A Theology of Beauty

No doubt, there is much beauty in this world. Arguably, one can find beauty in many things—smiles, people, a sunset, the night sky, an act of service. And we are drawn to beauty—it moves us, it woos us, it pulls us in…but it doesn’t always leave us satisfied. We want MORE. And in our desperation, we sometimes latch onto ugly things and call them beautiful. And these things satisfy us even less and less…we long for it, we labor for it.

But what is it?

How should we think about beauty? Let’s think theologically about beauty, and see if we can make any progress.

I’m struck by the singular focus of David, the ancient King of Israel and the writer of many of the Psalms found in the Bible. David cries out to God with the following:

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4)

David was surrounded by beauty—beautiful women, beautiful art, and the beauty of nature. Yet, his singular desire was not for all of those things, as beautiful as they were. Rather, his desire was simply to be in the presence of God—to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord—and that was enough. Why? Paul Tripp gets us moving in the right direction, in his little book on Psalm 27.[1] Tripp says there are only two kinds of beauty: source beauty and reflected beauty.

Source beauty is

true beauty

pure beauty

timeless beauty

definitional beauty

divine beauty.

Reflected beauty is

shadow beauty

tainted beauty

dependent beauty

ill-defined beauty

creation beauty.[2]

David understood this—he had a well-developed theology of beauty. David longed for source beauty. I think we do as well. Yet the human heart is prone to settle for lesser beauty’s—reflected beauty’s hammered out of created things. But, reflected beauty will never (ultimately) satisfy because it is always a few steps removed from its source. We long, as David did, for beauty itself. As C.S. Lewis states in The Weight of Glory,

We do not want to merely see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

And how can we become united with beauty itself? The answer lies in David’s singular focus—being in the presence of the Lord, and finding our life, hope, and satisfaction in Him.

Why can we not see this? Tripp laments, we “live in the middle of a beauty war. And in the fog of the conflict [we] do not see beauty clearly.”[3]

Do you want to see beauty clearly? Then look to Jesus, the source of beauty, or as Augustine says, look to the “beauty of all things beautiful.”[4] Do your eyes need to be restored? Does your heart long to gaze on beauty? Then look to Jesus.

We need a theology of beauty.

 

[1] Paul Tripp, A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God and Trouble (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009).

[2] Ibid., 99.

[3] Ibid., 101.

[4] Augustine, Confessions III.10.

5 Responses to A Theology of Beauty

  1. antonia says:

    excellent reflections

  2. ricky recodo says:

    With today’s so much emphasis and chase for beauty, we need a theology that would lead us back to the source beauty, the beauty that transforms. Great reflection Paul.

  3. I realize that I am reading this article years after it was written. Your article is greatly appreciated! I agree with your sentiment about the need for a theology of beauty. I am trying to respond to this need. I am currently working on a book for a broad audience titled Finding Beauty. I also plan to write a series of journal articles in moving towards the hope of writing a full theology of beauty. My plan is to write a systematic and biblical theology of beauty. Thanks again for the article. This is the first time I have visited your site but I will definitely be visiting it more often.

  4. HILLARY MWASI says:

    Beauty,everyone want to see ,touch,feel beauty around them.But from the theological point ,the unfading beauty only come from Jesus.All other beauty is temporary and fades with time.The reflecting beauty can never be compared to the source beauty. Celebrities of this age and time should hear this. We spend a lot of money looking for shadow ,tainted ,ill defined beauty only to find that we are chasing the wind.Source beauty is free ,painless. accessible to all.

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