The Mystery of Beauty by Tyler Thayer
February 5, 2009, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Thought Initiative


by Tyler Thayer

What is beauty?  Have you ever stopped and stared at a mountain side, a beautiful sunset, or the intricacies of a small flower, and come to the conclusion that it was the perfect example of beauty?

Beauty is hard to describe. In fact the keen observer of beauty must admit that sometimes beauty is essentially a mystery. It is an experience that seems to have no real clear explanation; however beauty has this amazing unparalleled attraction.  When the human eye sees beauty, our very beings tend to desire it.  Sometimes it raises desires in our hearts that we didn’t even know were possible to experience.

Tim Keller believes that beauty is extremely significant, in that it serves as a clue of God.  In Keller’s book, The Reason for God, he said,

“If there is no God, and everything in this world is the product of (as Bertrand Russell famously put it) “an accidental collocation of atom,” then there is no 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….

“In the presence of great art and beauty we inescapably feel that there is real meaning in life, there is truth and justice that will never let us down….Are we, however, only talking about feelings here?  What is evoked in these experiences is, more accurately, appetite or desire….St. Augustine in his Confessions reasoned that these unfulfillable desires are clues to the reality of God….Doesn’t the unfulfillable longing evoked by beauty qualify as an innate desire?  We have a longing for joy, love, and beauty that no amount or quality of food, sex, friendship, or success can satisfy. We want something that nothing in this world can fulfill.  Isn’t that at least a clue that this ‘something’ that we want exists?  This unfulfillable longing, then, qualifies as a deep, innate human desire, and that makes it a major clue that God is there.”

On a different note, I randomly (actually Google) found on the internet this response, which seems to be a typical argument against Keller’s theory: “If the beauty of creation proves God, what do killer hurricanes, cockroaches, disease and accidents prove?”

So I ask these questions:

1.   What is beauty, and where do you think it originates?
2.   Does the existence of beauty prove God’s existence? How?
3.   Does beauty bring about a desire and longing for God, even if the person doesn’t know of God?
4.   Finally, does beauty have purpose?


14 Comments so far
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I’m not the most philosophical minded person but I can simplistically in my own opinion answer number 1 and 4.

1. Beauty is hard to define personally but it definitely isn’t just externals. Beauty to me is something that points to a loving, majestic God fully worthy of ALL praise and honor and glory. A regenerated soul is beautiful. God’s creation is beautiful.

4. Beauty’s purpose is to bring glory and praise to God. And may I add it does a wonderful job. Driving to campus every morning early I get to see the sunset. That is unrivaled beauty in my opinion. The beauty of God’s creation is so wonderful and it points me to God’s goodness and glory every single time!

Knowing myself I probably didn’t answer this question at all but these are my thoughts.

Comment by Jeremy O

Thanks for this post; I stumbled upon it from a Google alert I have set for the phrase “longing for God”. I am fascinated with this topic, and with the meaning of desire and how it is both a reflection of our need for God, and an active experience of him. Check it out at:

Comment by Eva David

I didn’t know sunsets occurred early in the morning, Jeremy.

Comment by David Wells

1) Beauty is value that is justified against pleasure. As humans experience it, it originates in our necessary faculties that places us in the image of God.

2) Beauty does not ‘prove’ anything as it is impossible to ‘prove’ anything with our limited knowledge and darkened reason. What it does do is exclaim the character of God for all to see, namely, his invisible attributes like his eternal power and divine nature.

3) Beauty brings about a longing for God due to the acertainment of degrees of beauty. If one has the capacity to percieve beauty, then one tests its worth through the pleasure it brings. Ultimately, one wants to seek their highest good and pleasure and only something that meets the attributes of God can fulfill this. This means that one will be unsatisfied until they find that which is most beautiful and when they find that, they will worship that. God is unsurpassably beautiful. God is majestic.

4) The purpose of beauty is for creatures to account for that which is most pleasurable and to push them to strive and hold onto that which is most satisfying.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

4 Addendum) … and to glorify God.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

I think beauty is often in the eye of the beholder. There is beauty in all life big or small.

With that said, I find that there is beauty in death. There is beauty in the eye of a hurricane. There is beauty in the thunder storm. There is beauty the sweet surrender of the soul and the death of the self. I find there is plenty of beauty in the death of a person who lived a faithful life; and the person peacefully gives up their ghost. We are fallen; so is our sense of beauty. There is beauty in death and life. There is beauty in all things.

