Scratching the Surface (Truth/Beauty part 3)

“He hath made every thing beautiful in His time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

But what about stuff He hasn’t made?

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” Charles Darwin (emphasis mine)

Keep this in view as we proceed.

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Quite simply because it’s our eyes that take it in. At least in the case of something visual. Music’s another story. Music is beautiful and is taken in by our ears. This might sound pedantic and obvious but I just want to say that I’m going to be speaking on the subject of physical beauty. Form, that is. What part of us apprehends beauty? Knows it’s beautiful? God knows.

Try and look at something beautiful from a dispassionate, objective standpoint. Beauty is inspiring. Beauty can be strengthening, too. But beauty is necessarily subjective. Beauty is nothing without something else to compare it to. This might not sound like a logically solvent statement, but: all things are “beautiful” in comparison to something else. And in the case of people, there’s always going to be someone more beautiful than the next. Is this a curse? It all depends on how you look at it. It’s in the eye of the beholder. And as we are created in God’s image, I’m going to say that it’s God’s image who we’re comparing people to when we observe their beauty.

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” (Genesis 1:27)

And this is why, from a semantic standpoint, Darwin cannot say what he did and have it make sense in light of God. In other words, things (people, flora, fauna, etc.) are beautiful because God made them that way. Because God is beautiful. And if you must strip God from biology and the natural world, then strike “beauty” from your vocabulary. What you see (people, flora, fauna, etc.) is. Nothing more. Nothing less.

“Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name: worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2)

“God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

“For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:3)

“Confidence in the flesh.” This refers to the old way we lived, before we accepted Jesus. Our old nature. It also refers to the inherent confidence that our physical appearance bestows. Michaelangelo’s David stands as the epitome of (male) physical beauty. Like Adonis, for the Hebrews by way of Italy. It does make me wonder, though, how his act of carving the statue conflicts with the fourth verse of Exodus chapter 20 (the second of the Ten Commandments): “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…”. Food for thought. Helen’s face “sailed a thousand ships”, started a war. What a senseless waste of human life. Both Abraham and Isaac’s wives (Sarai and Rebekah) were “fair to look upon” (Genesis 12:11, 26:17 respectively). So much so, that the two men lied to the powers that be, saying that they were their sisters, so as to keep the Egyptians and the Philistines from killing them for their wives. Like father, like son. What are we to do with the beauty that God gives us? Worship it? Lie to keep it? I must say, that there have been days of depression and misery where I thought to myself that I could worship the female form. Thinking its beauty would necessarily make my own life beautiful. So perfect is it. But then I remembered that God was real. And that He was more beautiful. Could it be that the female form is the physical expression of the Holy Spirit? Again, more food for thought. And, even if it were, it doesn’t mean you worship a person, any person other than God.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Just because someone (male or female) looks good on the outside says nothing about what they look like on the inside. I believe this lesson takes heartache in order to learn. Physically, everyone looks the same on the inside. Heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, etc. Obviously, Jeremiah is referring to a different sort of “heart”. He’s talking about our soul and spirit. And spiritual beauty is truth. Yes, kindness, love, compassion, empathy are beautiful. But those things can be faked. Only truth–truth with reference to Jesus–is beautiful. And when someone leads with their physical appearance only, it says nothing about the development of their soul along the lines of Jesus’ revealed truth. Let alone the development of a personality, sense of humor and the like.

“Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)

Same goes for a man. Because someone who fears (reveres) and worships God will deflect any attention back to Him. Anyone who would use their appearance to get someone’s eyes off of God is misappropriating the beauty with which they’ve been gifted, effectively misusing it to acheive a selfish end. “But thou didst trust in thine own beauty…” (Ezekiel 16:15) This is what caused Lucifer’s fall. “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty…” (Ezekiel 28:17, come to think of it, Lucifer was a musician too) And when I think that all I am is a body that looks a certain way, I’m doing God and myself a disservice. In other words, merely scratching the surface.

There is more to this life than physical beauty.

One Side of the Mirror (Truth/Beauty part 2)

“”Beauty is truth, truth beauty”, that is all

Ye Know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

The last two lines of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. I don’t pretend to understand the entirety of the context and I’m not a student of Neo-Classicism—the era to which Keats is referring in his poem. As these topics have been bandied about ad nauseam for thousands of years, I’m hard pressed to see any advancement in our culture toward a cohesive answer. If anything, the lines have blurred into the opposite ends of the spectrum. I do know beauty when I see it, though. Hummingbirds. Japanese maples. Mantids. And I’m not even touching on the human body here. And what’s more important? Does one supersede the other? Is it truth? Beauty? Are they mutually exclusive? I think one of the greatest tests of our faith necessarily deals with our response to these to overarching ideals and concepts. Because we may be able to apprehend truth with our minds, but if our spirit has not been recreated by the Holy Spirit upon believing in Jesus, our ability to recognize truth will be hampered and hindered. I think this is why there is beauty. Beauty is. But upon viewing beauty, said sight should remind one of the most beautiful. And if it doesn’t, whose fault is it? Is there fault? Maybe the thing that’s beautiful on the outside is not truth on the inside. And on it goes. Our need for truth remains.

