by Gabriela Pallikan
The sun began to peek over the horizon, spraying reflections of tender pinks, oranges, and purples all over the ocean’s surface. Delicate clouds dotted the morning sky, and monstrous boulders towered ominously over the water’s edge. As I stared into the distance, the vast, flawlessly blue waves beat against the rocks in thunderous yet muffled crashes, and seagulls chattered overhead. Even the trees, which were lined up to create a fence between the gravel road behind me and the red boulders ahead, seemed to stand out like radiating emeralds in the soft light of the new day. Seeing all of the vibrant blues of the ocean and greens of the plants and golden in the sky above felt such a relief from the business and agitation of the city. In that moment, everything felt so much more alive, yet so much more at peace. All I could think was how beautiful that scene was, and how perfect the beauty of God can be.
However, looking back, it is so hard to describe exactly why I was overcome with such beauty, because beauty can be such an abstract idea to define. What is it that makes something truly beautiful? Why is it that everyone can easily point out what they think is beautiful, yet they cannot say why? Why is it that certain things are generally considered beautiful and others are not? What is it about beauty that can make a person so enchanted and amazed? The dictionary defines beauty as a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially sight. It is true that beauty is pleasurable to those who are beholding it, but it is also so much more than that. It is something that is much deeper than the pleasure of human nature, and it has a much more important purpose than to bring enjoyment to people. Beauty is God’s mark upon the world in order to reveal what is truly good; therefore, goodness and beauty are the same on a deeper level.
Beauty and goodness are fundamentally uniform because something cannot be beautiful if it does not express the truth, goodness, and love which God intended. Beauty is how people can observe and experience what God created to be good. Therefore, goodness is what is pleasing to the senses, but also what is pleasing to God. In his writing Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas discusses this idea of beauty and goodness being one and the same. He says, “Goodness is what every person desires, and beauty is the form of goodness that our senses can observe. Beauty and goodness are the same things deep down below the level of the senses”. The Bible also shows that God created what is good and beautiful. The book of Genesis states, “And God saw that it was good,” but that verse contains a Hebrew word which can really be translated as either good or beautiful, making them one in the same. Anything that is not good on a deeper level cannot truly be considered beautiful.
However, these days, sin has so deeply corrupted our society and created such an alluring false imagery of what is beautiful, that it can be difficult to distinguish the difference sometimes. There are so many twisted versions of God’s gracious gifts to humankind that have turned into hateful, sinful acts of greed and jealousy. These may seem good at first, but once the enhanced, glamorous outside is stripped away, it is clear that what lies beneath is the hideous, destructive wickedness of what it truly is, lacking any sense of virtue or goodness. Some could say that murder is beautiful, but just because someone may see it that way, it does not mean that it is truly beautiful. Murder is, of course, neither fundamentally good nor pleasing to God, so whether or not someone believes that taking a life holds some sort of beauty, it cannot.
Examples of true beauty can be found especially in nature, but a specific example is the Amazon rainforest. This huge, luscious creation supports an amazing amount of life every single day. From the tallest tree down to the smallest ant, the rainforest is home. If one were to stand in it, they would see the glowing green of the tree’s highest canopy, the stripes of golden sunlight running down to touch the earth through the spaces between each little leaf, and they could hear the sounds of the various birds singing to one another as twigs snapped beneath the weight of more impressive animals slowly lurking behind the bushes. There would be no doubt of the beauty of the place, and its true beauty in giving so much life to so many different creatures and plants which God created. The beauty of it lies beyond what one could observe with their senses, but rather into the goodness of the creation.
As God’s mark on his marvelous creation, the purpose of beauty is to unveil the true essence of his goodness in a way that can be perceived through the senses. However, true beauty goes deeper than the senses as it reflects God’s virtue. With this argument, it is important to keep in mind that true beauty is not the same as one’s taste. Take art work for example. Van Gogh’s Starry Night might deeply move one person but just be another painting to someone else. This does not mean that Van Gogh’s work is not beautiful; it just shows that some people might not have a taste for the certain kind of artwork. Starry Night is still a beautiful creation because it reflects how God created the stars to twinkle in the night sky and the light of the moon to bounce around on all the different little homes of the village. Van Gogh was inspired by the scene God created in nature and chose to make his own imitation of it to express the beauty he experienced.
