Aesthetics is kind of a funny word. Using it in casual conversation could easily gain the charge of being esoteric (another funny word), but indeed, the word and its employment are essential for the Christian.
Even those who have never dabbled in the academic discipline of aesthetics are being shaped by someone to think about beauty, art, and culture. It may come from the paintbrush of Thomas Kinkade or the pen of Wendell Berry. The source does not make someone an aesthete. We all assign beauty to certain things, and thus we should learn what the Bible thinks about beauty and how it plays a formative role in the believers salvation and sanctification. Consider four reasons why aesthetics is so vital for the Christian.
Four Reasons Why Aesthetics Is Not Optional
First, attention to aesthetics is necessary for rightly interpreting Scripture. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, Paul states that “they [who] refused to love the truth” will perish. It is striking that he does not say those who do not believe the truth. Apparently, regeneration works not only at the level of mental understanding or volitional decision, it works on the affections. Thus, if we are to rightly understand Scripture we must not only know the truth, we must love it. The demons know the Bible better then we do, but instead of seeing God and his image as supremely beautiful; they resist the Lord by warring against Christ, the image of God and his church (cf. Revelation 12).
Therefore, to resist the devil and draw near to God, we must—by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14-16)—see the beauty of God in his revealed word. This is one of the reasons why the Bible makes frequent appeal to tasting, drinking, and eating when it describes the word of God. Only when the word tastes sweeter than honey and quickens our pulse more than an unexpected inheritance (Ps 19:10-11), can we have assurance that the roots and rocks of this present world will not choke out the word of God. Beholding the beauty of God helps us rightly weigh the worth of God’s word, giving gravity to the glories it reveals.
Second, attention to aesthetics is necessary for Spiritual joy. John Piper has trumpeted this truth for years. In his little book, The Dangerous Duty of Delight, he argues that “affections are not optional,” because regularly commands “joy, hope, fear, peace, grief, desire, tenderheartedness, brokenness and contrition, gratitude, lowliness, etc” (p. 30). Piper puts us on the right track that God designs and desires that we would not only know him but to love him. Accordingly, such love is cultivated through perceiving the beauty of God.
Third, attention to aesthetics is necessary in your Christian discipleship. Media expert, Marshall McLuhan, once said, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” Applying this sort of reason to the Bible—or rather finding in Scripture this principle long before McLuhan—G. K. Beale has said, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (We Become What We Worship, p. 16). Beale’s observation is eminently biblical. It derives from Psalm 115, which teaches that those who make idols and those who trust in them become just like them—dumb, deaf, unfeeling, immobile. In other words, worshiping idols leads unto death.
By contrast, those who behold the Lord will become like him. 2 Corinthians 3:18 states, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Likewise, John promises that when we see Christ, we will be made like him (1 John 3:2). Indeed, a beatific vision of Jesus Christ makes us like him. Thus, attentiveness to the beauty of God as revealed in his word is essential to our Christ-like conformity. Created to be image-bearers, we will become whatever we behold. If it is the beauty of the Lord, we will reflect his beauty; if it is the ugliness of any other idol, we will reflect that.
Last, attention to aesthetics is necessary in your fight for holiness. Indeed, if we find Christ and his glorious kingdom to be more beautiful that anything else, it will give us the strength to say no to ungodliness. Holiness is not a fake-till-you-make-it, self-driven endeavor. Rather, it is a kind of Spirit-empowered work that chooses to forsake fleeting pleasures because the eternal pleasures promised by God are far greater (Ps 16:11; Phil 3:8). Accordingly, the one who is most ready to fight the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life is the one who regularly beholds the beauty of God as revealed in the Word of God.
For all of these reasons and more, we ought to seek the beauty of Christ, just as David prayed in Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”
Tomorrow, we will look at the Incarnation to see how the reality of Immanuel (‘God with us’) should define, and redefine as needed, the way we understand beauty.
Still learning to how to see what is truly beautiful, dss