beauty collageI’ve never met a follower of Christ who didn’t enjoy a beautiful sunset, a mountain vista (especially in autumn!), or a fresh flower glossed with dew. God is, without doubt, an artist. I am astounded by the fact that it wasn’t necessary to make sunsets beautiful or leaves colorful in autumn. He masterminded beauty because He is intrinsically beautiful, because He loves us, and because He wants us to enjoy what He has created. He wants us to enjoy Him. Each beautiful vista, each moss-covered rock, each rough and gnarled tree, is a gift we can only enjoy because He also created within us the capacity (meaning this open space where we see, understand, and/or create) for beauty.

Thus, I think it’s fair to say…

Much like God is love, He is beauty.

Beauty nourishes the soul.

There is also something in our spirits that delights in humanly created beauty:  a well-written sentence, a well-chiseled sculpture, a well-crafted jar with perfect proportions and elegant lines.  Reflecting on Oswald Chambers’ life, David McCasland writes, “Art was God’s gift to make life on earth bearable. Poetry and music were not luxuries, but necessities.” I have occasionally, while reading a book, come upon a sentence so beautiful that I had to pause, reading it over and over until I felt that I had drunk in everything it had to offer. But I’m a self-confessed word-nerd. For you, maybe it’s paintings, pottery, or poetry. Okay, so I enjoy all those, too. My point is that beauty nourishes the soul.

Back in 2013, I didn’t realize my soul was starving until we went on vacation. In an archaeological museum, I saw a marble statue of a man. It had been on a ship that sunk in the Mediterranean Sea where it remained partially buried in the ocean floor for something close to a thousand years. The right side of the statue, which had been covered by sand for all those years, was pristine: smooth, clear, almost alive. You could sense the now-unknown artist’s exquisite understanding of the human form and his mastery of his craft. The left side, which had been exposed to salt water and animal life for those same years, would have been unrecognizable on its own. It was mottled gray, craggy—like a decomposing corpse. The contrast between the two sides highlighted the beauty of the right. (It also reminded me of Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy, but that’s not the direction I want to go right now.)

beauty D - Carole Sparks
sculpture in the pediment of the Parthenon (c) Carole Sparks

The reason we find certain things beautiful and others ugly is because God made us to perceive the world that way, but what we find “beautiful” is a result of culture.  I think the Greeks defined beauty for us Westerners. It happened about 3000 years ago (don’t quote me on that), and our understanding of beauty—especially when it comes to the human form—hasn’t changed since: young, slender, strong, well-proportioned. Other major cultural groups define it differently, but you can certainly see, in Western societies, that we pursue beauty. We lust after it. We fight for it…and sometimes fight over it. The beautiful princesses have knights fighting on their behalf in fairy tales.  And the beautiful co-eds have college guys fighting over them in modern movies.

My soul-founded urge to create
something beautiful belies another
expression of my pursuit of God.

As I stood looking at that half-disintegrated sculpture in the museum, I questioned why we are drawn to beauty and why we ourselves long to be beautiful. Both the desire to be beautiful and the desire to create beauty are, in fact, the desire to be like God. God is beauty and the author of beauty. If I pick up a pencil and a sketchbook or start carving away at a piece of wood, if I focus my camera lens just so or place my fingers on the keyboard in front of a blank word-processing document, if I take a deep breath and begin to sing or hold the last diminishing note of an instrumental jazz solo, my soul-founded urge to create something beautiful belies another expression of my pursuit of God.

Is all creativity essentially
an imitation of God?

I wonder about the atheist. Why does he create beauty? Is it something within himself that even he does not understand…perhaps some innate desire to be God-like? Certainly for those of us who follow Jesus, the connection is easy to see: We want to be like Jesus, to be close to the Creator, Who made all things good. Thus, the pursuit of beauty, even in its most profane form (as some “art” is these days), may be essentially the pursuit of God.

There have been those throughout Christian history who indiscriminately rejected all art. They feared people might pervert beauty into idolatry (a justifiable fear, by the way) much like love can be perverted into lust. Were they not, out of a fear of sinning, rejecting the intrinsic beauty of God? If we first grasp God’s love by our experience of love in relation to other people, then our experience of His beauty may also come first from our experience of it in the world. Beauty is not something to be feared and restricted but something to be understood, received, and enjoyed.

There is something in me that compels me toward creativity. I need to be creative…to fashion something with my mind and hands, then hold the completed project in these same hands. Without such an outlet, I feel stifled, sometimes straight-jacketed. In the past, I ‘chalked it up’ to my personality, and even as I discuss these thoughts with others, I see that my experience is not ubiquitous. As the Father has led me to ponder these things, however, I now understand that my artistic/creative ‘bent’ is often the fuel for my pursuit of God. As I create, I understand more of the Creator. As I produce something beautiful that begins within my mind, I gain insight into God, who not only creates beautiful things but is Himself beautiful. There is glory to be had through this creative process, and that glory is His.

Creativity, the pursuit of beauty, and the nature of God. Because He is beauty. (click to tweet)

Check the comments for quotes I’ve added to the discussion since I first wrote this essay.

What about you? Do you have that artistic ‘bent’? Do you think it leads you to God? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Beauty

  1. I love how you tie the desire to be creative with wanting to be more like God. I believe this can be said of all artist. For some, such as myself just being able to create something fulfills a deep longing. I know I love to have a finished product. I also love working with my hands and feeling as though I have accomplished something. Maybe that is one reason why resting after creating is so important; so we can look at His creativity and the creative ability He gave us to remind us of Himself.

    If I do not create something or reflect on things I consider beautiful (prints, sculptures, paintings, photos, flowers, the formation of clouds, sunsets, etc.) and thank Him for those things I become as you put it “stifled.” The more I consider His works, and His creations the more in awe of Him I become.

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  2. “Whenever we bring order out of chaos, whenever we draw out creative potential, whenever we elaborate and ‘unfold’ creation beyond where it was when we found it, we are following God’s pattern of creative cultural development.” -Tim Keller and K.L. Alsdorf in Every Good Endeavor
    Keller and Alsdorf aren’t speaking exclusively of art here, but the pattern applies.

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