Reasons for Faith Part V: Truth, Beauty and Goodness

by PastorErick | 9/5/17, 9:10 AM

Is Beauty An Illusion?

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9 ESV)

When I was in my late teens I went on a camping trip with my family to Yosemite National Park. One particular morning, I woke up to the slightest hint of light peeking through a crack in the roof of my tent. It was quiet. Quiet enough that I could hear the subtle sounds of the forest all around me: Squirrels walkng on branches and tree limbs breaking in the distance. Birds seemingly harmonizing with their finely tuned whistles. I slowly zipped open my tent and took a look outside: The day’s new light was shining onto the dew covered grass in the meadow before me. The reflection was so bright that it appeared as if the field had been covered with diamonds. Not twenty feet from me stood a Doe deer quietly bending her head down to eat breakfast.

As I sat there taking in all that was before me, all I remember thinking was: “Thank you God. Thank you."

Have you ever had a moment like that? A moment of such beauty that you almost felt like you were taken outside of yourself? For you it may have been when you saw your bride walking down the aisle. Or maybe you were overwhelmed by the beauty of your newborn’s face. For many, it could be listening to a piece of music that was so beautiful it was as if you were elevated "beyond nature.” Listen to Leonard Bernstein (not a confessing Christian) describe what listening to Beethoven was like for him:

Beethoven….turned out pieces of breath-taking rightness. Rightness- that’s the word! When you get the feeling that whatever note succeeds the last is the only possible note that can rightly happen at that instant, in that context, then chances are you’re listening to Beethoven. Melodies, fugues, rhythms-leave them to the Tchaikovskys and Hindemiths and Ravels. Our boy has the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish: something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, that follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down.

Sensing beauty, real beauty, Bernstein can’t help but describe it as “rightness”.

So how is this sense of transcendant beauty an evidence for God? Tim Keller explains:

If there is no God, and everything in this world is the product of (as Bertrand Russell famously put it) “an accidental collocation of atoms,” then there is not actual purpose for which we were made- we are accidents. If we are the product of accidental natural forces, then what we call “beauty” is nothing but a neurological hardwired response to particular data. You only find certain scenery to be beautiful because you had ancestors who knew you would find food there and they survived because of that neurological feature and now we have it too. In the same way, though music feels significant, that significance is an illusion. Love too must be seen in this light. If we are the result of blind natural forces, then what we call “love” is simply a biochemical response, inherited from ancestors who survived because this trait helped them survive.“
(Quotes taken from Tim Keller’s "The Reason for God”, pg. 133)


But folks, we intuitively know better. Something deep within us knows that love really exists. There is such a thing as beauty. And sometimes when we are confronted with it we know that there is actually, really, truly Something significant about it all….

We are all of us more mystics than we believe or choose to believe…. We have seen more than we let on , even to ourselves. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some subtle turning of our lives, we catch glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by; only then, unlike the saints, we go on as though nothing has happened. To go on as though something has happened, even though we are not sure what it was or just where we are supposed to go with it, is to enter the dimension of life that religion is a word for.
Frederick Buechner (Quoted in Philip Yancey’s “Rumors of Another World”, pg. 58)


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