“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom. And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked” (Exodus 28:1-6).
Is beauty really “in the eye of the beholder?” Or is beauty, like truth, absolute and rooted in God?
I have always wondered why the Bible gives such detail on the design of the tabernacle, the priest’s garments, etc. But in a seemingly dry passage of scripture, I believe I have discovered the answer. Note that these garments were to demonstrate “glory and beauty.” They would be made of the finest materials in bright colors and “skillfully woven” and “artistically worked.” Therefore, these items would reflect something of the nature of God Himself. All true beauty does indeed stem from God.
Social scientists recently conducted a study with babies only a few months old. They showed them pictures of obviously good-looking, well-groomed adults along side of pictures of homely, dirty, unkempt individuals. The majority of the babies lingered much longer in gazing at the more attractive people. Apparently an eye for beauty begins to develop at a young age.
But not everyone agrees on what is beautiful, what is acceptable, what is downright ugly. One man prefers Mozart and Beethoven; another prefers McCartney and the Beatles. One woman finds beauty in Maya Angelou’s poetry; another sees pure artistry in a good Danielle Steele novel. So isn’t beauty clearly just a matter of one person’s opinion?
For instance, my brother, an amateur photographer, once found an old worn out pair of work shoes in a pile of trash, positioned them on a large rock, and photographed them. The matted black-and-white photo was quite eye-catching. I found myself looking at the shoes and wondering about the man who once wore them. Was he a farmer? A laborer? Was he a family man or a loner? Had his hard life embittered him toward others or given him a sympathetic understanding of the little guy? Someone might view that photo and argue, “See. Even garbage can be beautiful. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.” But I say, “Not so!” For it took the eye of an artist (my brother) to turn ugly, dirty trash into a thing of beauty.
One of the greatest songwriting teams ever was Rodgers and Hammerstein. Oscar Hammerstein would write delightful lyrics, and Richard Rogers would tailor-fit the musical arrangement to them. In the favorite “O What a Beautiful Morning,” from the play Oklahoma, the cowboy Curly paints a picture in song of the bright summer morning. “All the cattle are standing like statues, All the cattle are standing like statues. They don’t turn their heads as they see me ride by, But a little brown maverick is winking her eye!” Can you not see the hand of the Creator behind such an idyllic scene?
When God made the world, He looked over it and “saw that it was good” (Genesis 1). Unfortunately, people have marred God’s beautiful world with their sin. Nevertheless, beauty still remains. And in the beauty of His Creation, we can see something of God Himself, “His eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20). He gave us an eye for beauty and delights in our seeing Him in the midst of it. Christian writer J. I. Packer says, “The life of true holiness is rooted in the soil of awed adoration. It does not grow elsewhere.” Farmer’s wife and New York Times best-selling author Ann Voskamp adds, “Faith is in the gaze of a soul.” She realized that truth while enjoying a beautiful harvest moon and worshiping the God who made such artwork.
“Trust in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).