Gratitude, Day 2—For The Beauty Of The Earth

As I said on Facebook today, the holiday that is getting squeezed out of existence is Thanksgiving. I want to keep the focus in November on what God has given, what I’m thankful for. So here’s the second installment in the Thankful series.

And today I’m mentioning something I think we can easily take for granted—the beauty of this home God has given us. I mean, all of it. Not the broken parts that sin has ruined, but the parts that allow us to see the beauty of God’s original design.

I’ll start with mountains because I love them so much. I don’t think there’s a better place in all the world than the land above timberline.

Maybe flatlanders don’t know that at a certain elevation, trees stop growing. That’s timberline. What does grow is grasses and wildflowers. But there’s also lots of rocks and glaciers and pools of icy blue or icy green water from melted snow. I’ve never, never seen anything so purely wild and beautiful.

But the ocean comes close. I love the ocean when there aren’t any people around. That’s usually in the winter or toward sunset.

And speaking of sunset, that’s another thing I am so grateful for—the colors of the sky. I love the oranges and pinks and yellows, but I also love the blue and whites and the black and dotted whites with the silver white peeking over the horizon. Yeah, I pretty much love the sky. Angry gray clouds are beautiful but so is misty fog.

But since I mentioned color, I’ll say, I’m really, really grateful for flowers and leaves that change colors. I mean, the wealth of color here is SoCal is off the chart. We have trees that blossom, bushes with flowers, and of course flowers themselves of every kind. Walking in SoCal is like walking in a rainbow.

So, yes, rainbows are certainly on the list of things for which I’m grateful. I mean, have you ever seen an ugly rainbow? Even a stubby piece of a rainbow is beautiful. The rainbows that come from the sun shining on the water spraying from a hose are beautiful. The prism rainbows flashing against a wall from a piece of jewelry are beautiful. Rainbows caught in the break of a wave, those are beautiful too.

But of course, saying rainbow makes me think of rain. I’m grateful for rain. So very grateful, and so longing to have a few days of much needed rain come our way. I don’t get to see it much any more except in pictures, but I also love snow. I mean, what renews the world better than a coat of new-fallen snow?

Obviously I’m not going into details about, say, the moon, or the beauty of the desert, which I rarely see, or any number of animals which are truly beautiful. The point is, I could put many, many more things on this list—things for which I’m grateful, and which illustrate just how beautiful this world is that God gave us to live in.

Above all, the beauty He created tells me a little about His own beauty. I’m grateful God showed us Himself through the beauty He created.

Published in: on November 2, 2018 at 5:01 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Beauty And Function

LaPieta-MichelAnge_detalleFrom time to time Christian evangelicals are criticized for our view of the arts. The critics believe something that is truly artistic can exist for no other purpose than to be truthful and beautiful. A song, a poem, a painting, a novel–none of those has to serve a greater purpose than to shine as art. In contrast, Christian evangelicals always want art to be functional–especially if the function is to declare something about God.

The ironic thing is, this criticism often comes from other Christians, and the next plank in their argument is to point out that God made beautiful things in the deepest parts of space which no human eye has seen until modern science captured these glories on film. Same with things growing at the bottom of the ocean. What function does the beauty of those objects hold?

Add to that argument, the one from the Old Testament about the beauty of the objects connected with worship—the priestly garments with the gem-studded breastpiece; the ark overlaid in gold and covered by the carefully crafted mercy seat with its gold cheribium; the perfumed incense; the curtains made of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material, with embroidered cherubim.

God wanted all these things to be beautiful. He specifically picked out two craftsmen to “make artistic designs” though many of the objects would not be seen by the public but only by the high priest once a year.

So does beauty exist for beauty’s sake? Are evangelical Christians wrong to think art can and should do more than just be beautiful?

It’s a much more complex question than it appears on the surface. First, the “just be beautiful” argument neglects the twin arm of art–truthfulness. Real art is more than a picture of an angel of light because Satan himself walks around in that guise. He is not truthful, so regardless of his outward appearance, he is far from “art.”

If someone painted his portrait showing him as an angel of light, no matter how skillful the painting, it would still not be good art because it didn’t reveal truth.

There’s another principle to consider, though, besides the definition of art. That is the idea of an integrated life. When a person becomes a Christian, Scripture says we are made new. We have a new self. In other words, Christianity isn’t tacked on. It isn’t layered over top our existent lives. We’re not adding on a little religion like we might add on a hobby or a new friend.

Rather, Christianity gives a person a new core that ought to have radical implications all the way out to our fingertips. In other words, art is simply an extension of our Christianity in the same way that driving should be an extension of our Christianity or Facebook commenting should be an extension of our Christianity or getting our job done at work should be an extension of our Christianity.

In this view, all of life is “functional” in the sense that all of life should be a reflection of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Denver Broncos Tim_Tebow_TebowingTim Tebow comes to mind as an example of a man who is intentional in this regard. He wants others to know that at his core is this relationship with God that changes every other aspect of who he is.