Nevertheless, some might say that there is no higher purpose to beauty because everyone responds to it differently. If there truly was one purpose for it, everyone would see it in the same way. Just because people see it differently, that does not mean that it is not there. Part of the beauty in how God created the world and each person is that everyone is unique. Everyone has their own background, their own story; therefore, they will be inspired by the beauty of his creation differently. In many cases, that inspiration manifests itself in varieties of art. If everyone saw beauty the exact same way, the world would not have the collection of all distinct forms of art. Music, dance, theater, poetry, and visual art would not exist without the unique perspective of every single person. It does not matter that people might not see beauty the same way; the importance of it is that the purpose of beauty is to reveal to them the goodness of God and inspire them to continue to create. It goes down to a deeper, spiritual level for the higher purpose of reflecting God’s virtue. 1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” True beauty comes from somewhere deeper than our senses can detect, from a higher spiritual level which reveals God’s true goodness.
Some may say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; therefore, everyone has his or her own view of what is beautiful. There may be things that most people agree are beautiful, but there is always going to be someone who does not. Take a rose, for example: most people would agree that roses are beautiful. The vivid, radiant red of the petals, all wrapped around each other, which seemed to glow in the sunlight, and the delicate stems reaching for the sunlight with peculiar, mischievous thorns sticking out cause a sense of hesitation at the seemingly lovely, innocent little flower. However, there is someone out there who might despise roses, maybe because they are allergic, maybe because it reminds them of someone they loved who passed away, or maybe just because they do not have a taste for that particular type of flower. However, this point of view does not recognize that taste, someone’s own personal opinion, is very different from what something may actually be regardless of what that person may think it to be, whether beautiful or not. Just because someone does not find the flower to have beauty by their own notion, that does not take away from the beauty it truly does hold because it was created by God in reflection of his goodness.
Beauty cannot be whatever each person believes it to be because, if so, then everything would be beautiful, which would make nothing beautiful. If everything was beautiful, the word would lose its meaning, and there would be no way for God to make apparent what is really good. This happens with words all the time in our society. Words that used to be eloquent and expressive have just been used over and over again until the true heaviness of its original meaning has been completely disregarded. Again consider the rose, for example: If the rose was truly only beautiful if the person who was beholding it thought so to themselves, then what would it really mean to call something beautiful? If everything was beautiful, then what would be the point in using that term to describe something? Calling something beautiful would not make it set apart from anything else in the world, and is that not what the point of beauty is? It is how people describe the goodness they can see in the world through their senses, the goodness which sets it apart from anything man-made or corrupted by sin.
There has to be a foundation for the truth of beauty so that it can retain the significance of its true meaning in that it reflects the virtue of the Lord. There has to be a solid contrast between what is beautiful and what is not so that people can define what is good, no matter the personal opinion of someone else. The ugly and evil of the world, brought upon by the very first sin, is necessary to give a true appreciation and ability to see the beauty and goodness. C.S. Lewis wrote about general morality, which also applies to the specific discourse of there having to be true standards for beauty. He says, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas is better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. … You are, in fact, comparing the both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a Real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that Real Right than others”. In saying this, he means that everyone naturally believes that there is a true standard for beauty, no matter what others think, and the real standard of beauty is what God has graciously shown his people as what is good and loving, truthful and virtuous.
Beauty is the hint God placed upon the world in order to reveal to his people what is good, true, and virtuous. It allows people to experience that goodness through their senses in order to get closer to him. In modern society, it is important to have an understanding of what true beauty is. People can be pretty careless when throwing words around that actually have a deeper meaning. They believe that everyone has their own opinion of beauty, so they believe it does not really matter as long as they know what they think is beautiful. To most, beauty is merely what is pleasurable to the senses or whatever they think makes them happy. However, true happiness can only come from God, so if they are only pursuing what they believe can make them happy, if they are only pursuing the things of this world, they will become lost very quickly. Beauty is God’s own way of communicating to his people what is good and true, what they should be pursuing in order to find the true happiness which only lies within him.