Holiness is Beautiful?
“Give to the LORD the glory due His name . . . . Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!” (Psalm 96:8-9, NKJV).
But what makes holiness beautiful?
To answer that question, we need to first answer the question, what is beauty? We can readily give examples of beautiful things, such as mountain lakes, the northern lights, musical compositions, or photogenic people, but it is not easy to actually define the quality that is shared by everything, including holiness, that is truly beautiful.
What is beauty?
Sadly enough, many people think of beauty only in erotic or hedonistic terms. This is largely because Western culture, over the last 150 years, has been shaped by a secular and materialistic worldview.
If reality is nothing more than matter and natural processes; if human life is nothing more than a product of random chance and natural selection; if we humans are only the hyphen between stimulus and response; if “the cosmos is all there is” and “you only live once,” it is difficult to think of beauty as much more than the sensual pleasures of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” (or, more recently, “sex and drugs and rock and roll”).
Real beauty, though, is much more than this. Beauty is sublime; it ultimately points upward, to what is transcendent.
The Word of life teaches us that the essence of beauty is fittedness for a good or righteous purpose.
Drawing from Isaiah and Nahum, Paul exclaims, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace!” (Romans 10:15), and Peter counsels wives to seek “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). All beauty, whether it is natural or spiritual, points upward, because it is ultimately from God and for His glory. The same is true of our ability, as persons created in the image of God, to recognize and appreciate beauty.
The quest for wisdom that we call philosophy is dedicated to the attainment (not only in our understanding, but in our hearts and lives as well) of truth, goodness, and beauty. These are not mere abstract ideas; they are eternal verities.
Truth, goodness, and beauty are inseparable qualities, and they are dynamic principles by which the world and life are ordered. And they are so because they are grounded in the character, will, and providence of God Himself.
The eternality of God is the first truth of all reality; the Spirit of truth guided the biblical writers to ensure the truthfulness and completeness of Scripture; and, as Augustine affirmed, all truth is God’s truth. We honor God by seeking truth in our understanding and truthfulness in our thoughts, words, and actions.
The perfect goodness of God (Mark 10:18) is the ground and defining standard of every other good in reality, and of every good we find in this life and in eternity (James 1:17). We honor the goodness of God by seeking what is right and good in our thoughts, words, and actions.
God is holy, and He is the Architect of all natural beauty and the Author of all spiritual beauty. Beyond the beauty we find in nature, the higher, spiritual forms of beauty are demonstrated in the fulfillment of truth and goodness, and thus of virtue.
To put it in the simplest terms, truth and goodness are beautiful. Virtue is beautiful. Holiness is beautiful.
This means that to know God well is to know and live truth, goodness, and beauty. To know God well is to become true, good, and beautiful. It is in this way that we “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”
God in His wisdom has created us not only to recognize, but to long for and be led by what is genuinely true, good, and beautiful. And we should not think of beauty in terms too narrow; many of our choices, including those in the area of our entertainment, are driven by our desire for beauty, and our longing for beauty is deep and powerful.
The beauty of a well-proportioned body is not worthy to be compared with the beauty of a well-refined soul.
For example, heroism is a form of beauty. We are each created in the image of God, but we are fallen creatures in a fallen world, in which adversity and evil abound. The hero, by his struggle and sacrifice, brings or restores a right moral order for himself and his people.
The more clearly the story (or, movie) portrays the hero’s struggle as one of courageous virtue against adversity and evil, the more deeply the story resonates with both the universal metanarrative of creation, fall, and redemption, and with the moral order of reality. Accordingly, the more deeply we are moved and edified by the beauty the story conveys.
The beauty in the story encourages us to fulfill our own purpose and potential, and in doing so to attain the beauty of a heart of virtue and a life of holiness.
The beauty we find throughout creation reflects and points to the beauty of our Creator, but the highest forms of beauty are those possessing the dimension of holiness.
May His priorities be ours: the beauty of a well-proportioned body is not worthy to be compared with the beauty of a well-refined soul. And as we kneel day by day before the Author of all wisdom, the beauty of holiness culminates in glory.