Beauty in Worship
Psalm 50:2 NIV
From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.
Matthew 26:10 NIV
She has done a beautiful thing to me.
Beauty Is More than a Subjective Quality.
It is folly to think of beauty as a subjective assessment according to one’s individual tastes. There are objective standards of beauty. Before we look to the scriptures for evidence of objective beauty, let’s examine secular philosophy. It seems there are three possible views of beauty, or in philosophical terms, aesthetics.
- Aesthetic objectivism says there are established standards of beauty that people of any culture hold in common.
- Aesthetic relativism is the idea that beauty is related to the preferences of a cultural group.
- Aesthetic subjectivism states that all standards of beauty are individual. There are no absolutes.
Humanism is the belief that man is the measure of all things; there is no higher point of view than the human one. In our thoroughly humanistic society, as long as we settle for human standards, debates about beauty will never cease.
Our Creator God Provides Objective Standards
As Christians who believe that God created the heavens and the earth, we take from this conviction the idea that a standard of beauty exists in creation itself. Since we believe that people were and are created in the image of God, there is within us a measuring stick for beauty. Just as God rejoiced on the final day of creation week, saying that it was “good, very good,” we long for the beauty He saw in creation. Far from being relative or subjective, our standard of beauty is divine.
Psalm 19:1-4 NIV
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
The Living Bible is explicit: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship.” (Psalm19:1 TLB) All of creation is revealing the nature of the God we worship, a master craftsman, a consummate artist, and a lover of beauty. He has given us inherent, objective standards of beauty. What are some of them?
- Order, not chaos,
- Symmetry, not eccentricity,
- Form, not shapelessness,
- Depth, not superficiality,
- Substance, not silliness,
- Grace, not clumsiness,
- Truth, not falsehood,
- Accuracy, not error, and
- Details, not presumptions.
These are among the readily observable standards of God’s creation. I am sure there are more. Our worship should reflect these same values.
The objective standards of beauty are congruent with the Word of God. The Bible is a book of beauty. In it we find:
- Beautiful stories with beautifully drawn characters, although some are evil and sad, beautiful lessons are drawn from them,
- Amazing ironies that teach us all to pay close attention to our lives, especially beneath the surface of events and dilemmas,
- Exquisite poetry to bring depth and light to life’s challenges,
- Magnificent metaphors and similes where ordinary things illustrate extraordinary things,
- Powerful prayers to bring the Lord near and send devils packing,
- Principles of righteous living set out in deep but comprehendible and comprehensive texts,
- Important histories and challenging prophesies,
- Inspiring symbols of redemption running as a scarlet thread from Genesis to Revelation, and
- Beautiful truths to live by and sterling promises to claim as we pass from this life.
God, Himself is a creative artist so His Spirit strikes fire in our spirits that were made in His image. In response, we must sing and play and write and draw and paint and sculpt as we endeavor to empty our hearts of adoration and truth so He can fill them again. Yes, “make His praise glorious!” Nothing else makes sense.
There are all kinds of beauty.
There is the quiet beauty of the tender love between and man and woman. There is an up-tempo beauty of joy and a solemn beauty of mourning. There is the awesome beauty of the sun in its travels across our skies and in the restless sea in its ceaseless agitation. We see the panoply of the earth’s beauty from desert wastes to mountain splendor to fertile fields to meadows green with promise. There is beauty in the love of country as we honor those who won, defended, and now maintain our freedom to worship. There is a terrible beauty that sends the young off to war for the right and an anthem of peace that brings them home. We see the wonder of the plant and animal kingdoms providing decoration and drama to God’s creation and we see the melodrama of mankind, “male and female created He them.” From the beauty of a baby’s first smile to the whispered prayer of a dying saint, people of all colors reflect the image of their Creator. How can we shrink back from beauty in worship to settle for the popular, the plain, or the picayune? Is it not time to call back the choirs and reassemble the players so that high-sounding worship is heard again in the house of God? Is this not “the Glory due His Name?” We need beauty in our worship if anything is ever going to improve.
The Apostle Paul promised that beholding the Glory of the Lord is a life-changing experience.
2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
How do we behold Him? Through our worship. When there is artistic beauty in the church, we are holding up a mirror to heaven to reflect His eternal glory beaming down into our time-bound lives. As we engage in this spiritual exchange and we are changed. We enter an exchange of His beautiful revelation for our beautiful worship. In this miraculous communion, we trade
- our weakness for God’s strength,
- our guilt for His innocence,
- our illness for His health,
- our confusion for His clarity,
- our deception for His truth, and
- our impending death for His everlasting life.
Such is the Lord’s response to our alabaster jar, our beautiful worship gift to Him. As we behold Him and return our worship, our reflection of His beauty, we are changed from glory to glory.
We are suckers for a sunrise, or a sonnet, or a song of beauty because we are creatures of beauty who crave the presence of our beautiful Lord.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Steve Phifer