Monday, August 2, 2010

Different standards of Beauty?

This next blog post has come far too late I’m afraid. I’ve been distracted, and just generally lazy, ignoring my poor blog. I suppose that since I have no way of knowing if people are actually reading, so it’s hard to motivate your own self to do something that seems only to really impact yourself, and since I already know everything I’m going to say, it’s hard to push myself into putting it into words.
This next idea on beauty is related to the all too familiar problem of differing standards of beauty. I still think that this difference is not as broad as people might think, but still, it is there. Just look at people’s opinions on actors and actresses. One actor somebody might uphold to be the idealization of masculine appearance might not be given a second thought by another.

What explains this?

A very terrible book once made a good point. I won’t mention the book title because that would be sacrilegious, and the idea wasn’t original to the book. A friend and I had discussed it at least two years before I picked up the book, so it (based on a previous post) must be a universal truth I stumbled upon before. The point was that just as parents can love uniquely and equally their children, so God relates uniquely to each of us as individuals. And because God is infinite, he has infinite means of relating. This is reflect how we each relate uniquely to the ultimate beauty. Just as are relationship with God is manifested in different ways (just compare the feminine style of worship to the masculine to see this illustrated), our perception of beauty is unique to each one of us.

This does not negate the standard of beauty, for even though we relate to God differently, there are many, many, many similarities. That’s why so many people will universally recognize certain individuals as more beautiful than others. Johnny Depp is a much more devilishly handsome fellow than I am. That’s uncontested. But not everybody thinks Johnny Depp is the handsomest man alive. The principles of harmony are at work. Depp’s facial features work together much better than mine do, but perhaps as equally well as Brad Pitt’s. Then for someone to say that he or she thinks Johnny Depp’s face is more handsome is the result of personal preference, not an absolute standard.

I don’t think this idea is too ridiculous. In fact, I think that it answers the problem most people bring up regarding taste, and furthers the idea of an absolute standard being there. That standard being God, not Johnny Depp.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Symmetry's failure

I was looking at my latest blog post and realized I failed to mention something that was very important to the concept of harmony that needed to be addressed. That idea is symmetry, which is generally advanced as one of the characteristics of beauty, usually in association with human beauty. There are several problems I have with this idea, and the first one is that most beautiful things are not symmetrical. Think of the natural world of trees and flowers, and you can immediately see that you are grateful for asymmetry. And most beautiful photographs do not have a perfectly symmetrical subject placed in the center.

In human beauty, symmetry is held up as a standard for measuring beauty, but that works only somewhat. Symmetry is only one of the aspects of the human face that make it attractive, and there are plenty of attractive people with asymmetrical faces. In fact, just look at pictures of actors and actresses. Many of them don't have perfectly symmetrical faces, yet are very pleasing to look at (hence they have a job where people look at them).

That is why harmony is superior, because instead of looking for a perfectly symmetrical object, you look at how everything, even the asymmetrical parts, work together to make something beautiful.

In music we see this quite, because most melodies are not perfectly symmetrical. Sometimes dissonance is needed to add to the beauty of a piece as a whole, and our harmonies are not built on finding a perfectly symmetrical relationship between all the notes.

And since we are relating characteristics of beauty to God, how is He symmetrical?

This is why I had to come to the idea of harmony instead. Note, this does not discount symmetry as a characteristic of a beautiful object. A symmetrical face is more likely to be harmonious, but it is not a universal characteristic of all things beautiful.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Beauty: Harmony

We move on to the actual discussion of the universal characteristics of beauty, and taking those characteristics and seeing if they are a reflection of God. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to speak of the ideas of beauty without seeing what that beauty ultimately points to. It’s easy to look at a beautiful girl without moving on to contemplating the God whose image she reflects, not only as an image-bearer, but also in her beauty.

