Friday, 29 May 2015


I was pondering this evening, once again, beauty - more specifically, the beauty of the doctrine of the Trinity. I allowed the voice of Gregory (of Nyssa?), in awe, send me from one person to the next to the next and be impressed afresh in the grace, the partnership, the togetherness. One of the most staggering things in this 1600-year-old doctrine is the notion of inseperability of operations. There is this incredible idea woven into the doctrine that they (they is a bit of naughty word in Trinity discussions) are all intrinsically involved in all of the divine acts, and in slightly different (and complementary) ways.

I for one still find it exceedingly beautiful in many ways, even if not in all ways. However, the question I am asking, is: does beauty indicate truth? At first glance, it seems to. How can something be good without its imputed goodness? Or be beautiful without imputed beauty?

If a flower is beautiful, then it is because God made it that way, therefore, the plant's beauty is of God. But hang on a moment, what about the old famous saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Most people find flowers beautiful - but what if the flowers were thistles? A gardener might not be so appreciative of the "beauty" of the thistles. His work is made so much harder by their existence that he may even come to see them as ugly.

Take another example of something man-made. Near where I live (sorry if I already told this one, but it's still relevant) is a high-speed train station. I got to have a real good look at it as I waited for my wife to pick me up, following another ankle sprain while out running on trails near the station. I really appreciated its design, it's modern appeal, how it is so carefully shaped, using lots of glass, creative architecture, it is unlikely to age too quick, it is kept in good condition, and so on. For me, there was something of beauty in its design. Perhaps we might want to trace God's involvement in this through his (or their) incredible work in making man capable of such incredible work.

Except that, some people living nearby might not think of it as incredible work at all. They might see it as a terrible eye-sore, with a negative impact on the environment, and associate it with disruptive noise and the traffic coming and going. Over time, they may well come to find it more than a little annoying, but positively UGLY.

It would seem that the same object can be beautiful for one person and ugly for another. How does God see it? Can he see both the beauty and the ugliness simultaneously? If humans saw beauty in the craftsmanship of the image of an idol or another god, perhaps painstakingly chiseled from a single stone, God would clearly not be impressed. He would not be going "on the one hand, I love this, but on the other, it revolts me. No. Other gods, no matter how physically appealing they might appear are UGLY in God's perception, I think the Scriptures are clear on this point. The potential beauty is utterly lost on God.

I have a final example: the fake smile. A fake or forced smile can still look very appealing and provide a person with a sense of good connection and friendship with the "smiler". The observer may not see that the smiler's smile is not very natural etc because the relationship is still very new. However, for a married couple, for example, who know one another extremely well, they can usually see through anything insincere in no time, and there is nothing positive or beautiful about it at all.

So it seems that to say that something has beauty for one individual does not necessarily mean that it possesses a universal or absolute beauty. In this case it is difficult to make too direct a connection between something that is held to be beautiful and God, even when that something (like the flower example) is the majority view.

What do you think?

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