finding truth matters

by Dr. Andrew Corbett 

For many Christians their relationship with God is so certain that they rarely question it. They enjoy His presence in their life. They have no problem with balancing faith and certainty. Through spiritually unveiled eyes they see the hand of God guiding them and the events of human history. But nothing reminds them more of God and what He has done than beauty. 

Not only is beauty one of the most faith-strengthening gifts of God, it is also one of the most powerful arguments for God. This notion is referred to by theologians as the Argument from Aethestics.  Not generally known for his contribution to Theology, it was the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes who most famously noted the connection between mankind’s appreciation of beauty being an argument for God (whom he called “Providence”) –What Sherlock Holmes said about beauty and God

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

GOD IS INFINITELY BEAUTIFUL

The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis

The Bible presents God as infinitely beautiful. It uses words such as splendour, majesty, glory, honour, radiance, and delightful. Little wonder then that such a God would leave His ‘beauty touch’ on everything He created! Those who have caught a glimpse of God described the experience as: beholding, adoring, admiring, gazing. There is something infinitely attractive about God that awakens within us a deep knowledge that we were created and designed for a higher purpose.

C.S. Lewis somewhat defends the Argument from Aethestics for the existence of God in his book, The Abolition Of Man. For Lewis, the fact that certain things are objectively beautiful is a powerful argument for God. For Sherlock Holmes, the rose was a mystery that led to belief in God. For C.S. Lewis, the fact that we humans crave, appreciate, recognise, and delight in beauty, pointed to all people being created in the image of a God of beauty. He argued that because beauty was objective, the idea that true beauty was merely a conjured feeling in response to something one finds appealing, could not be countenanced. For Lewis, the idea that God created beautiful things is confirmed by our observation of beautiful things. The materialist denies that such beauty actually exists. Instead, the materialist asserts that the viewer merely feels that something is beautiful.

“…the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall. You remember that there were two tourists present: that one called it ‘sublime’ and the other ‘pretty’… Gaius and Titius comment as follows: When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall … Actually … he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I associated in my mind with the word “Sublime”, or shortly, I have sublime feelings.'”
The Abolition of Man, pg 2

Lewis goes on to show that certain things are beautiful because they are. He gives the reason for this as creation reflecting the Creator. If Creation is beautiful, then the Creator must be infinitely beautiful.

THE DEFINITION OF BEAUTY

The materialist is forced to regard beauty as utterly subjective – “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” If it can be shown though, as C.S. Lewis does, that anything is intrinsically endowed with beauty then the materialist’s argument (that beauty is purely subjective) is shown to be false. The dictionary defines beauty as –

1. The quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, colour, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).
2. a beautiful person, especially a woman.
3. a beautiful thing, as a work of art or a building.
4. Often beauties. Something that is beautiful in nature or in some natural or artificial environment.
5. an individually pleasing beautiful quality; grace; charm: a vivid blue area that is the one real beauty of the painting.
6. Informal. a particular advantage: One of the beauties of this medicine is the freedom from< aftereffects.
7. (usually used ironically) something extraordinary: My sunburn was a real beauty.
Dictionary.com

Of course, beauty is better sensorially experienced than defined. That is, it is easier to show beauty than either define it or explain it. The implications of understanding of beauty in this way are theologically tremendous! The world which the materialist posits is one comprised of nothing but atoms randomly connected. Intrinsic beauty does not exist in the materialist’s view of the world since this would necessitate intentional artistry which ultimately requires an immaterial Creator.

WHY IDEAS ABOUT BEAUTY MATTER

How we understand beauty has a bearing on how we see the world and our place in it. The idea that all beauty is artificial and not universal, is an idea with dangerous consequences. The Bible continues to place tremendous value on the importance of getting our ideas right. In a world that often celebrates nonsensical ideas, it sounds almost out of step with culture for someone to say that an idea can be wrong or false. While it’s true that all people are equal, it is not, however, true that all the ideas are equal. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans about people who refused to acknowledge their Creator as having become darkened (misled) in their thinking.

¶ Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused.
Romans 1:21

 

AN ALIEN IDEA ABOUT BEAUTY HAS BEEN SMUGGLED INTO WESTERN THINKING

Through the ages, mankind has attempted to emulate – not just the beauty around us – but meaningfully create beauty. This pursuit led to portraying, and then conceptualising.

A 'portrayal' of Winston Churchill
A portrayal of Winston Churchill by artist Arthur Pan, 1942 A conceptual drawing of Sir Winston Churchill depicting his last day in the House of Commons in 1964, by Gerald Scarfe

The development of conceptualising led to the formation of symbols and symbolic thought, which eventually led to the development of writing. Written language is actually a system of symbols. But the true beauty of writing is not so much in its symbols as it is in its concepts. A moving story, a dramatic tale, a courageous adventure, can all be described as beautiful writing without reference to the original pen or key strokes. This appreciation of literary beauty is made possible because human beings have the unique capacity to create and then interpret that creation conceptually. This has implications for how we understand beauty. It has been noted that the Creator has both designed and utilised this in His communication with mankind within the message of the Bible. Unlike other religious holy books which may only contain religious or ethical rules, the Bible is actually a love story with a beginning, middle and end. Woven through its pages is dramatic narrative, artistic poetry, emotive parables, and highly symbolic apocalyptic portends. It is a work of literary beauty.

