What is Beauty?

Beauty is invisible. Don’t believe me? Consider – we can say that a piece of music or this poem is beautiful, we can say “that was a beautiful thing you did”, or that someone has a beautiful heart… none of these things are particularly visible.

Just like joy, which is invisible but can be seen when expressed in the face of another, beauty is an invisible attribute of God. It must be carried and expressed through things on earth so that it can be experienced and appreciated down here. But these things are only vehicles for the beauty itself. As CS Lewis said in his book, The Weight of Glory, “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.”

And speaking of the weight of glory, the concepts of glory and beauty are very much connected, especially in the Hebrew language.

Beauty is connected to God’s glory

When we speak of the “glory of God”, we are talking about the manifestation of God’s excellencies – something about God’s nature becoming apparent. When we get to see or experience something of God, his attributes are made manifest. Beauty is an expression of God himself, which is why the Hebrew words to glorify and to beautify are the same (לפאר – lepa’air). When God shows his glory through us, we display more of his beauty. When we express beauty in the various ways that it can be appreciated, we glorify God.

CS Lewis continues, “These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

Beauty conveys a message from Heaven

When we look at a beautiful flower, we see a vehicle that carries the beauty of God, and beauty itself gives us a profound sense of wellbeing when we experience it. As Stasi Eldredge says, it sends the message that “all will be well”. As I was snorkelling one time in the Red Sea, off the coast of the South of Israel, and I was surrounded by the most exquisite fish and corals of such dazzling beauty and splendour, my heart rate increased with joy, but I also experienced a profound sense of peace. Look at this extraordinary handiwork. The One who created all of this extraordinary beauty surely knows what he’s doing. He is an artist par-excellence! He is a genius! We are in safe hands. His plans and works are utterly and exquisitely perfect. Beauty reassures us – it carries a message of shalom from Heaven.

“Beauty is transcendent. It is our most immediate experience of the eternal…
Sometimes the beauty is so deep it pierces us with longing. For what? For life as it was meant to be.
Beauty reminds us of an Eden we have never known, but somehow our hearts were created for.”
[1]

Beauty speaks to us of God himself. Of kingdom. Of hope. Of perfect shalom. It shows us that our creator is an artist of unfathomable proportions, who not only gets every detail right, but turns everything into a masterpiece. It speaks to us of our Master; the skies shout his glory, and all of creation reveals to us something of his artistry.

Each human being is God’s masterpiece. It says so in Ephesians 2:10 – we are God’s poeme, his masterpiece, his handiwork. But we can show more of God’s glory or less of it – we can be full of his beauty – beauty-full – or become ugly inside. This process of glorying and beautifying is spoken of by God many times, especially in Isaiah.

Beauty for ashes

He promises beauty in exchange for ashes in Isaiah 61:3, which is a funny verse for this reason – take a look at the Hebrew letters, even if you can’t read them, look for the similarities:

פאר תחת אפר

The letters for beauty (פאר) are exactly the same as the letters for ashes (אפר), just in a different order. It’s the switch. God switches things around, and takes away our ashes, and gives us his beauty instead.

This is perfectly pictured for us in Zechariah 3:3; “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

God gives us this picture of splendid raiments and jewels more than once or twice, as he describes this beautifying / glorifying process, and at the end of Zechariah 9 are the words, “For like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” The verse could just as easily be translated “How attractive and beautiful they will be!” since it could refer to the people of Israel, or to God. But you see, either way, it’s God’s beauty in any case! God adorns us, his people, with his own beauty. He takes our rubbish clothes and gives us a glorious makeover in order to communicate his magnificent beauty to all. When we glorify God, we reflect who he is, so that everyone can see how beautiful he is.

[1] Stasi Eldredge, Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul

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