Some people hate that Tim talks about his faith so openly and so repetitively. Other people are attracted to the reality they see, whether he’s leading the Broncos to a playoff win or has been cut loose by the Patriots and is out of work.

In many respects, Tim represents Christian fiction that is overt. Reporters who interview Tim know that there will be a point where he will talk about his faith in Jesus Christ. So, too, in some Christian fiction, there will be Christianity front and center at some point in the story.

Other Christians, even those in the limelight, are less verbal about their faith. A. C. Green who played for the Lakers alongside Magic Johnson comes to mind. His faith and his moral compass were the same as Tim’s, but he didn’t use every interview to draw attention to his relationship with God.

Is A. C. Green’s life more “artistic” because it is more subtle? Is Tim’s more “artistic” because the truth is front and center?

In my way of thinking, both men are living integrated lives. Their Christianity comes out of their pores, but that doesn’t mean their lives must look exactly the same or that they handle all circumstances alike.

So, too, with art. Some beauty has a function. Male birds have more colorful plumage than their female counterparts for a functional purpose–to attract said females. The design of some animals camouflages them from predators. The sweet scent of flowers attracts insects that spread their pollen, and so on. God gave function to some beautiful things, including those Old Testament items involved in worship.

Because a piece of writing or a painting or a song carries an overt theme does not disqualify it from being artistically great. If the opposite were true, no great art existed in Europe until the twentieth century. Michelangelo wasn’t a great artist, Milton wasn’t a great writer, Handel wasn’t a great musician, Charles Wesley wasn’t a great hymn writer.

On the other hand, absence of truth does disqualify something from being great art, though not all truth is represented in any one piece of art. The function of some great art, then, is to depict something sinful–the crucifixion, Humankind’s rebellion against God or mistreatment of each other. These may have poignant beauty and gut-wrenching truth and be some of the best art of all time.

But function? As I see it, function does not qualify or disqualify a work from being artistic–and certainly not the function of declaring God’s glory or His work in the world or in the hearts of men and women. What could be a more truthful, more beautiful event than the change that takes place when “The Lord my God illumines my darkness”?

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

God’s Existence And Goodness

westcoast sunsetNearly four years ago apologist William Lane Craig debated the late atheist Christoper Hitchens at Biola University here in SoCal. Mr. Hitchens said at one point that even if God did exist, there is no evidence that He cares about His creation, that He isn’t indifferent to humanity.

It’s hard for me to entertain such thoughts because I believe the special revelation God gave, namely the Bible. Simply put, I find it to be consistent with what I see in the world. It fills in the gaps and makes sense of the confusing.

There is lots of evidence to support the claims of the Bible. While its veracity needs to be considered at some point, there are other, extra-Biblical indicators which point to the fact that God is good, that He cares, that He isn’t indifferent.

One is Beauty. A sunset, the glint of light captured in a drop of dew, a horse galloping across the plains, a gnarled tree atop a mountain crag, an icy-green lake at the bottom of a glacier, white-capped waves crashing onto a beach, and on and on and on.

But not only is Beauty in this world, apparently humans, and humans alone, have this appreciation of Beauty.

Then there is pleasure. The joy and pride a new father expresses as he holds his infant son for the first time. The taste of apple pie that floods the senses and reminds one of visits with Grandma, now long gone. The swelling music that pierces the heart simultaneously with longing and elation. Again, these emotional pleasures seem to be for Mankind alone.

How about love or hope or truth or courage or generosity? The very existence of these traits indicates a Creator who embodied them.

Another evidence that God cares is the existence of objective morality. Yes, this is an evidence of God’s existence but also of His goodness. An amoral first cause would not have the capacity to instill in Mankind that which it does not possess.

But, you might say, what about the evil? What about the atrocities Man commits against Man. Do these then indicate a cruel creator?

No. They indicate contradiction. Because there is hate in the world doesn’t mean there isn’t love. Because there is death in nature doesn’t mean there isn’t life.

So either God is a contradiction or there is another cause for the evil and cruelty around us.

To understand the contradiction, I think Special Revelation is necessary.

Cultures throughout time have feared God or gods because of the destructive power in nature they saw and couldn’t explain. Today, scientists explain this destructive power, so many people no longer fear God or gods. They dismiss the notion of the supernatural by way of solving the contradiction.

But of course that opens up another set of unanswered questions. Why don’t animals hate? Why do humans worship?

The “most evolved species” seems capable of both greater evil and greater good than any evolutionist ought to expect. And apart from God, there is no reasonable explanation.

But God is not indifferent, and He does care, so He didn’t leave Mankind in this quagmire of confusion. From the beginning of time on earth, He communicated with humans one way or another–first, person to person, then through messengers, including His Son. In addition, He provided spirit-breathed written revelation. And He gave the incredible gift of His Spirit’s presence in the life of every person who confesses with his mouth and believes in his heart that Jesus is Lord.

Finally, God shows He cares by His plan to restore our communion with Him through Jesus’s death and resurrection. He understood that the saving we need is the saving of our relationship with Him. Without Him we are undone.

So is He good? In truth He is the definition of the word.