The Port Davey Track, Tasmania

THE MISUSE OF ‘NATURAL’

My wife and I enjoy the natural beauty of the Tasmanian wilderness. For the past few years we have hiked much of Tasmania’s wilderness and forests. We deeply appreciate natural beauty. We recognise the high value of conservation efforts in these World Heritage areas. But even the natural beauty of the Tasmanian bush can sometimes benefit from being tamed. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it is perfect or can’t be improved with human intervention. Neither does it mean that every aspect of nature has equal beauty. There is great danger in succumbing to the false idea that natural always means right, good, or beautiful. This idea becomes especially dangerous when it spills over into how we regard what it means to be a good person. 

We all have certain natural desires, urges, and motivations. Just because these desires feel natural – or even if they can be shown to actually be natural – it is not moral justification for any behaviour resulting from these desires. Our most natural inclinations are not always beautiful. There are many people who have been the victims of another’s actions resulting from their abuser’s natural desires. Yet, some people posit that all natural desires are right, and even good. Some go so far as to say that since God has designed each person He has given them certain appetites, including sexual ones, which must therefore be morally acceptable. 

Port Davey Track, South West Tasmanian Wilderness 

This unfounded idea is now used repeatedly by those seeking to justify their varied sexual proclivities (which have always been regarded by civilised societies as immoral). Despite the unchallenged promotion of the idea that aberrant sexuality is ‘hard-wired’ in people – there is no chromosonal, genetic, bio-chemical, brain-wave pattern, as the cause for immoral sexual attraction. Because of this lack of scientific support for unnatural sexual attraction it is difficult for its advocates to morally justify it. This is why they then borrow, a largely unchallenged idea, from the Environmentalist Movement: natural is right … it feels natural to me, therefore I must be hard-wired this way and that means I can’t help it – thus, it must be morally acceptable.

This type of reasoning is hardly tolerated for other kinds of moral justifications made by murderers, rapists, and thieves. After all, they could similarly claim that they too had overwhelming natural inclinations to behave how they do. But any such claim would be instantly and reasonably dismissed.

The kind of sexual intimacy prescribed in the Bible can reasonably be viewed as natural by design even when it may not be by individual desire. This expression of intimacy between a man and woman is only made available to them via the most intimate commitment to each other to the exclusion of all others for life. This culmination of physical, emotional, and spiritual union is rightly thought of as beautiful.

NOT ALL NATURAL URGES ARE BEAUTIFUL

At the outset of this article I asserted that the idea of natural equating to ‘moral’ has largely been advanced by those usually identified with the Environmental movement. This assertion can easily be sustained. Tasmania, where I live, is the birthplace of the Greens Political party. Despite being elected on a platform of protecting native forests, once elected, Greens Party politicians have consistently prioritised the promotion non-life policies such as abortion, euthanasia, and same-gender marriage. (Pope Benedict described this as advancing ‘a culture of death‘.) Politics is beautiful when it protects and promotes human life and flourishing. 

 

HOW CAN WE DETERMINE WHAT IS MORALLY BEAUTIFUL?

While it is unreasonable to argue that what is natural must automatically be regarded as moral, it is not unreasonable to argue that there is a “Natural Law”. Professor J. Budziszewski, from the University of Texas (Government & Philosophy) has done a masterful job in showing that there must be a Natural Law in his book- What We Can’t Not Know (Ignatius Press, 2011). He contrasts the arguments that what is natural must be considered moral with the Natural Law (which reveals what constitutes morality). I recommend this book for a fuller treatment of this subject. Suffice it to say that those who advocate that what comes naturally must be moral, such as Professor Peter Singer, undergird their definitions of morality on the foundation of pleasure. Professor Budziszewski points out that this is hardly the basis for identifying a universal moral code (the “Natural Law”) because ‘pleasure’ is so subjective. On the contrary, behaving in a morally beautiful way often if not usually requires a person to act on behalf of another’s benefit despite their own natural inclinations!

 

A BEAUTIFUL OFFER

How should we engage with those who have been misled into thinking that there is no beauty in the Creator’s design? These people see no intrinsic beauty in a rose, no reasonable beauty in an exquisite piece of music, no objective beauty in a piece of literature, no selfless beauty in politics, and no loving beauty in human intimacy.

I propose that we offer them something truly beautiful – our understanding, compassion, and kindness wrapped in the truth – that this world has been designed and created by God who is the ultimate standard of beauty.  Perhaps this most unnatural response by those who understand the Creator’s Natural Law, toward those who feel compelled to break it, might go a long way to helping those battling with their sexual proclivities to feel the respect they so desperately crave and ache for. This might in turn help them to realise that since this world is even more beautiful than could have ever imagined, the God who caused it all, may just be the only truly deserving Person in the Universe of their adoration and admiration. The result could well be that those who truly feel anything but beautiful will come to experience True Beauty for the first time.

