One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek:
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 inquire in His temple.
(Psalm 27:4)

IN DISCUSSING THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD, NOT MUCH IS SAID ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF “BEAUTY.” But David expressed a desire “to behold the beauty of the Lord.” What does this mean? We can quickly dismiss any notion of physical beauty in speaking of God, but having done that, what does beauty mean in this context?

One way to think of beauty is to define it as “perceived goodness.” Goodness itself is imperceptible, but when it reveals itself in some way that we can perceive, we call it “beauty.” Visually, when goodness reveals itself to the eye, we call what we see beautiful. Aurally, when we hear a sound or a song that expresses goodness, we describe it as beautiful. And even when we observe someone doing a good deed, we say that it was a beautiful act. The English word “aesthetics,” which denotes the branch of philosophy that deals with beauty, comes from the Greek word aisthanesthai (“to perceive”). So beauty is a reference to what we perceive when goodness shows itself in any way that is perceptible to us.

Most people would admit that human beings need beauty. Our nature is constituted such that we require doses of it on a regular basis. And if you doubt this, just imagine how quickly your sanity would leave you if you were confined to an environment that had been totally deprived of any kind of beauty, day after day after day. After a while, you would find yourself becoming subhuman.

But what about God? Well, He is the perfection of beauty because He is the perfection of goodness. Right now, we can get little more than hints or inklings of Him, but these entice us and attract us. They open the doors of our imaginations to a realm where total goodness, and therefore total beauty, exists. Somewhere deep within our hearts we know that if we could ever “behold” Him as He truly is, our entire being would be ravished with beauty.

And that is why we long for heaven as we do. In this world, there is not enough goodness left to satisfy our need for beauty. We are grateful for the beauty that is here, but it is not enough. We long — desperately — “to behold the beauty of the Lord.”

“God is beauty” (Francis of Assisi).

Gary Henry — +

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