In our last post, we considered the nature of beauty. We noted that it is objective—part of the furniture of the world—and essential to a life of flourishing. We suggested that we should seek it and incorporate it into our lives as followers of Christ and as academics. We worship a beautiful God. We can live beautiful lives. And we can incorporate beauty into the things we make. In all of this, we see that beauty has attractive power. Thus, argues the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper, we see that “beauty was designed by God to be something powerful, having arisen from the pleasure of God, having been intentionally willed by God and having been called into existence by his almighty power.” [1] In this post, I want to consider the power of beauty to awaken and console.

Beauty evokes desire. It awakens within us longing and sets us on a journey. But to what? C. S. Lewis is helpful here:

The books or the music in which we thought beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. [2]

Experiences of beauty, if faithfully followed, set us on a path to Christ. These experiences remind us of “news from a country we have never yet visited.” [3] They lead us home. As Kuyper describes the human impulse for art, “All art and beauty . . . constitute a prophecy and foreshadowing of that coming glory. . . . art exists in direct connection with our expectations about eternity. With trembling hands, as it were, art reaches out toward the glory that through Christ will one day fill heaven and earth.” [4] Thus, art functions as a kind of “bridge between life here and life on the other side of the grave.” [5] The human quest for wholeness and happiness is not in vain. Man is not cast adrift on a sea of nothingness. These daily experiences of beauty—in art, nature, human relations, music, speech, and more—provide clues of the Divine Artist. Given the power of beauty to awaken longing, we find yet again, another reason to incorporate it into our teaching, research, and relating. We function—without even mentioning the name of Christ—as a kind of John the Baptist, preparing the way for our students and colleagues to encounter the divine.

Beauty also offers consolation. King David’s singular longing—especially in times of trouble—was to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Jesus too, connects our experiences of beauty with divine consolation:

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these” (Matt 6:28-29).

As Mark Galli points out the imperative to “see” is much stronger than the English word suggests. We are to “consider closely” and “behold the beauty of the earth.” [6]  In beholding beauty our hearts and minds ascend to the divine and that in turn calms our spirits. The experience of beauty transports us out of the mundane and ugly as we enter secondary worlds through fiction or as we are carried along by a harmonious sonnet or beautiful sunset, offering us moments of release from pain and toil and glimpses of reality as it is. Kuyper describes our experience of beauty in nature as “occasionally so overwhelming that the thirsty spirit cannot escape the sense of amazement.” [7]  Beauty reminds us of the way things are supposed to be and fills our heart with hope. Do you struggle with anxiety in your life, your teaching, your research? Then begin to view the world God has made—and the people and things within it—as gifts, beautiful gifts. Then contemplate and find consolation in the giver of all good things.

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul” (Psalm 94:19).

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[1] Abraham Kuyper, Wisdom & Wonder, trans. By Nelson D. Kloosterman (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian’s Library Press, 2011), 127.

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 30–31.

[3] Ibid., 31. 

[4] Kuyper, Wisdom & Wonder, 144.

[5] Ibid., 145.

[6] Mark Galli, Beautiful Orthodoxy (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2016), 54. 

[7] Kuyper, Wisdom & Wonder, 126.