Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past--whether he admits it or not--can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love. - Hans Urs von Balthasar
When I was a boy I used to go to the YMCA. That stands for Young Menís Christian Association. Youíd never know it now but the author of the classic My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers, used to preach to boys at YMCA camps. Can you imagine that now? Theyíd probably have it shut down.
Anyway, the bottom of the swimming pool at the Y had a big triangular symbol bearing the words BODY, MIND, SPIRIT. I used to look at it and wonder just what it meant. But even then the Y had lost its spiritual basis and there was nobody around to tell a kid about these things.
Like so many other things Iíve had to learn them myself. From the Christian viewpoint you canít really separate body, mind and spirit. How you treat one has an effect on the others. If we donít take care of our bodies we hamper the expression of our spirits and burden our minds with problems it doesnít need. Neglect the spirit and the quality of everything regarding body and mind is of a low order. Neglect the mind and there is no personal transformation to higher levels of understanding because, without renewing the mind, there is no transformation (Rom. 12:2).
This does not mean, by the way, that we are three part beings (some teach this). God breathed into the dust and man became a living soul (Gen. 2:7). Dust + Spirit = Soul. You donít have a soul. You are a living soul because of the fusion of body and spirit. Man was meant to express himself through a body. The minds of many Christians are dominated by a Greek notion of spirituality that believes the spirit is like an uncaged bird once it sheds the body. So when you run across supposedly Christian notions of the bodyís vileness you are encountering Greek, not Christian, thinking. Doesnít matter that itís dressed up in a sermon. But Christ rose from the dead in His body, and Paul said that in this tabernacle (our bodies) we groan, not desiring to be naked spirits but to be further clothed upon (2 Cor. 5:4).
All of that leads up to my point that you canít separate what God has joined together without doing harm. But there are other things we separate the same way without realizing the harm we do. We like to separate things because we live in a culture that is dominated by the influence of a particular kind of science. I say a particular kind because many great Christians of the past were scientists but they did not separate everything into categories as if they existed alone. The science we have now is influenced by certain philosophies that cause this (Cartesian) but we donít need to get into that. The point is that we are infected with this view as well without realizing it because we are surrounded by it.
Now to my main point: there is a relationship between truth, beauty and goodness that cannot be separated any more than we can separate body and spirit without killing the body. But we do it routinely and suffer for it.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Ė James 3:17
We see from this verse a small example of the unity of Godís gifts. There are many expressions and philosophies, inside and outside of the church, that are portrayed as wisdom. But the wisdom from God has certain characteristics that come as a total package that cannot be separated. If they are you can be sure that, wherever this ďwisdomĒ originates, it was not with God.
Many Christians concentrate on what they think of as the truth. There is even a television preacher who calls his telecast ďThe TruthĒ. But I have noticed that while churches say they value the truth they often ignore beauty. Thatís why many feel a ďchurchĒ is some building or space they can rent in a mall or build an auditorium because they are thinking mainly of how many people it will hold. This thinking is called utilitarian.
Utilitarian - having regard to utility or usefulness rather than beauty, ornamentation, etc.
Utilitarian thinkers will say, in objection to what I just said, that the church is not the building, itís the people in it. Thatís true. And Christians who live in countries where they can be killed for worshiping God openly canít afford to meet in a conspicuous building. But they would if they could. If you check the Old Testament you see that any time God had His people build a church it was an elaborate affair and done with very specific instructions. Yes, I know weíre not in the Old Testament now. But that doesnít negate whatís to be learned there in every case. Even though God said that He could not be contained in a temple He still had Solomon build a great and beautiful one. He didnít just have them throw something up or use the same space in a building used for other things. Sacred space is very important, and most have lost the concept. Jesus still called the building His Fatherís house (Jn. 2:16) and threw the people out of it who were using it for other than it was intended. He also said that in His Fatherís house were many mansions (Jn. 14:2) which expands the meaning of ďfatherís houseĒ beyond a building. How beautiful. How not utilitarian.
Beauty is an expression of God. The Spirit has used beauty in many, many ways to lead people to God. I remember when I got my first telescope for Christmas back in 1969. On that clear and cold winter night I set it up in the snow in the back yard. I trained it on what I thought was a star and adjusted the blurred image. I actually jumped back at what I saw. It wasnít a star. It was Saturn, and I saw the rings and about four of its nineteen moons. And it was so BEAUTIFUL it took my breath away. I stood out there and got numb toes and fingers without caring because I was so taken with the beauty of the things I saw that night. Though no one was there to tell me I knew in my bones that such beauty had to be created.
God has created a universe so vast that nobody but Him (as far as we know, and we donít know much) can see it. That means Heís content with beauty for its own sake. He makes things beautiful because thatís His nature. Iíve often wondered why, when Scripture says weíre to worship the Lord in the BEAUTY of holiness (Ps. 29:2) weíve turned holiness into such a bare and unattractive thing.
All around us is ugliness. The world loves to strip away beauty for its own purposes. Developers think nothing of turning beautiful land into a cheap looking housing development. Beautiful women are turned into porn stars. Beautiful children are used up like toilet paper. So called artists produce ďartí that nobody can even tell what it is.
Of all people, Christians should appreciate and produce beauty. But too many think they are doing Godís will by concentrating on truth alone. In doing so they preach a stripped down truth that is made to slave under the yoke of rationality like a pack mule. We were not meant to understand with bare rationality alone any more than Adam was made to live without Eve. Just as it was not good for Adam to be alone (Gen. 2:18) it is not good to cause truth to be alone. When this is done we arenít getting the full truth. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Truth without beauty and goodness is spiritual anorexia.
Beauty, truth and goodness are related. What therefore God has joined together let not man put asunder (Mk. 10:9), especially those who are supposed to know better.
And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. Ė Zech. 11:10
The meditation on that verse alone speaks to all I have just said.
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