What is beauty? I think it will ultimately become the weight of glory that exists in God’s creation, even God’s wrath exibits beauty. It is not like that now but I think it will be. Everything that reflects God’s nature is pleasurable, attractive, has meaning, has purpose, and will provide satisfaction.

I think the ultimate revelation of God in the end times and judgment is to declare and reveal His beauty in all things. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord. Even those who do not do so in this life. Those who are condemned to hell will worship God by fully knowing the beauty they had for the short time on earth. They will regret they have it no more.

Comment by Dave McCarthy


I would have to disagree that death is beautiful…perhaps the memory of the person is or the sacrifices made in Jesus’ name. I would say that death is an enemy. It is because of sin that we die. Our Savior responded emotionally at the death of Lazarus; He wept. This reaction wasn’t at beauty or even entirely for His friend. It was mainly at the cost and consequence of sin. Jesus also saw the death that He would have to die.

Only Christ’s death can be considered beautiful and that is because He (and His death) was unique…but not the suffering and wrath poured out itself which was horrific. Is the blood flow beautiful? Yes, but it’s fulfilling purpose not in the great cost. Killing God’s only Son is the worst sin. He had to die for my sin. I killed Christ. Forgiveness coming from that very blood shed…that is beautiful.

However, I would like to hear more on your thoughts about this.

Comment by Squatty


A few things on death:

1) There must be a distinction between physical and spiritual death. Sin brought spiritual death into the world that is for sure, we can’t say with certainty it brought physical death. Although much biblical and extra biblical evidence will point to physical death always existing.

2) Do you consider love to be an expression of beauty? The bible states there is no greater love than a man to lay down his life for a friend. I’d call that beauty in a great sense – a romantic action.

3) Physical death is a transition for us into the kingdom of heaven. Some might view this as beautiful – like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

4) When we speak of death in Christian terms, one can’t escape from the image of putting our old selves to death. Being crucified with Christ, and expressing this through baptism is such a beautiful act that entire families come out to watch.

Comment by James Baby

Lastly, and not to tread too far off topic into theology.

I’d humbly submit that the statement “Killing God’s only Son is the worst sin” may be wrong in two ways.

1) Us as sinners didn’t kill Jesus. We could not forcefully take from Christ his life – He said so Himself. Instead, Jesus chose to die. This is a point that doesn’t deserve much pondering, but a point none-the-less.

2) I’m not too sure we can accurately state the death of Jesus was a sin. It was God willed, as Isaiah states God wanted Him to be crushed. Once again, this point does not deserve much pondering either.

Both of those were theological matters of little importance, but are fun to discuss anyways.


Comment by James Baby

Ha…actually I was about to bring up Isaiah 53 as a point of God crushing Christ, then I read a little further and you already got to it. Nice points James.

Comment by Tyler Thayer

What do you guys think of these thoughts (concerning James’ points)?:

1)I think the only distinctions are weight and time in that one is “temporal” (passing into eternity-less weighty) the other eternal (wrath and judgment forever-infinitely weighty). And, I would say that even physical death is a consequence of sin. How else could it be considered an enemy?

“biblical evidence will point to physical death always existing.” Where? Not after Genesis 3.

Genesis 3:17-23:

And to Adam he [the LORD] said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

2)I think that this relates to my point that the action can be beautiful (and in this case being like Christ which means that there would be no love like that without the Gospel) but not the very death itself. The person actually dying, no matter the motive, exists because of sin and being in a fallen world.

3)That transition doesn’t exist without the fall, without sin. Without sin, there would be no need to transition from this life to Heaven. So physical death is a result of sin; therefore, it is an enemy and ugly. Plus, without the Gospel without Christ conquering the grave and the sting of death, there is no good side of the transition. We can hope beyond the enemy of death because Christ died to conquer it.

4)I don’t think there is more than a visual connection to physical death and this. I think Paul uses helpful imagery to explain doctrines.

1b)By “Killing God’s only Son is the worst sin”, I meant for us. You have to put the Savior in light of the fall. If we’re not in Adam, the we have no need to be in Christ. Since we are sinful, we need a Savior. Plus, there is ZERO connection to the Gospel without seeing a personal need for it and a personal connection to it. Why did Christ die? Why did God crush Him? It was because of sin, our sin, my sin.

