Beauty’s Purpose and Revelation

Beauty’s Purpose and Revelation

by Emma Whiteford

In light of the desperate human condition, what is the purpose of beauty? Is beauty merely a luxury or a superficial pleasure? People are starving, children are dying, and yet we still find merit in simply standing before paintings and admiring them. Why? Perhaps more pertinently, is pursuing and indulging in beauty selfish and frivolous?  

This past semester at Grove City College, I took a class titled Civilization and the Arts.  We spent the entire semester studying art and music throughout the ages in accordance with the doctrine of beauty – the forms through which God reveals his nature and his ways.  Beauty aids us to understand God’s glory – and beauty’s purpose will always exalt its source, God himself.  Just as “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1), beauty is our avenue of worship, and we are made to praise our Creator.   

In our fast-paced world, we easily fall prey to using our minds much and our hearts little.  Even though reception of beauty revives the heart, reception requires much of us – because being moved to fully savor God’s goodness and kindness requires interacting with beauty in a deeper way. But when efficiency is the name of the game, and when the greatest thing you’re striving for is simply to get the job done and get it done fast, you become miserable.  We tragically tend to dismiss blessings as curses simply because they require something of us.

We have become a people too tired and too busy to fully open our hearts.  Using your heart takes time, energy, and emotion—everything we are reluctant to pour out.  And over this past year I came to realize how much I did sufficiently and efficiently and how little I did wholeheartedly.  I was hit with how far I fell short of the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 23:27).  I found myself in desperate need of having my joy refueled and my awe and adoration revived and yet every time I opened my Bible, I kept using my mind without my heart and I looked at the world in the same way.  Beauty is prodigious: it’s everywhere, all around us, all the time and yet we’re too busy to notice and too weary to care. As Job 12: 7-10 reveals, creation is teeming with proclamation and praise of the Creator: 

“ask the beasts, and let them teach you;
And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you;
And let the fish of the sea declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
In whose hand is the life of every living thing,
And the breath of all mankind?” 

Even when this beauty is on display all around us, we don’t respond in praise because we are too focused on ourselves. Our heart posture dismisses God’s splendor, making us blind. It involves saying that the gifts He has given us are not worth taking the time to praise Him for. What a heart posture for us to repent of! Walking in communion and worship of the Lord requires us to stop pursuing efficiency and start seeking beauty.

And so, discipline your heart to love the word and rejoice in the resplendent spiritual realities we get to live in. It is only in unifying and employing our hearts and minds that we come to daily crave and feast on heavenly gifts. Because living, serving, and loving well requires doing life wholeheartedly—not merely efficiently.  We must take hold of truth and sit with it, dwell with it, savor it, and let it transform us daily. 

Let us become a people who fully use our hearts and draw living water from the fountain of life (Psalm 36).  Prayer and gratitude are the companions of a heart, mind, and soul fully unified in magnifying the Lord of love.  After all, as John Piper repeatedly says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”