by Megan Skeels, CCS Art Teacher