So often we throw the word beauty around for so many things but is that the right word all the time? I recently finished reading short book called “The Disappearance of God” by Albert Mohler Jr. Over the course of three chapters he reviews the difference between the words “pretty” and “beauty” and makes some very valid points. Much of the following is taken from this book. I trust it will cause us to ponder what is true beauty.
Mohler leads off that beauty is in crisis. First beauty has been devalued in our culture. “We speak of beauty, when what we really mean is prettiness, or attractiveness, or even likeability. None of these things, however, is actually equal to beauty.” He goes on to say “that culture confuses the artificial for the real, pretty for beauty and the untrue for the true“. Take a look at how the media and society view beauty and we find so often people and things that while attractive, are fake and untrue. How may “glamour photos are photo-shopped and manipulated? Even family portraits are “touched up”. If we were to take two photos and set them side by side, one of a glamorous model, another of a down syndrome child which one at first thought would say is beautiful? Interesting question, isn’t it.
The second evidence of beauty in crisis is at the level of the elitists and academia. He goes on to cite writers and philosophers that say beauty is misleading, should be discarded altogether, and others say that the only thing that really matters is power.
Mohler concludes the crisis of beauty is also in the church because we as Christians have allowed culture to define beauty for us instead of allowing beauty to be defined the One True God. Plato understood that the Good, the Beautiful, the True and the Real all reduced down to the same thing. “The four transcendentals are unified in the One”. As Augustine has suggested, we as Christians uniquely understand the good, the beautiful, the true, and the real are one because they are established in the One triune God. He alone is good. He alone is beautiful. He alone is true. He alone is real. Everything else can only be, at best, a reflection of Him. When God finished each day of creation He said it was good. On the sixth day He said it was very good. Because it was created by God, his creation was perfectly beautiful. Today, we as Christians can look at God’s creation and can call it beautiful – almost. Almost, because perfect beauty on this earth was lost when man sinned. We will only see a perfectly beautiful earth when there is a new heaven and new earth as described in Revelations 22. I would urge you to take the time even today to read this passage.
As Christians we should see true beauty as coming from God, therefore we can look beyond the surface and see the beauty in an old rugged cross. We can see real beauty in a down syndrome child or disabled and deformed individual because we are made in the image (reflection) of God. There is a senior saint in our church that I cringe a little when she gets up to sing. Musically, she is not in her “prime” but I can honestly say that she sings beautifully because she is singing and reflecting the joy and love of God. She is good, true and real.
I won’t try to reiterate all that Mohler discussed over the three chapters but I would like to end with a recommendation, a quote and a final comment. The next time you and I use the word beauty or beautiful, is who or what we are describing truly beautiful, good, real and true? Or are we meaning to describe the person or thing in a more superficial term? As Mohler suggests, to call something or someone beautiful that is not good, true and real violates the Scriptures and character of God.
Augustine in his “Confessions” wrote:
I have learned to love you late,
Beauty at once so ancient and so new!
I have learned to love you late!
You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself.
I searched for you outside myself and, disfigured as I was,
I fell upon the lovely things of your creation.
The beautiful things of this world kept me from you and yet,
If they had not been in you, they would have had no being at all.
It was you then, O Lord, who made them.
You who are beautiful, for they too are beautiful.
You who are good, for they are good.
You who are, for they too are.
But they are not beautiful and good as you are beautiful and good.
Nor do they have their being as you the Creator have your being.
In comparison with you, they have neither beauty nor goodness nor being at all
I would propose to you today that pretty and attractiveness is only skin deep but beauty goes right to the heart.