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A Theological Endeavour



About 10 years ago I had a friend with whom I am no longer in contact with. During our short-lived friendship, we spent a lot of time together, attempting to figure out what life was all about. Enjoying and considering books, films, music, photography, fine art and time together, we were attempting to find meaning and purpose in our human existence. Even though we used these same modes of discovery, we had different perspectives and different aims, and different ideas of what we thought our purposes might be.
This friend once described me as a hunter of beauty. She noticed my particular preoccupation with things I considered beautiful, and how I was -  rather selfishly, so she thought - drawn towards beautiful things and experiences. She felt I was distracted from more important issues that might have been more worthy of my attention, such as social justice and various other ethical responsibilities.
Having had a decade to reflect on this - not quite derogatory, not quite honorary title - that was bestowed upon me, I have had enough time to examine my habits and patterns, tendencies and inclinations, delights and desires, and I have become deeply satisfied with it. Being a Christian, I have come to understand my passion for beauty as a theological endeavour, because I believe that the beauty that exists in the world is a reflection of the God who created it, and is, therefore, an insight into the mind, the heart, the character; the very person of God Himself. And, therefore, the hunt for beauty, is the hunt for God - hence the name for this blog!
As it continues, the blog will be an attempt to collect and develop my thoughts and ideas as I think out loud, so to speak, and hopefully, help others to think through matters such as beauty, from a Biblical theological perspective.
To start with, we can examine how the hunt for beauty is the hunt for God? How is beauty a theological endeavour?
Rooted in Genesis chapter 1, a simple bit of logic can help us on our way. Firstly, God created the world and everything in it. Therefore God created beauty. Beauty is the quality of an object, concept, motive or personality, that we experience as pleasurable or satisfying, either morally or aesthetically. It is essentially a term that we have constructed to help us describe what we enjoy in life. Because beauty exists and is present in the created order, we know that God created beauty. He created things as beautiful, and to be beautiful. Just like any created thing, the creation retains, in some form or another, a reflection of its creator. Therefore beauty is a reflection of God who created it, therefore there is beauty in God. Therefore God is beautiful. Therefore, any experience we have of beauty from any aspect of creation is really an experience of the beauty of the God who conceived it and created it.
As quoted above from St. Augustine “Do we love anything but the beautiful?” We are people drawn to beauty. We are enamoured and bewitched and dazzled and overwhelmed by the beautiful. We are intoxicated by it and driven towards it. We long for it and strive after it. We all know when something beautiful catches our eye. When our concentration is disturbed for a moment (or more). When we are struck by something new, something different, something wonderful, something beautiful. Beauty draws our attention, our passion, our desire, our affection and we begin to love what is beautiful. That’s natural, and that’s good, and that’s part of how God designed us as human beings to work.
We know that in the Bible God condemns those begin to worship the created order. Read Romans chapter 1 to find out more. But the fact that they worshipped something they found beautiful wasn’t the problem. The problem was that they hadn’t worshipped what was the most beautiful. remember, the beauty of the world is a reflection of the beauty of the one who created it and brought it into existence. It’s a pointer of one form of beauty to another, from a lesser version of beauty to another. And so if we stop short of God and end up loving and worshipping the beauty of the created order, we miss out on the greater enjoyment we could have from loving and worshipping the God who is beautiful, the one who defines beauty. Beauty in the created realm is only a reflection of the truest beauty that exists in God Himself.
Is there anyone you’d like to meet? A musician or artists, perhaps? We use the term “pop idol” don’t we! It’s not often just the music we fall in love with, but the person who composed it. I’d love to meet PJ Harvey, the mind and personality behind so much music I enjoy. The music she makes helps me to know and enjoy her as a creative person, and I’d very much like to meet her. Even though I have never met her, through the beautiful music she has created, I begin to value her as a person. As the creative force, she is more important than what she’s created. You see, created beauty is always a reflection, designed to lead us to its source, it’s creator. We should always love the creator more than the created, but we learn to love the creator through the created. In our pursuits of beauty, we should see them as stepping stones to a knowledge and enjoyment of God.
And for Christians, I think that this should have great implications. It means that in our pursuits of beauty in the world, we can understand the enjoyment and satisfaction we get from those beautiful experiences in the created realm, as ways we are actually enjoying the person of God. And this understanding might help us to stop short of idolatry, and instead, encourage us towards true love for and true worship of God. You see, under God’s sovereign rule over the creation and sustenance of the universe, He determined and designed beauty into the created order, as a phenomenon that might help mankind to bond with Him. He knew that things we would begin to describe as beautiful would be things that give us pleasure and satisfaction. He designed pleasurable, satisfying experiences into the fabric of His creation in order to point out that, amongst other things, He Himself is enjoyable and satisfying. And therefore, the hunt for beauty is really the hunt for God. And therefore, the hunt for beauty is a truly theological endeavour, and thoroughly worthwhile and necessary.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

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