The article is an edited version of “God Exists, But Is He Good?” posted April 10, 2009.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 2 The Beauty

Beauty in the midst of darkness

After looking at components that create darkness in Jeffrey Overstreet’s fantasy world depicted in The Ale Boy’s Feast—book four, or the White Strand, of The Auralia Thread series—today I want to consider the “haunting beauty” R. J. Anderson referenced in her endorsement.

Seemingly no one can write a review of Jeffrey Overstreet’s fiction without invoking the word or idea of beauty. Jonathan Rogers said, “Jeffrey Overstreet has made something beautiful here.” Another endorser says he “writes like Van Gogh painted.” Another said it’s a work of art and yet another likened it to a beautiful dream. At Amazon, reviewers say things like poetic, wonderful language, descriptive.

All this points to one of the chief elements of beauty in The Ale Boy’s Feast — words. Not just words, but the way Jeffrey Overstreet strings them together.

Here’s a short snippet to illustrate the point from a page I turned to at random:

As the ale boy emerged from the earth’s crooked mouth, he breathed deep, relieved to escape the stagnant air of the maze below. Any light, even the sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin over a world drained of colors, was better than the subterranean dark.

“The sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin” — how’s that for an image!

This passage serves as an excellent illustration of my point. Even when the scene is bleak and the character is suffering, the language elevates the reader because of its beauty.

But beauty comes in an even greater measure from the characters. For one thing, some cling to hope when all seems darkest. Cyndere believes the beastmen can be restored when all around her want to destroy them, when her own experience should lead her to hatred not hope.

Cal-raven clings to the hope of a New Abascar when every reason to believe he can find such a place crumbles, and his own drive has been built on a delusion.

The ale boy holds onto his friendship with Auralia and the promises he makes to Cal-raven and Cyndere. His hope to lead the captives to the king drives him.

Jordam hopes for the infant he saves and for freedom for those he’s helped to rescue. He hopes to find Cal-raven, and then Auralia. Even several minor characters hope in the face of despair and try in the face of defeat.

Which brings up a second aspect of the characters creating beauty in the darkness. Any number of individuals do heroic, sacrificial acts when all seems lost. Above all, the ones striving for the good are not always the ones readers would expect. The old thief, the slaver, the former traitor, the would-be assassin, and of course the beastman and the ale boy once overlooked because of his insignificance — these are characters who change or who make surprising contributions to the fight against the evil that is consuming The Expanse.

Beauty amid the darkness. It’s a fitting format for The Ale Boy’s Feast, and in fact, for the entire series because the theme seems tied to these two elements as well. But I’ll discuss more about the theme in my review.

To read what others on the CSFF tour have to say about The Ale Boy’s Feast, check the links at the end of yesterday’s post. You can also read an interview with Jeffrey over at Spec Faith in which he discusses art and Rachel Star Thomson’s overview of the series and review of book four posted there as well.

Can Beauty Co-exist With Truth?

Some of the most artistic photographs are of human misery or community blight. Not beautiful, certainly. But truthful and “artistic.” The composition is original, or at least inventive. The point of view is distinct. In fact, the picture is more than its subject because of what the photographer brought to the scene.

Is “artistic” the best that novelists can do, given the fallen world we live in? If we tell the truth, beauty of necessity will inhabit a small place in our art or it will be painted in shades of black and gray. Dulled down. Muted.

Because of Truth.

Man sins, so there is crime and hatred, politicking and greed, immodesty and lust. Ugly stuff.

And even in the story of redemption, there is blood-sweat and beatings, betrayal and cursing, nakedness and forsakenness.

Where’s the Beauty in Truth?

Perhaps the problem is in thinking that what is true is Truth. It isn’t. It is true that Man sins in horrific ways, but Truth is Jesus Christ. (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” – John 14:6). Consequently, in showing what is true in the world, we may omit the Truth eternal.

In the same way, what we think of as beautiful is so incomplete, so imperfect, we’ve concluded it’s universally unknowable (“beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”)

Because of Creation, I have no problem believing that Jesus is Beauty, even as He is Truth, though Man may well miss what that actually means.

The fact is, we see through a glass darkly, so we cannot see Truth purely nor can we see Beauty exclusively.

Since we are hindered regardless of our efforts—whether to create a true work or to create a beautiful work—maybe it’s worth the effort to try to do both.

Is that possible?

If we create a work of beauty, are we not of necessity leaving out an element of truth? And if our writing is true, will we not of necessity have to include the ugly?

When it comes to art, it seems beauty and truth might be incompatible.

Do we not smudge out the sublime in order to convey the mundane?

If we retain the lofty, do we not lose the honest scrutiny of a wayward heart?

Believe it or not, I think there’s a practical point to these ramblings. I suspect the way a writer answers some of these questions may determine what kind of writing he does.

Some writers want to communicate Truth while some want to create art. Some believe what you say is most important; others believe that how you say it counts more.

When it comes to fiction, is Beauty actually incompatible with Truth, and the writer must simply pick a side?

Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 7:03 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , ,
%d bloggers like this: