Beauty, Gift, Love
I’ve been asked to give a series of brief talks about lessons from the Bible on the relationship between worship and beauty. Even though the Bible doesn’t give us a lot of specific teaching about what beauty is, or a lot of guidance about how to recognize beauty in art or nature, it does say a lot about how many things that are related to beauty, things such as light or glory or love. So the biblical texts I’ve chosen suggest how we should think about our relationship to God and Creation in a way that leaves room for beauty.
First, we’ll begin at the beginning with a few verses from the first chapter of the Bible:
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good. . . . And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. (Gen. 1:3, 4, 31)
The book of Genesis tells us that God made everything. But it also tells us how God sees what he has made, what he thinks of it. And so the story of Creation in Genesis invites us to see the world and to think about it the way God does. He sees it as good. That word is repeated over and over in the story of Creation in Genesis chapter 1. And at the end of the chapter, we are told that everything God made was very good.
When a person is described as good, it usually means that the person is behaving properly. We use the word good to describe moral actions. But when God sees that light or trees or animals are good, it’s not because they are behaving morally. I think that the goodness God perceives in Creation is more like beauty than morality.
God saw that his Creation was good. He delighted in the goodness of what he had made. And God created all things, not because he needed to, but because he loved to do it. All of Creation is an expression of God’s infinite love. Creation is a gift from God. It doesn’t deserve to be here; it is a result of God’s loving generosity. And when God sees the light or trees or animals, he also sees the love that brought those creatures into being.
And likewise, we should recognize the beautiful gift that Creation is. That is one reason why we take time to learn to recognize beautiful things and to learn to make beautiful things. So often, we are in such a hurry to do what we want to, that we miss seeing or hearing or smelling or tasting or feeling the beauty — the goodness — that God has given in the things of Creation.
All of Creation is a gift of God, and God loves to give. The beauty of the Creation, and our ability to perceive beauty, is one of the ways in which we understand the loving, generous character of God.
On the seventh day of Creation God rested. Norman Wirzba has written that the rest of God was not because he was tired. “Instead it points to the delight God finds in beholding the world, and the delight God expresses in loving the world into being.”
So in this text in Genesis, the opening of the whole Bible, we have several ideas that are related. We read about the goodness or beauty of Creation, which is a gift, an expression of the love of God. A gift is something we receive freely, and something that prompts gratitude; we say “thank you” when we receive a gift. A true gift is an act of love, and a true giver prompts us to love. Our worship is an expression of gratitude to the Giver of all things, of all goodness and of all beauty.