Dear Christian, Don’t Dismiss Beauty

February 29, 2024  - By Randy Newman

Dear Christian, Don't Dismiss Beauty - an article from Well-Watered Women

Several years ago, a friend invited me and my wife to their magnificent home in Hawaii for a delightful vacation. Among our host's many recommendations of restaurants, ice cream shops, beaches, and hiking trails was a list of the ten best spots to watch the sunset. It intrigued us, and we went to spot number one on our first afternoon there. We were not alone in our maneuvering of beach chairs to secure the best vantage point for the momentous event. A party atmosphere permeated the area, with toasting of drinks, telling of jokes, and sharing of stories of the day's events.

But as the sun lowered toward the horizon, all laughter, chit-chat, and clinking of glasses ceased as all eyes gazed at the silent symphony before us. You could feel a palpable sense of awe. When the sun finally dipped below the horizon, with a culminating splash of spectacular orange at the last nanosecond, the crowd erupted in applause. Every evening after that, we dared not miss the inspiring showcase of God's grandeur.

The Purpose of Beauty

But why does beauty captivate us so much? Why do we stand in long lines to stare at paintings by Van Gogh? Why do performances of Rachmaninoff's piano concertos get high priority in people's carefully trimmed budgets? And how can we explain that, when we listen to music—an art form that must be experienced in time—we feel as if time stands still?

The answer to these questions can be stated in a few seconds but will take all eternity to fully appreciate: God creates beauty because he's a beautiful God. He places pointers to the eternal in the everyday. He delights to give us delights.

Why Do We Fear It?

But not all Christians know what to do with beauty. Some fear it will turn into idolatry and we'll end up hugging trees. Or we'll fall so in love with the gift that we'll forget the Giver. These are indeed very real dangers, given the natural bent our sinful hearts have toward worshiping other things (any things) instead of God. 

Other Christians dismiss or ignore natural beauty and the arts because "it's all going to burn" and those things are "temporal, not eternal." A first response to this kind of reductionism is to question whether music, art, and beauty really are only temporal. Won't we be singing in heaven? Might it be a stunningly beautiful place? Maybe our appreciation of earthly beauty is just a dress rehearsal for the eternal concert and art gallery we'll enjoy forever before the beautiful throne of our beautiful Savior. 

A Beauty-Filled Response 

A second response is to consider that, if we keep second things second, we can still worship God as the only One worthy of first place in our hearts. Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom, not seek it only (Matt. 6:33). Husbands must love the Lord with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength (Mark 12:28–30). But they're also commanded to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25). We can love God most and love other things second and still find great joy along the way. In fact, secondary love of secondary things can increase our ultimate love for our ultimate God.

Nobody has said this better than C. S. Lewis in his great sermon, "The Weight of Glory": "The books or the music in which we thought the 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. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited." 1 

Beauty Transforms Us

These displays of beauty can and should prompt doxology. They can also enhance evangelism. Non-Christians do not share our love for Jesus. But many of them are drawn to beauty. We can come alongside them, admire what they admire, and ask if it points them beyond. We can tell them how nature, art, music, and many other things point us to a good God who made a good world for us to enjoy. I believe many people will find this line of reasoning very attractive.

Peter Hitchens, brother of famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, came to faith out of a deeply settled atheism when he couldn’t ignore the stark contrast between visual ugliness in Communist Russia and beautiful paintings in art museums. 2 In a sense, the architectural ugliness in Moscow made sense in light of the godless worldview that shaped that culture. But something inside him cried out for beauty. When he saw Thomas Hart Benton's painting "Prodigal Son" in the Dallas Museum of Art, God used that experience to draw Hitchens to the Savior. Somehow, he sensed that God welcomes repentant prodigals, even ones who fear it might be too late for them. God's grace has infinite saving power, and sometimes, God communicates that through finite artists.

Beauty Ignites Worship

I’ve found that keeping second things second is not as difficult as I once feared. I attend concerts, stroll through art galleries, gaze at mountains, and enjoy many other encounters with beauty and say, "Thanks be to God." I allow the pointers to point to the One who saw that "it was good" after he uttered, "Let there be…" (Gen. 1). So, I encourage Christians to enjoy the arts, explore the landscapes, revel in concerts, and bring unbelievers along. Go scout out the best places to watch the sunset, pause long enough to watch it disappear below the horizon—and applaud!

Dear Christian, Don't Dismiss Beauty - an article from Well-Watered Women - quote

Meet the Author

Randy Newman is the Senior Fellow for Apologetics and Evangelism at the C. S. Lewis Institute. He was formerly on staff with Cru, ministering in and near Washington, DC. He is the author of several books, including Questioning Faith, Questioning Evangelism, and Bringing the Gospel Home.

  1. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), 30–31.
  2. I share more of both Peter and Christopher Hitchens's stories in my book, Questioning Faith: Indirect Journeys of Belief through Terrains of Doubt, Crossway, 2024.

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