I picked up a few books on aesthetics and beauty to engage my own mind, to see what other people have said about beauty. I thought I would read them to determine if they have any insights that could aid me into discovering characteristics. One of the books I purchased was Beauty by Roger Scruton, (such a creative title) and in the chapter on Everyday Beauty, I found my first concept. It is interesting how the idea came to me, because the author didn’t really actually mention the word, but the concept that stuck was Harmony. I define harmony as how things work together as a whole. In the chapter of the book I am referencing, he was speaking of how we set the table, and how we do interior decoration in a manner where everything complements each other. This also tied back into something he had pointed out earlier in architectural beauty, where a beautiful work of architecture relies on other buildings that do not vie for our attention to be fully beautiful. They perfectly compliment the great work of architecture, are in harmony with it. Our eyes are drawn to the true beauty because the other structures are not in competition with it.

This is why some very complex, intricate designs become garish, because everything is trying to get us to look at it, leading them to be competing for our attention, and competing things cannot be in harmony with one another. The artist used all his skill without any thought into composition and making something pleasant to look at. That is why composition, and not technical skill, is the most important aspect to a work of art. Of course, one cannot discount artistic skill, because in order for work of art to be fully beautiful it must include a harmonious blend of composition and artistic skill. Every aspect must work together towards the beauty of the whole.

In music we see the principle of harmony quite clearly. A musical composition not only must have notes in harmony with one another, but the entire work must have the right melody and structure to make the beauty of the piece fuller. A beautiful passage would not be as beautiful without the context surrounding it. I think of the Nimrod variation by Elgar, and I know that the section where you are most struck by the beauty would be nothing without the rest of the piece. The entire work works together perfectly, everything relies on what is previous to it to make the beauty full and complete.

What remains is how it relates to God. I think Harmony is a characteristic of God in how every aspect of his character perfectly compliments each other. And like a musical piece, where the violins will pull back out of the spotlight so that the flute can stir our hearts with a beautiful solo, sometimes God’s attributes leave center stage so another can be seen. Like at Sodom and Gomorrah, where God’s wrath was displayed to a greater extent than his other attributes, or at salvation where is love and mercy and forgiving nature is displayed to those who choose Him. Both events display aspects of the same God, and in order to see the full beauty of who He is, his attributes need to perfectly complement each other.

Another way in which harmony is inherent within God is in the Godhead, where the three members of the Trinity are in perfect communion and cooperation, working together perfectly to create the story of our world. They perfectly compliment each other. The only time where this harmony was perhaps broken was at the cross. And maybe this idea has implications on theology. But that is a topic beyond the scope of my knowledge or of this blog series.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Beauty: Introduction

This is a topic that will take me a few blog posts to address due to the amount of thought I’ve put into it and the fact that if I put it into one post it would probably scare away any readers by it’s length. I feel that an introduction is necessary because the topic of Beauty, especially as addressed in this way, is not common, in fact is very rare. The scary part of the lack of material on this specific angle of the subject is that I am largely working on my own and have no real authority to check myself by. I don’t have any maps to show me how far off the trail I have strayed.

How this topic first interested me was actually the result of a Facebook note by a fellow classmate where he spoke of beauty and how there is no absolute standard (in his opinion). I made the suggestion that perhaps God is the absolute standard of beauty. I continued to think about this, and then early on in the Spring semester asked my professor if he had any books he could recommend on God in relation to Beauty, and he told me he didn’t, but that I could write my term paper on it. I purchased some books on beauty to see what qualities other people have seen in Beauty and to see if they relate to God in any way, if perhaps beauty could be a reflection of God.

Why I think this topic of beauty is important is first of all because beauty, and our ability to appreciate it, is a result of the creative act of God. The fact that I have an aesthetic response to a sunrise, or a pretty face is because God made me to. And reading the Old Testament, one can see that God values beauty. You see this in the Old Testament in the making of the Tabernacle where God speaks of skilled artists to make the tabernacle beautiful. Quite frequently the inspired author of the Old Testament will mention the beauty or handsome appearance of a character, even though that seems to have no real relation with the person’s actions, whether good or bad.

