RPM, Volume 12, Number 16, April 18 to April 24 2010

Beauty




By Scott Schuleit

This essay was influenced, in part, by a lecture given by Dr. Leland Ryken.
I'm not sure what the lecture was titled, but it was given during a chapel service at Reformed Theological Seminary
(Orlando campus) on March 11th 1997. He gave a fine and rousing lecture, introducing us to a biblical basis for the arts.



Some of the clouds this afternoon are disparate, luminous, and edged with sharp light; others are slowly weaving together, softened with deep shadow, portending one of Florida's magnificent thunderstorms.

A bird glides towards a towering tree, its wings flicking out like a fan, furling, then snapping out again, gracefully harnessing the wind before alighting in a flutter-rush onto a branch.

Pausing in its erratic flight, a butterfly lands on a flower, the silk of its wings patterned with emerald and sapphire colors.

After some close observation, I noticed a tiny, tiny, iridescent-green enameled bug, its black antennae shifting against the glowing green world of a blade of grass.

Do you take the time now and then to consider wonders such as these or do you relegate these kinds of meditations as being solely for young couples, painters and poets?

God, the supreme artist, designed a world filled with epic expressions and a vast amount of beautiful, exquisitely designed details that reveal His glory that we, in response, might glorify Him. I believe it's crucial for us to cultivate a lifestyle of looking, perceiving, and meditating on the many beauties which continually engulf our senses. Cultivating an awareness of beauty trains us, among other things, to become more aware of the Lord's providential workings in our individual lives and in the world. I wonder how many times we've failed to perceive Gods hand working through circumstances because of our blindness to beauty.

In the first part of Genesis 2:9, it says, "Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food". This passage reveals to us the dual purpose God had for this particular aspect within creation; through this passage (and others) we can see that many—if not every facet of God's creation—has, at the very least, a partial purpose for the expression of beauty. Notice that the passage considered conveys the concept that God purposefully created it to be "pleasing to the sight" as well as good for food. So we see that part of its design is for beauty, and the other part is for a utilitarian purpose, that of nourishment and sustenance. Beauty manifests itself not only through God's acts of creation, but also through mankind's use of the various artistic gifts that God Has graciously given to him.

It's a sad critique of our age that many people are simply too busy or really do not care to consider the innumerable beauties teeming about us. I mean this is America: What's the bottom line? Cut to the chase? Get to the point! Other clich├ęs could be used here to reveal our pragmatic, consumer-obsessed outlook, with its impatience, disinterest, mockery and jaded disdain towards extending ourselves beyond the most cursory examination into the realm of beauty.

Tragically, this attitude has even infected the church. I would even assert that the church—that body of believers among whom I'm thankful to be counted, is far less concerned with aesthetics than the world is.

To offer an illustration concerning the way some Christians feel about the arts, consider the following: while at work one day, a fellow co-worker half-humorously stated that poetry is for girls. This statement, with its implicit intonation that guys who read or write poetry are effeminate, was directed towards me. My response was merely to point to a certain biblical character by the name of David. "Was David effeminate?" This response immediately silenced my obstreperous co-worker. David was quite possibly the greatest warrior in the history of the human race, the most talented, fiercest and wisest warrior ever to set foot on a battlefield, yet his psalms, besides reflecting the heart of a warrior, reveal the sensitivity of a brilliant poet. Many of David's psalms were written while on the run from the deranged King Saul, yet despite being rather busy with leading his band of men and evading Saul's schemes, he still found time to write music and poetry. But one does not have to go to David alone to encounter poetry or fine prose in Scripture, for high artistry permeates the Bible as a whole. I'm personally not aware of even one of the prophets, major or minor, who failed to include at least some measure of poetry in their writings. The majestic book of Job is epic poetry. The letters of Paul are gorgeous pieces of weighty, epistolary prose. In the book of Judges one can even find a riddle! Within the Gospels, which are finely crafted works of biographical narrative, many imaginative parables can be found. The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, my favorite book of the Bible, is filled with amazing, phantasmagoric, apocalyptic poetry. How about artwork? The descriptions concerning the extravagance of the artwork used in the temple are staggering; the actual scope of the entire design (See Exodus chapters 25-31) for the temple and its articles is, perhaps, unparalleled in the history of art for its depth and beauty. This is the Bible here. This is the Word of the living God. It's difficult to find portions in the Bible devoid of an intensive use of the arts. The lavish use of the arts is inextricably intertwined within Scripture's method for expressing truth. In light of this, why aren't we more aware of the power and importance of using the arts to communicate truth? It's a tragic commentary when we take the glorious truths of Scripture and then proceed to dress them in tattered rags of expression while the lies of the world are robed in royal apparel. Hopefully, this deeply rooted problem will stop with the next generation for we've relegated the arts to the secular arena for long enough, for decades in fact, perhaps even centuries. In light of all this, it should be obvious that something must be done now. We need to awaken from out of our artistic slumber to the importance of reclaiming the arts that truth may be powerfully expressed, soul's won, disciples made, and God's glorious character unveiled even further. Obviously, the world is probably not going to take much notice nor be influenced greatly if the works we're producing are lacking in theological, philosophical, psychological and stylistic integrity.

On a more heartening note, over the last few decades or so, some strong artistic tremors have started to occur within the church. In various places, here and there, through certain courageous youth, through various journals and Christian organizations for the arts, and often through the secret treasure of professors hidden within the secular arena, there are Christians producing rich works of art worthy of Him, Who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. A movement is taking place. A reaction if you will, in response to the reality that we've buried our talents and that art is, at the very least, important, if not just as important as any method for communicating the Christian message. It's quite exciting. There's a new tribe of artistic warriors running up to the battle line like David did, the circular blur of their slings whipping through the air, ready to slay the boisterous giants of false worldviews with the incisive, resounding force of their work.

Now this brings me back to my concern over the consideration of beauty. A concern for the arts is fostered when we take the time to see the many glorious manifestations of the arts surrounding us. We need to take the time as we did so long ago, to train ourselves in the lifestyle of seeing with an artistic eye. Some things are obviously beautiful (and some are in disguise) and many things are not, and of course, many, many things the world produces are wicked, atrocious and ugly, therefore, we need to be discerning that we may not only see and uncover the beautiful, but also see the ugliness of sin in us and in the world, that it may be exposed and renounced. Training ourselves to see beauty will engender a heightened awareness of the ugly and sinful, and though there are some things that are intrinsically evil, some of these, as well as those things which simply appear to be pernicious, can often be used or transfigured through the arts for the purpose of expressing ones artistic vision.

Philippians 4:8 states:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.




This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor. If you would like to discuss this article in our online community, please visit our RPM Forum.

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