Everyone thinks beauty is important, but how much do we really value it? Does beauty ever change the way we live? I spend many of my days in a haze of materialism, pursuing beauty only for narcissistic ends. Others I know wander like mystics, scoffing that all beauty is an illusion that will burn up in the end.
We never seem to live as if beauty really matters. Our time and energy are so focused on getting and accomplishing that we should ask ourselves: Is beauty really that important?
Made for Beauty
Those who have really experienced beauty would answer this question with an emphatic yes. We have known beauty in ways that resonate with our soul. Beauty has both undone us and made us new. It has calmed us with sunset and shaken us with thunderstorm. We have seen beauty in the birth of a child and the wonders of a wedding night. Beauty haunts us even in the faces of the very old, hiding a coal-bed of fire behind eyes creased with care.
These experiences with beauty change our lives and reorient our desires. Deep down, we know that we were made for beauty.
One of my most memorable experiences with beauty happened in my senior year of high school during Christmas Break. I was slogging my way through Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for my AP English class, and I was really behind. Three days before class started again, I sat down and power-read through 250 pages of dense philosophy Russian prose. I was plunged for long hours into the mind of a murderer slowly going insane with guilt. It was pretty tedious stuff, and the only thing that kept me going was the looming deadline.
Then it happened. I sat rigid in my chair and couldn’t read fast enough. The murderer knelt at the crossroads. All his mental anguish disappeared in a single, deliberate act of confession. The ending of the novel showed me a beauty I had never known before. I finished the last fifty pages, then read them again. I felt like I had been resurrected right alongside the criminal.
Reading that book awoke in me a raging thirst for beauty. It had undone me, remade me, and gave me new eyes to look at the world. This seems to be the effect and purpose of beauty. Those who have experienced it never have enough.
Does God Care about Beauty?
But does all this make beauty really important? These experiences certainly have an impact on those who experience them, but are they essential for human fulfillment? Isn’t it possible to live a complete human life without beauty?
Such a life is impossible. Without beauty, human happiness doesn’t exist.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his audience not to worry about what they will eat or wear. Instead of worrying, they should consider the flowers, who don’t worry about their clothes, but are always dressed in splendor because God Himself dresses them. This should bring comfort to Jesus’ audience because they are much more valuable than flowers—so how much more beautifully will God provide for them?
Notice what Jesus says about beauty here. Beauty is not irrelevant or superfluous, because God gives attention to the beauty of his acts of creation and providence. Applied to humans particularly, we can see that God cares very much about beauty in human lives.
Commenting on this passage, Ed Welch writes, “Jesus is making a point about beauty. His kingdom is not merely drab and functional; somehow the kingdom he is announcing is a kingdom of beauty. The Beautiful One is King and his children are and will be reflections of his beauty” (Running Scared, 108). Welch sees the connection between beauty and the type of people we are to become. If we are to be people who reflect beauty, what does that mean for how we live right now?
Called to Beauty
The answer to this question is too long for this blog post, but it does lead to two conclusions. If God is concerned about beauty, then Jesus is concerned about beauty in his kingdom. And if Jesus’ kingdom includes re-making the human race in his image, then beauty is an essential part of human existence. Beauty, then, is really, really important.
What’s more, beauty is not something we can just tack on to our lives in the odd hours of the weekend. Rather, we are meant to live in a way that is beautiful. Our work, our love, our play, our lives are meant to manifest beauty.
To the degree that we fail in this calling of beauty, we also fail to live fully human lives. So shake off that haze of materialism. Stop trying to levitate your way off this dangerously beautiful world. We are called to beauty, so let’s roll up our sleeves and get busy.
Question: What is one simple way you can start living out your calling to beauty?