Last week while reading Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection, I came across this paragraph that reinforces why the notion of beauty is so important for Christians to recognize in our faith.
Plato formulated what he named the “universals” as the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. He held that if we are to live a whole and mature life, the three had to work together harmoniously in us. The American church has deleted beauty from the triad. We are vigorous in contending for the True, thinking rightly about God. We are energetic in insisting on the Good, behaving rightly before God. But Beauty, the forms by which the True and Good take shape in human life, we pretty much ignore. We delegate Beauty to flower arrangements and interior decorators. Plato insisted that all three – Truth, Goodness, Beauty – are organically connected. Without Beauty, Truth and Goodness have no container, no form, no way of coming to expression in human life, Truth divorced from Beauty because abstract and bloodless. Goodness divorced from Beauty becomes loveless and graceless.
Peterson goes on to describe this dynamic as “theological aesthetics.”
My interpretation of what he’s saying is that the idea of beauty isn’t just associated with art, fashion, and body image, but beauty is also wrapped up in the way that we live. Essentially, the question we should be asking ourselves is, “Am I living a beautiful life?”
I believe a “beautiful life” is one that is built on the foundation of justice and righteousness. A life motivated by and towards sacrificial love. A life that longs for redemption and seeks to be an agent of restoration in the world. The ancient Hebrew writers spoke of shalom — the universal flourishing of all beings and all relationships in the created world. A beautiful life promotes shalom and seeks to up hold it.
So the question the church must wrestle with is, “Are we leading people into this beautiful life?”
As Peterson described, the church tends to be good on emphasizing Truth and Goodness, but seems to have replaced beauty with other things like productivity, efficiency, increasing attendance and finances, etc… While these may have their place, they’re not the most important thing.
Jesus’ lived the most beautiful life of anyone whoever set foot on this earth. His life radiated humility, compassion, care for the sick and the poor. He was a friend of sinners. He willingly made himself nothing and took on the mindset of a servant. He put the needs of the world before his own. He lived a sacrificial life and died a sacrificial death. His life was thoroughly beautiful.
So again, is the church leading people into this life?
Instead of deleting beauty, perhaps it’s time the church rethinks beauty. Instead of seeing beauty as something unnecessary and ancillary, we start to see it as essential. Perhaps it should even be listed first in Plato’s list of three.
In a day in age when our society is fixed on progress, growth, and the mindset that “bigger is better,” the church more than ever needs to recapture the role of beauty in our expression as the people of God.
What do you see the role of beauty being in the church?
What characteristics and qualities would you say make up a “beautiful life?”