As I write this, I’m sitting outside by the lake looking across at Sandbanks Provincial Park. Last night, as a storm left, we sat and watched as the sky changed colours and as the clouds shifted shapes, revealing and then hiding a rainbow. We were treated to a display of beauty that never gets old.
Everywhere I look I see beauty: in the blue waters, the clear skies, the flickering of the fire, and even in the faces of the people I meet. It’s all so overwhelming. Somehow, at the same time, it’s so easy to take for granted.
Why should the world be so beautiful? Why should sunsets be so beautiful, babies so cute, food so delicious, and love so powerful?
One could explore beauty from the perspective of apologetics. In fact, this approach may be even more important in our contemporary culture. “If we commend only the truth of Christianity and neglect the appeal to beauty and goodness, we are actually not hitting the central, animating concerns of our culture,” writes Gavin Ortlund in his book Why God Makes Sense in a World That Doesn’t. We must not only speak to the truth of the Christian story, but to its beauty.
“Beauty is one way to engage people more effectively, because it enables us to appeal more comprehensively to the various questions and anxieties that people have,” continues Ortlund. “It might allow us to strike a more winsome, invitational tone than is usually present amid the entrenchment and rancor that often characterize public dialogue.”
But I’m not talking simply about apologetics. I’m talking about something central to the Christian life. Beauty points us to the artistry and generosity of the God behind all that we see. Not only did God create beauty, but he gave us the ability to sense it and appreciate it.
That’s why, perhaps, Jonathan Edwards wrote so much about beauty. “All the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being,” he wrote. All beauty derives from God and reflects his character. “The beauty of trees, plants, and flowers, with which God has bespangled the face of the earth, is delightful; . . . the beauty of the highest heavens is transcendent; the excellency of angels and the saints in light is very glorious: but it is all deformity and darkness in comparison of the brighter glories and beauties of the Creator of all.”
Creation gives us an idea of what God is really like. When we perceive beauty, we’re seeing something that borrows its beauty from its source. Beauty wasn’t just a side note to Edwards; it is, according to Dane Ortlund, the organizing theme of his theology of the Christian life.
I’m soon going to pack this computer away. Later on, I hope to sit on the dock again drinking tea and taking in the beauty around me. As I do so, I’ll be seeing something of the character of God, and I’ll be anticipating the day that I get to see not just a reflection of God’s beauty but the source of the beauty. Until then, I’ll bow in worship of the lavish artist who leaves us such great evidence of what he is like.