Beauty and worship are inextricably linked to each other. To worship is to ascribe worth to something, and to call something beautiful is ascribing a specific type of worth to it. Calling something beautiful means that it is worth our interest, our attention. Beautiful music is able to tell us something about God and to tell others something about our attitude towards God. If we strive for beauty in our music, art, and other aspects of the worship service, it would glorify God by showing we believe He is worth the effort it takes to make something beautiful. Making a beautiful work of art or performing a beautiful piece of music is not easy, we all know that, but to aim for that is to say to God, “You are worth this hard work. You are worthy of being worshipped with beauty.” Think about it, men never give their girlfriends or wives ugly jewelry, but beautiful jewelry. Why? Because we’re saying they’re worth that much, and in order to perfectly compliment their beauty a beautiful object must be given. In the same way, if God is worth everything, to worship him with ugly music or mediocre music doesn’t make any sense. And, if God is beautiful, then it only makes sense that we’d use something that reflects Him to worship Him, namely, beauty.

Thus, we need to determine what beauty is.

Monday, May 24, 2010


In a lecture, one of the professors of the Master’s College, Abner Chou said “love” is a relational term. Now, reading that the temptation might be to say, “Well, obviously love is a relational term.” But I think that that is the very problem. Because it is obvious that love, if it is truly love and not a modern misuse of the word, is a relational term, it is often overlooked, forgotten, and the implications of the truth are ignored.

First, I would like to remove the term “love” from the twenty-first century uses of it and bring back to it it’s true meaning. Love is first of all not a feeling. The emotion in our heart when somebody we love is near is not love, it is a product of love. Love, then, does not negate the idea of feelings being involved, but those feelings, that rush of the heart, is not love. Do not mistake the effect for the cause! And a case against the pursuit feelings is found in the Romantics, who prove that feelings are unsatisfactory and the pursuit of them leads to self-destruction. This word has been cheapened in another way in the many times we use “love” to describe or feelings towards things, such as, “I love ice cream!” Or, “I love Disneyland!” Or “I love that outfit!” Can you really have a relationship with ice cream? It’s pretty one-sided if you do, and if you were to treat your friends like you treated ice cream you wouldn’t have any. Love, then, is only left in the relational aspect, as we have already mentioned.

To obey the Lord When the Scriptures exhort us to love one another we have to be in relationships with other believers. The church is the place for those relationships. So if you are attending a church, but don’t know the people you are attending with, you’re not obeying the command to love one another. You can’t love the person you’re sitting next to unless you have a relationship with them. This probably means stepping outside of your comfort zone—at least for me it does. I find it hard to get past the first word, but every time I have done so I have been able to maintain a good conversation. That initial fear can be paralyzing, but once you act the fear is then seen as irrational.

The first aspect that entered my mind, however, was not in relation to believers, but in relation to those who have not owned up for their guilt at the cross. People say that the most loving thing we can do to those who don’t believe is to share the gospel with them, but is it a truly loving act if it is outside of a genuine relationship? Perhaps we need to think more of having relationships with non-believers, and through showing our love to them in that relationship they might see that serving our God is a good thing, and then when we share the gospel they are ready to accept it. But the relationship is key to the act being loving! Look, then, for ways to build relationships with those who do not believe with the intention of bringing the gospel to them. That is love.

I realize that this last paragraph I just wrote could be taken further than I intended, and I believe though to make my point I had to come across as strongly as I did. I am not recommending we give up street evangelism, but I am suggesting that that method becomes less our focus as much as on building and starting relationships with the intention of bringing the Gospel to them, to show them Biblical love.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Original Truth

As I was thinking about my previous post and that nothing said in it was actually original to me (only how it was said could be called original), I began to recall that no truth I've proclaimed is original to me. All my thoughts find their source in the words others have spoken. As this train of thought continued, I realized that no truth is invented or is original to whoever said it; it lies outside of the one proclaiming it.