Truth is a different matter. Unlike beauty, truth isn’t necessarily something that’s seen, so much as it’s apprehended. By what? What part of us apprehends truth? Our mind? Our spirit? Our soul? I’m going to do my best to keep this succinct.

“Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)

First of all, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) I love this question of Pilate’s because it shows a middle-aged man’s as-yet primitive grasp of such a primal subject. A Roman! Cultured, sophisticated, erudite, regal. Ignorant. Pilate’s wife knew, though: “[She] sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27:19) Think about coast-dwelling animals who know. They know that a tidal wave is coming. The wife of Pontius Pilate was sensing something that she couldn’t explain. Call it intuition. Call it ESP. Whatever. She knew not only that Jesus was a “just man”, but also that whatever agony He’d be experiencing, it had infiltrated her dreams. So much so, that she desired her husband leave the matter alone. Surely, her distress influenced him when, “he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person” (Matthew 27:24).

“And there followed Him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed Him and lamented Him. (Luke 23:27)

What is truth? This might be an easy question to answer. With words, sure: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, emphasis mine). There. See how easy that was? But again, if Jesus says He’s the truth, how difficult is it to truly know Him? To truly make the effort to “deny [ourselves], and take up our cross, and follow [Him]?” There’s only one way to know Jesus. And that’s to love Him more than we love ourselves. And without the help of the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible. Don’t despair.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Jesus is on the other side of the mirror looking back. And while we may not fit the description of a Jewish male, early 30s, our spirits, our insides are one, when we believe on and in Him. We are just as beautiful as Jesus when we are “born again” (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23). Also, “there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Here, what Paul is saying is surely multi-faceted, but also eminently simple. The truths in God’s word become the guidelines and guardrails in which our lives as Christians operate. To where truth is seen and beauty is apprehended. And it’s all with reference to Jesus.

Through a looking glass with love stares back a Savior waiting,

For us to see right through ourselves and offer what He’s taking.

Physiognomy: About Face (Truth/Beauty part 1)

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, is the mouth the doorway? And maybe the ears dual chimneys… If this makes you angry, smoke would necessarily emit from those two places.

“The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them.” (Proverbs 20:12)

When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see? What do you feel? Are you pleased with your appearance? Y’know, it’s God who made you to look the way you do. Our face is a reflection of God’s creative ability. Sure, there’s genetics and plastic surgery and innumerable other factors that make up our appearance. But all of it is built upon the foundation that God gave you when He thought you up. You might be a spirit, but you live in a body. And so much is communicated by the face alone. That’s one of the definitions of physiognomy, by the way: determining one’s character and personality from one’s facial features.

“God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause His face to shine upon us; Selah.” (Psalm 67:1)

“For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; His countenance doth behold the upright.” (Psalm 11:7)

Another word for face is countenance. It’s more detailed, a fuller definition than face, however. David said that God was “the health of my countenance” (Psalm 42:11). Could this mean that God is the one shining through David’s face? It certainly worked with Moses. After Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, Moses had so soaked in the presence of God that “his face shone while he talked with him”. (Exodus 34:29) So much so, that “when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses…they were afraid to come nigh him.” (verse 30)

“And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.” (Psalm 104:15, emphasis mine)

Think of the sweetness and sincerity in a child’s face. Winsome, gentle, unassuming. The purity of God’s character shines through them as they have nothing to hide. They’re transparent. Somehow, as we grow older and age, we lose that innocence when we begin harboring selfishness and begin to…want to see ourselves first. When we look in the mirror and all we see is ourself, then that’s all others will see, as well. That’s how it works. Who do you want people to see when they look at you? Conversely, who do you want looking at the world through your eyes? God wants to reveal Himself to the world through us. And it starts with that inner vision. “Blessed are the pure in heart” says Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (5:8, emphasis mine), “for they shall see God.” He’s speaking of that inner vision of God. Something that gets clouded over without proper maintenance. Without gratitude, worship, praise. The things of inner beauty.

“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in Heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)

The myth of Narcissus speaks of a young man, very handsome, who wasted away and died from seeing his reflection in the water and not wanting to leave the sight of such beauty. Contrast this with Jesus, who, it says in Isaiah (53:2), “hath no form nor comeliness (beauty); and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” Jesus was beaten so badly prior to His crucifixion, that He was nigh unrecognizable. “His visage was so marred more than any man” (Isaiah 52:14). While Jesus may have been a horrifying sight to behold, bearing our sins on the cross of Calvary, His inner beauty remained–and remains to this day. The reason why it says that we wouldn’t desire Him in this state–of grotesque deformity, of bloody, raw suffering–is because that’s what we looked like on the inside, spiritually, because of sin. The sin that He bore on the cross and left in the grave when He rose from the dead. Look at Him now:

“And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shineth in His strength.” (Revelation 1:16) John (who wrote Revelation) was His closest disciple. Even He didn’t recognize Jesus in His glory when he saw Him on Patmos.

“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

Keep your face to the Son.