Dr. Andrew Corbett
Originally, 23rd March 2012, revised 22nd November 2017

Watch A Theology Of Beauty, Part 4: Music, on YouTube

Disappointment With Jesus

Almost immediately after Jesus was resurrected, He joined two of his followers walking along the road to Emmaus. They were shattered. Their hopes were dashed. They had a picture of Jesus that Jesus didn’t live up to. And it seems ever since this time people- both Christ-followers and skeptics alike, have found reason to be disappointed with Jesus. They had “hoped”, we read in Luke 24:21, that Jesus would be the Redeemer of Israel, the One to deliver them from the oppression of the godless, ruthless, pagan Romans. But He didn’t. And therefore all that Moses, the Prophets and the Writings had said about Him was false. Or so they thought.

Hope is a powerful drive. It keeps a person going despite their circumstances. It promises that bad times won’t last and good times are just around the corner. We all need hope. But when it seems that hope is continually without basis it has the affect of making the heart sick (Prov. 13:12).

A Theology of Beauty

Not only is beauty one of the most faith-strengthening gifts of God, it is also one of the most powerful arguments for God. This notion is referred to by theologians as the Argument from Aethestics.  Not generally known for his contribution to Theology, it was the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes who most famously noted the connection between mankind’s appreciation of beauty being an argument for God (whom he called “Providence”).

The Great Conversions Of The Bible

In 2006 a Australian Federal Parliamentarian declared he and his Party should be regarded as truly representing the Christian vote of Australians. He then went on to more or less state that his understanding of Christianity was not the same as that of Evangelicals- who regard conversion as an essential – instead, his idea of Christianity was one of improving social conditions and promoting wealth-equity throughout society. He seemed to be criticising Evangelicals for preaching a Gospel of “conversion”. He wanted to champion a Christianity after the fashion of the great Deitrich Bonhoeffer. Is conversion necessary or not to be an authentic Christian?

Spurgeon’s Battles

He’s known as the “Prince of Preachers”. There was once a time when kings and their princely sons were the first ones into battle with their armies to defend their people. And if this is what is required of princes, then Charles Haddon Spurgeon deserves the royal accolade. For when the Church was under vicious attack in the nineteenth century from both within and without, it was Charles Spurgeon who had the courage to step into the fray at great personal cost. These attacks came in three waves during Spurgeon’s career. While he fought valiantly, he most frequently fought alone and it was this sad aspect of his battles that arguable led to his premature departure.

Faith Statement

Statement Of Faith The Bible is inspired by God and is without error. We base our beliefs upon no other book (2Tim. 3:16; 2Pet. 1:19-21). There is One God, who has always existed in three Persons: God the...

Ethics Of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

One of the most controversial debates raging at the moment is about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research. This debate has been curiously pitched as Science versus Religion. Sadly, this unfairly simplistic assessment of the debate has meant that any argument put forward by any Christian from the field of medical-science is instantly dismissed as merely “religious” arguments! Therefore what this argument is supposed to be about is often lost in the false idea that this is about religion versus science…

Earthquakes and Natural Evil

Recent large earthquakes in both New Zealand, Japan, Chile, and Borneo have led many Christians to speculate about what God might be possibly saying through these catastrophes. Other Christians are struggling with interpreting these same events from the perspective of trying to understand how a God of love and power could allow such massive destruction and loss of human life?

The Morality Of Hell

Heaven and Hell are commonly presented as either the benefit or the consequence of how a person responds to God. It’s as if people think that the whole point of religion is to get people into Heaven and to keep them out of Hell. From this “religious” perspective, Heaven is Ultimate Bliss, Paradise, Perfect Beauty – while Hell is Fire, Eternal Punishment, Anguish, Torment, and The Devil’s Domain.

Pentecostal Apologetics – Defending The Gospel With Power

Why do some people believe? Every Christian has a story of conversion. For some Christians their story is a journey from atheism to belief in the God of the Bible because of the evidence. For others, like Abdu Murray, their conversion story from Islam to Christianity was based on the credibility of the Bible. Then for those like Sy Rogers, former homosexual and formerly a Gay Rights activist, his conversion to Christianity was based on the love and acceptance he experienced in a Christian community. Many people become Christians for reasons like these, but, by far, the most common reason, at least statisticaly, is some kind of Pentecostal encounter.

A Novel Conspiracy

Just over a hundred years ago, a group of Trinity College, Cambridge students formed a covert society called the “Midnight Society”. Many of the Society members became professors at Cambridge, while others became famous novelists, playwrights and authors. At a time when Christians generally considered fiction grossly inferior to non-fiction (and theologically devotional writings), the members of the Midnight Society were strategically using it. They understood that the values and the morals of a nation could be influenced by the fiction it consumed. And they had a radical agenda…

Dr. Andrew Corbett

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