This is why those who see truth and proclaim some aspect of it no one has ever seen before are called "insightful," not "creative." Insight is the gift of being able to look at what is already there (God, the Bible, the world, mankind) and see an element about it that no one has really seen or expressed, and then sharing it with others. I learn new truth when the truth already present is apprehended and then communicated to me in a way I can understand. The truth-teller points away from himself, not at himself.

Therefore, when shown a wonderful truth we have never seen before, the Author of that truth should receive the glory, not the messenger bringing that truth. However wonderful he might be, he did not invent or create the truth, and if the truth is so marvelous that we praise the one to discover it, how much more should we praise the one who made it? The one bringing it, though recognized, should fade away as the One from whom the truth found its origin receives the greater attention.

It is like a marvelous piece of music written by Bach but found and reintroduced by Mendelssohn. Who gets the praise when Bach's music is played? Bach does, not Mendelssohn. Though Mendelssohn is mentioned and praised for discovering Bach's music, Bach is the one who gets the most glory of the two.

In the same way, when a great man like C. S. Lewis shares a truth that is marvelous and eye-opening, God, the author of the truth, should get the praise. Though C. S. Lewis is recognized for his discovery of that truth and praised for it, God should receive the greater focus. He created the truth found within the essay, "The Weight of Glory"; should He not receive the greater praise? I believe C. S. Lewis would prefer that, especially now as his sin nature has now been fully eradicated.

This is how truth-proclaimers remain humble, by recognizing the true source of the truth that they proclaim. Even if I, or you, or anyone else do stumble upon a droplet of truth, we have to remember where the droplet came from, and look up, and recognize the hand of the Creator behind it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Image of God

The first time man is mentioned in Genesis, he is related to God in specifics way, first as creature, and then as an image.  The implications of this, other than raising man’s status above the animals, are first clearly seen in God’s words to Noah, when He tells this survivor that those who kill another man are to be killed by men for they destroyed the image of God.

Which is interesting, because Noah lived after the fall, as did all but Adam and Eve, so the image was not completely lost in that disastrous act.  But it was shattered, changed, no longer a true image.  We were meant to display to the creation the invisible attributes of God—His love, His patience, His goodness, His grace, His wisdom, His mercy, His kindness, His faithfulness, His beauty—but because of our perversion as a result of the fall we no longer reflect these attributes.  But that is only the least of it.  What we actually do is something far worse.  R. C. Sproul writes something chilling:

“When we sin as the image bearers of God, we are saying to the whole creation, to all of nature under our dominion, to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field: “This is how God is. This is how your Creator behaves. Look in his mirror; look at us, and you will see the character of the Almighty.” We say to the world, “God is covetous; God is ruthless; God is bitter; God is a murderer, a thief, a slanderer, an adulterer. God is all of these things that we are doing.”

This imaging of Yahweh that we were intended to do now has been completely perverted.  Instead of showing the world God’s glorious attributes, we are in a sense accusing Him of evil, accusing Him of basically being Satan.  How can we even contemplate sin if this is what it says about our Sustainer?

I desperately want to show in my life, not only to the creation, but especially those who are disenchanted with the “image” of God they see in man, the invisible attributes of God.  This aim is impossible in myself.  In no way are we in our own strength capable of reflecting God’s qualities.  He, the one who created us to image Him, has to reach down and rescue us from our complete and utter enslavement to sin so we can do what we were originally created to do, to display His invisible attributes to the creation.

The question of what we do with our lives grows small, even for someone nearing the brink of the rest of his life like me.  The question that truly matters is “How will I do what I do?”  Before doing anything with my time, or saying anything, my thought should be “What does this action say about my Creator?  Am I showing the world what He is like?  Am I mirroring my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

One aspect of a mirror is that nobody ever sees a mirror, nor are they supposed to.  A mirror is supposed to show what it is reflecting.  A shattered mirror makes the world see itself, it does not reflect; a mirror that God is through a miracle fixing makes the world see Christ.

(Adapted from the message by Brandon Hix for the 2010 Homeschool Graduation ceremony in Eau Claire, Wisconsin)