Often times we think on what is true and good and the objective nature of both. However with beauty, we tend to view it subjectively because after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Well no, actually it isn’t. Beauty, like truth and goodness is objective and it is so for the same reasons as truth and goodness. Beauty it ultimately rooted in the mind and character of God.
When we encounter beauty, be it in nature (God’s creation) or something humanly made (a painting, sculpture, song or play) it resonates with us. It prompts us to contemplate something outside of ourselves. While we all have diverse and varying opinions of what we think is beautiful, that is merely the subjective element tethered to our own perspective. It is merely our preference for the given vehicle which it is delivered. In nature, some prefer daises to roses. In human endeavors, some prefer pop (Drake’s “Hot Line Bling”) to classic rock and roll (Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills”). There is a subjective element regarding the vehicle through which beauty is delivered but the ultimate concept, the idea, is very much objective. This is not unlike truth and goodness.
Both truth and goodness can be delivered in unique ways. Truth can be delivered by way of an essay, or lecture; by a book or sermon. However the manner which we prefer to receive (or experience) truth doesn’t determine what is true. Goodness follows suit. It can be delivered by way of a tray of freshly baked cookies, or someone doing your laundry when you are ill, or a huge Christmas dinner placed on the table for all to gather round and enjoy. While all of these actions are diverse, what is unmistakable is the motive behind them is goodness.
While no deed, sermon, or play determines what is good, true or beautiful, these things do serve as vehicles by which they are delivered. Therefore, when we say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what we are really expressing is our preference for the vehicle by which it is delivered. What we should really consider, in the face of our predilections, is what is the objective nature of it.
This is where, as with goodness and truth, we arrive at the ultimate source of beauty -God.
When recognize something as beautiful, what we are recognizing is that which goes beyond ourselves. Even in humanly made things, we can see God at work in that. He has given us His image and when we witness creativity in fellow humans, it is God’s image at work in them. This is why we connect with music, or art or film or poetry in a profoundly existential way; it resonates with us as it serves to point to the ultimate and eternal creator. Our longing for the eternal is stirred when we see the image of the eternal at work.
There is that within us that longs for the eternal. It can be suppressed and ignored or it can be celebrated and pursued. The Christian of course does the latter. Because we bare God’s image, and moreover as Christians, we are being conformed to the image of Christ daily, we, above all creatures should, believe in the objective, eternal nature of beauty. Regardless of the vehicle by which it is delivered, beauty serves to point to the eternal and the transcendent and we as His people should recognize that and subsequently proclaim it.
So why this, seemingly overly philosophical post for Christmas?
Christmas is the time we give special recognition to Jesus’ birth. All arguments regarding His actual birth date aside, it is the time of year we focus with significant intent on the incarnation; God becoming man.
The eternal which we long for and recognize in created things, became human. As with goodness and truth, Christ is also the embodiment of that which is eternally beautiful.
Christmas then should prompt us to think on His truth and goodness but also His beauty. He is the most beautiful of all. God became man and dwelt among us; this is the heart of the Christmas message and the fullest expression of truth, goodness and beauty imaginable.
With that I say, Merry Christmas indeed!