“Beautiful Beyond Description”
I’m just back from a Jonathan Edwards conference in Durham. The last talk was superb and I thought I would share its outline with you [plus a few random thoughts of my own].
It called to mind an article I read on a BBC website some years ago on what makes a person beautiful. “True beauty”, said the author, “is about symmetry, balance and harmony”. He went on to illustrate this with precision line drawings and pencil sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci. “Every model” he asserted “when you look at their face, jaw, eyes and cheekbones, will have angles that are symmetrical and identical on both sides” [Just by the way, this is a dim, distant, paraphrase]. What depressed me the next morning, as I looked in the mirror, was a nose bent in the middle and one eye higher than the other - I decided I would settle for a little inner beauty!
Photo by AC Almelor / Unsplash
Our conference speaker at Durham made exactly the same point. He illustrated balance, with all parts working harmoniously, in the abseiling activity of an arachnid descending from its thread, and spinning its silky web. 'Thus', he provisionally concluded, 'we see the glory of divine beauty in nature through the spider'.
I could add to his illustration, a soccer team, which plays the beautiful game, which may be less skilful than the opposition, but in which everyone team member stands in position, works hard for each other, so that the combined outcome of effort and skill exceeds the sum of the parts.
Photo by Larisa Birta / Unsplash
We might change to a musical metaphor, with the ten lines of a orchestral symphony score, which when played simultaneously by the musicians, with a conductor keeping time, reveal the most aesthetically pleasing harmonies - that, in auditory terms, is true beauty all in tune.
The engineering world reminds us of such precision, with cylinders, pistons, fuel lines, drive-shafts or turbines of a petrol engine, playing their part, in Vorschprung Durch Technik, as Audi Engines might say. Automotive and aerospace industries provide many other fine examples. How an old-fashioned time piece can have jewels, springs and cogs, whose interlocking mechanisms have wheels whirling and moving in opposite rotations, is another example, from the world of applied mechanics.
Photo by Tim Mossholder / Unsplash
If the realms of art, nature, sport, music and engineering are jam-packed full of balance, harmony and symmetry, then, as the speaker went on to illustrate, in the spiritual world, far more noble and excellent, is the highest revelation of divine beauty and glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
Consider for example the harmony of all the attributes of the Son of God - His human nature brimming with a full complement of spiritual graces – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, in infinite perfect measure and the most beautiful, completely, synchronised, harmonised character.
Then we are drawn to think of His beautiful offices, perfectly executed, of Prophet, Priest and King; then the stunning contrasts of meekness and majesty, manhood and deity, in perfect harmony – these facets of his character and nature are a truly breathtaking, spiritually-beautiful, panorama.
His work now catches our eye, as we muse on the glorious truths of His humiliation and exaltation, sovereignty and submission, life and death, death and resurrection, obedience active and passive, words and deeds, miracles and ministry, power and weakness, grace and peace, immortal yet mortal – and after doing that we feel, surely, we have barely started the spiritual photo-shoot, and merely skimmed the surface of the inexhaustible riches of the Redeemer. What astounding beauty, proportion, symmetry, in Christ the Head and His Body.
'Small wonder then', said the speaker, 'that in the age to come, our hearts will be enthralled, as we gaze on the beauty of the lovely Lord of Glory', and his works of Creation, Providence and Redemption.
For my part, then, I extrapolated a little, to think about practical applications of the beauty of Christ. For one thing, I now understand a little better, why family life is ugly when husbands don’t love wives, or when women seek to overthrow their spouses. It is equally unseemly when kids rebel against parents, fathers refuse to discipline children, or citizens riot on the streets, or tyrants crush their flock. We all know it is hideous when tongues go round a district, or people scream out hatred against each other. Is a split in the church, where the body parts become cannibalistic, not the most defacing, monstrous,distortion of the beauty of His body, in a church that should be peace, 1 Corinthians 12.12-31?
Yet, where peace reigns in homes, where the rule of law is honoured, if God-given authority is respected, no wonder we find pleasure, as peace-loving pilgrims who glimpse beauty gladly here below. I now also understand more clearly, why the Psalmist drools doctrinally, when brothers dwell harmoniously, in unity and peace, in Psalm 133. No doubt the interests of beauty are served by ping-pong songs in heaven as in Isaiah 6.2-3, whose beauty is mirrored as we sing spiritual songs to one another down below, as Ephesians 5.19-21 [not to mention symmetrical submission with delicate spiritual balance subserved by different but complimentary functions].
Such sights of spiritual beauty make us crave delightful reality. Tragically this harmony is not human in its origins. If we want to have beautiful churches, neighbourhoods, families and lives, we must turn to our union with Christ, for daily death and resurrection [mortifying ugliness and being clothed in His beauty], and the full complement of spiritual graces, to remove our ugly features and restore true spiritual aesthetics.
Our desire for what delights must be captivated first. Daily devotions are to study carefully the truly beautiful One. We are to think, Paul says in Philippians 4.8-9, on what is noble, true and praiseworthy - this excellence was demonstrated, commended, and illustrated, as it should always be, by Gospel grace, in the humbled apostle's own life. Song of Solomon 1.16 will help us to turn our eyes on Jesus, to look full in his beautiful face - and as He trains our voice-souls to play-out His holy harmonious tune, for His own Name sake, by a miracle of grace, he will spy His beauty in us, Song of Solomon 1.14.
Will you start to put ‘Christ back on the Catwalk’ and to seek ‘Cosmetic [or should we call it Cross-metic] Surgery through the Cross of Calvary'? Pray for this grace!
Do you long to be truly beautiful? Show Symmetry like the Saviour!