Thursday, October 30, 2008

Beauty in a Broken World

I have found, as a Christ-follower, that it is much easier to explain the corruption and decay and evil that abounds in our world than it is to explain just why, in such a sin-drenched world, there are things that bring joy. I know why there is darkness; but why is there light? I can explain the reality of death, and despair, but how do we account for the presence of beauty and the pleasure it brings?

My simple answer is found in contemplating that doctrine theologians refer to as common grace. Now, of course, nothing about God's benevolent attitude toward us is really "common." And that's not what the doctrine tries to indicate either. The grace of God in every way is uncommon, amazing, unmerited, and utterly worthy of praise and unfettered gratitude. However, in this sense of common grace we mean those gifts that fall from God's hands upon all mankind in common. These are distinguished from those salvific gifts that fall only upon those in whom the Spirit - through the Gospel - has worked faith and repentance. To these, the gifts of special, saving grace are granted unto eternal life!

But, it is also clear that some of God's gracious gifts fall on all mankind. They don't deserve them, but they get them, and in abundance! Ps. 104 reminds us that God causes the rain to fall, and crops to grow so that mankind can eat, make wine which makes the heart glad, and even produce the oil that smooths and shines the skin! In OT talk, this is great stuff! God is taking credit for the common things necessary for life not only to exist on earth, but also for that life to be filled with a measure of pleasure. Paul picks this up in Acts 14:14-17 where, trying to dissuade the pagans from worshiping him, he maintains that he is not God, and that it is God who has made everything that exists. He goes further to explain that, while in the ages past God allowed the nations to act as they pleased, sinning and rebelling willfully, God did not leave Himself without a "witness". This "witness" - Paul explains - was the fact that God did good by sending rain, and fruit, and provided mankind with food and happiness (check it out for yourself!). Do you get the point? God showered the pagan, unbelieving world with good gifts, including the things like food and drink, that brought them happiness.

I like to sum up these "gifts" of God that provide for our well-being and happiness as his gifts of "beauty." Beauty is defined as that which brings pleasure to the senses. So, when my sense of taste is pleasured, it is because of God's gift of "beautiful" food. So to with my ears that are pleasured by music, and my eyes by the beauty of sculpture, painting, and all other manner of beautiful "gifts" from the hand of God.

But why would God give these gifts? Simply because in a world filled with brokenness and despair, "beauty" in all of its forms calls to that vestige of imago dei in mankind, declaring to those surrounded by darkness, that light exists; to those living in the despair of sin's bondage, beauty shouts "there is a better way to live which offers joy and eternal beauty!"

Now some of you are saying that beauty also poses a risk. It can be so enticing that it becomes the master rather than the servant of God for His glory. And you are so right! The topic of beauty - the "good things God so richly supplies for our enjoyment (see: 1 Timothy 6:17) - has always raised controversy among Christ-followers. Some, in order to prevent any slide into intemperance, adopt the principle of avoidance, and champion abstinence from any and everything that might somehow appeal to the senses. Unfortunately, these otherwise good and holy people, place restrictions on the conscience that are much more than are to be found in the Word of God. And in so doing, they actually label many of God's gifts of beauty as sinful. On the other end of the spectrum are those who, in the name of freedom, encourage great indulgence in all manner of beauty, to the place where they become much more enamored with the gift than the Giver. It is obvious that standing up for beauty places us on a precipice from which both sides plunge down into ruin. But there is an answer.

Given that God has richly supplied us with all things to enjoy, we must enjoy them. But, given that overindulgence presents great risks, we must always temper our appreciation with moderation. The key is simply to remember, in the enjoyment, who the Supplier really is. If, in our enjoyment, we are first and foremost recognizing the hand of the Supplier - God! - we will temper our enjoyment with the gratitude and worship necessary to remain steadfastly moderate in all things. A good rule is that we must always endeavor to enjoy God's gifts of beauty a little less than we otherwise might if His Name were not attached to our lives.

Hope this helps,



At 12:12 PM , Blogger A Young American said...

If we remember that God is the author and ordainer of all beauty, and consistently give thanks to Him for all we are able to enjoy, the temptation to abuse those gifts will be significantly lessened.


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