Saturday, December 7, 2013

on beauty


fall morning 021

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. They’re wrong. Beauty, like truth, is an objective reality. We can have a flawed perception of both, but we can not make a beautiful thing ugly, an ugly thing beautiful, or a true thing false just by “seeing it that way.” For instance, a starry night sky is beautiful. If you call it ugly, you are wrong. It isn’t. It is beautiful. The Sistine Chapel is beautiful. A mountain range is beautiful. You can insist that the public restroom at Walmart is more beautiful than the Himalayas, but you would only be giving us a glimpse into your own insanity.
- Matt Walsh

I found these words wedged into this article (which is excellent). My initial response was surprise: I’ve quite honestly never heard anything like this said before. But my second instinct—something else I didn’t expect—was to be offended.

After all, don’t I live beauty?

Is it not the primary aim of a photographer to record beauty where it is, and create it where it isn’t? I’ve been told dozens of times that I have a “good eye”—that is, I can see beauty where other people can’t. Isn’t that my job description?

But then I stopped and I read it again.

Beauty, like truth, is an objective reality.

Says who?

Well… God.

In the very first pages of Genesis, God looks at the world He has made and calls it “good” (Genesis 1:31). Then He looks at the man who has no companion, and that’s the only aspect He calls “not good” (Genesis 2:18). Is it a stretch to say that if God defines what is “good” and “not good,” He also defines what is beautiful?

I don’t think so. After all, God Himself is the Creator of that which we innately perceive as beauty (Amos 4:13). Not only that, God Himself is beautiful (Ezekiel 1:26-28). Furthermore, God Himself created man in His image—that is, beautiful (Genesis 1:26). Unless He had breathed His own love for and possession of beauty into the very fabric of our beings, how would we even begin to recognize it?

And if God defines what is beautiful, it follows that He should define what is ugly. From what I can tell, ugliness didn’t mar any portion of His existence until a certain tragedy occurred: the mutiny of one of His own cherubim, and with it the fall of one-third of His kingdom.

Thus says the Lord God, “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you.
Ezekiel 28:12-15

There it is: beauty first, then contrasted with the definition of ugliness as given by God. Lucifer’s flawless beauty is not immune to his unrighteousness—after the betrayal, God declares him “profane” (verse 16) and turns his beauty to ashes (verse 18). Furthermore, Isaiah 14 paints a vivid picture of the fallen angel sleeping on a bed of maggots under a cover of worms.

So, if “beauty, like truth, is an objective reality,” what is that reality?

The reality is this: God created everything that exists, and thus He defines every aspect of what He has created. He has made clear what is beautiful and the point at which that beauty becomes ugliness. According to His character and His Word, that point is when the thing of beauty becomes contrary in any way to His perfect and worthy character.

Lucifer was one of the most beautiful creations of God—but one selfish thought, one wicked idea that God might be withholding a higher honor from him, and all those jewels were traded for worms.

Yes, I’m a photographer—yes, I love beauty and I love to capture it on the light-sensor of my camera so that other people can see it. But I was wrong: I do not “create beauty where there is none.” I don’t have the power to do that. No matter how I use my “eye,” the bruises on the face of an abused child will not be beautiful. The deep depression of a girl who has been taught that being thinner will solve her self-image and relationship problems will not be beautiful. The greedy eyes of a lustful heart will not be beautiful. The illicit intimacy of an unmarried couple, the selfish blackness of an unrepentant soul, the body profaned by provocative clothing—whether found in a hunchbacked old man or in America’s next top model, they are all worms and maggots brought on by humanity’s tragic fallen-ness. By this definition, I’ve known many homely, nondescript people who were beautiful as angels—as well as many drop-dead-gorgeous people who were ugly as sin. And even with the photographic eye and technical skill of Ansel Adams, I wouldn’t be able to reverse the two.

No, manufacturing beauty is not what I do. Instead, I search for it. Everything good and perfect is from above (James 1:17)—already here, waiting to be discovered—but thousands of years of the rampant evil we chose in the Garden have buried it pretty deep in maggots.

I have to admit, “maggot-digger” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “beauty-maker.” Maybe I’ll just call myself a treasure hunter.


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