(from “How Deep the Father’s Love) “Behold the Man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed I hear my mocing voice, Call out among the scoffers. It was my sin that helf Him there until it was accomplished.” and (from Horatius Bonar’s ‘I see the crowd in Pilate’s Hall’ vseres 2-3)

“2. I see the scourgers rend the flesh
Of God’s beloved Son;
And as they smite I feel afresh
That I of them am one.
Around the Cross the throng I see
That mock the Sufferer’s groan,
Yet still my voice it seems to be,
As if I mocked alone.

3. ‘Twas I that shed that sacred Blood,
I nailed him to the Tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.
Yet not the less that Blood avails
To cleanse me from sin,
And not the less that Cross prevails
To give me peace within.”

“Us as sinners didn’t kill Jesus.” is WRONG. Christ died because of sin, my sin that a sinner commits. Without sin, there is no need for a Savior! Also, we we there (in action not physically) yelling “Crucify Him!”

2b)Hopefully my clarification in 1b made this clearer. We killed Christ = sin. God gave Himself (yes and died, yes and God killed His Son) = not sin. Justice and mercy meet at the cross. God orchestrates the entire event (with much mystery!) The only part I play is the sin that is forgiven.

Finally, Genesis 5 exists to show that death now reigns in the earth. Notice the end of each name listed, “and he died.” This is in the Bible to show us that death (physical) is a consequence of sin and the fall. We need to be ransomed from this body of death.

Comment by Squatty


You seem to have summed up all 4 of my points with the belief that physical death has not always existed. This is a theological belief not worth convicted Christians being divided about. Where as I used to debate such topics, i’ve since then started to strive against doing so. You asked for examples of evidence for my belief, however, so I will offer them.

Genesis 2:17
but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

Genesis 3:3
but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

Well, the truth is, they didn’t die, they continued to physical live. However, they experienced spiritual death, the same spiritual death we experienced before Christ. They were separated from God and thrown out of His kingdom He set up for humans (Eden).

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
-Genesis 3”

There are two important things to reflect on in this verse. First off, it states man will have to work for his food. A lot of people take this to mean man never worked before the fall, and that work infact was a result of sin. In reality, man was already working in the garden.

Genesis 2:15
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Man was already working in the garden to take care of it. And before then, God was working to create stuff.

In the same way, people sometimes take the second part of that verse to say that man, never before the fall, returned to the ground. They see that whole string of verse which you quoted as a cause and reaction summary. You sinned, here is your penalty, but this is not the case. Work was not the true penalty, and neither was physical death. It was spiritual separation from God. What it is saying is we will always be yearning and working for something that we can’t obtain – and that is God.

If a person were to say “there was physical death before the fall” there is nothing in the bible to contradict them. Nothing in the bible states otherwise. We can only infer from passages. And this takes humility to understand we could be wrong. Because of this, I will readily admit I could be wrong.

Now, lets examine the extra biblical evidence. The linear timeline (that is what human’s view as opposed to what God views for the bible states a day to a man is like a thousand to God), can be dated back before the dawn of man. There is a point where God had created all these animals, but hadn’t yet made Adam – we were not the first creation, we were simply His crown of creation.

And for this period of time, animals were living and dying and changing the atmosphere. Plants were being using up the abundant CO2 and putting out oxygen so animals could thrive. Eventually, conditions were right for man to live. And boom, God made Adam, the first man. There was a long strain of life and death before Adam got there.

Now, you might believe that evolution is not something that has been happening for a long while. That is fine. C.S. Lewis even states,

“Everyone now knows about Evolution (though, of course, some educated people disbelieve it)”
-Mere Christianity p. 218

So I won’t look down upon you for not accepting evolution. But know, if we turn this into a debate on the subject we will only be causing unnecessary division and not submitting to Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 12:25.

Comment by James Baby

To your statements about the death of Christ:

The exact way it happen is of little important when reflected in the light of the fact it happened. C.S. Lewis (yes, I have an affinity for his work) explains what I mean very well:

“Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. the central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians agree on is that it does work.”
-Mere Christianity p. 53 and 54

Comment by James Baby

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