The Challenge of Beauty

By Ian Hodge

When discussing whether or not there’s a God out there, one of the arguments that’s often marshaled in the negative is the problem of evil.  That is, given the awful evils present in our world, how could we reasonably believe in a God who is good?

There are thoughtful responses to such a question that I can’t develop here. But there’s also a counter-question, the problem of beauty. How do we meaningfully talk about beauty in a world with no good God? Where did beauty come from?

After all, one of my favorite things about beauty is that it’s totally useless. There’s no evolutionary advantage to stopping and admiring the beauty of those snow-capped mountains, or the contrast of the green hills with the clear blue sky this time of year. One is free to argue that perhaps I’m really appreciating the fact that we’ll have water this summer, or that there will be a good harvest when it’s time. You can argue that, but I’ve got inside knowledge. I can see inside myself, as you can see inside yourself, and I know that’s not what I’m doing. I have self-awareness enough to recognize this. It’s just beautiful, no matter what it means for me personally. 

I can find beauty in the desert, or in the entirely useless and common-place sunset. I can find beauty in virtue, whether it benefits me, or the group, or my posterity, or nothing at all. I can find beauty in the courage to tell the truth no matter what the cost to the truth-teller. Beauty is everywhere, it is all around us, and it is largely useless. So, without God, it must be merely a happy accident, or the exercise of a fool to assign value to that which is unimportant or even meaningless.

So what is beauty? Where did it come from? What does it mean?

It makes perfect sense in a universe created by a good and beautiful God. Beauty is a glimpse into the mind of God, into His heart. Perhaps this is why Psalm 27:4 reads, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” 

Goodness is a reflection of His character in all its virtue, and perhaps this is why we often call moments of intense beauty a “spiritual experience.” Further, it makes perfect sense to see beauty in each other, whether its beauty of form, or spirit, or character, or anything else; for at least in the Christian conception, human beings are made in the image of God, and at our best we are reflecting that image into the world for His sake, showing who and what He is.

So then, let us be intensely concerned about beauty in our own lives; seeking it, contributing to it, being formed and changed by it, because we have inside knowledge that beauty is on purpose in our world.

Ian Hodge is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lemon Cove. He may be reached by calling 559-597-2249.

Prays Together is a rotating column between the pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Exeter, Church of Christ of Exeter, Nazarene Church of Exeter, Church of God of Exeter, the New Life Assembly of God and Rocky Hill Community Church as well as the Lemon Cove Presbyterian Church. 

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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