Beauty Truly Is in the Eye of the Beholder (On Beauty, Part 2)

Spencer MacCuish —  June 29, 2011 — Leave a comment
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the seriesOn Beauty

In a prior post, I argued that God Himself is the standard of beauty and things are beautiful insofar as they reflect Him. We will continue the discussion by posing the question: If God is the standard for beauty, why are there different preferences or tastes as to what humanity identifies as beautiful?

First, I want to acknowledge that there is a great diversity when it comes to what humanity deems beautiful. I want to argue that these areas of divergence are subjective and pertain to preference issues. I would also suggest that there should be a celebration of this diversity regarding the subjective aspects of beauty. The fact that various aspects of humanity can see various aspects of creation as beautiful reflects the diversity of the Creator.

Second, I want to affirm the adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. An individual absolutely is the one who determines what they deem beautiful. But is it possible for a person to be wrong in what they use as their standard of beauty? In other words, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, but many people are just not seeing things the way they were intended to be seen.

The implications of this are incredibly significant. Perhaps we focus too much on the object of our aesthetic judgment rather than focusing attention on the very criteria by which we make those judgments. If we acknowledge God as the Creator and that things are beautiful insofar as they reflect God, it is also fair to acknowledge that humanity is an image bearer of the Creator. Thus, the more the Holy Spirit conforms us into the image of God, the more we view creation the way God does. If we were to see things the way God does, the way things were intended to be seen, I would suggest our entire criteria for determining beauty would change. We would move from seeing and judging things from a worldly perspective to seeing things from a Godly perspective.

On the one hand, not all beauty is subjective. There is a standard for beauty, namely, God Himself. People and things are beautiful insofar as they reflect God’s craftsmanship and character. Because we have this standard, the vast differences of opinion regarding what is beautiful and what is not is due in large part to human error—it amounts to human beings using insufficient standards to make aesthetic judgments. (As an aside, any time we hold a standard higher than God we are engaging in idolatry.) The more we allow the Gospel to transform every aspect of our lives, the more our standard of beauty will be aligned with God’s standard. Our sense of beauty will change as we become more like God and see the world from His perspective.

On the other hand, beauty is in the eye of the beholder—in a healthy way! Many of the people and things that we find beautiful reflect God in a number of ways, and some people will be attracted to some of these aspects more than to others. I believe this diversity in preference glorifies God. He is a cross-cultural God; He created a world full of diversity, both in the natural realm and in the human realm. So long as He receives the glory He is due, God is honored when individuals notice and appreciate some aspect of His creation that the people around them do not.

In summary, beauty does indeed reside in the eye of the beholder, but we must always ask ourselves if we are beholding God’s world in the way that He intends.

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Series Navigation<< On Beauty, Part 1The Aesthetic Affect of Sin (On Beauty, Part 3) >>

Spencer MacCuish

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Spencer spent most of the 90’s as summer staff at Hume Lake Christian Camps. He also spent several years as a youth pastor in the Santa Clarita Valley, coaching volleyball, and teaching English and History in the public school system. Spencer has been involved with Eternity Bible College since its inception and is currently serving as the Dean of Students. He and his wife, Tina, have three beautiful daughters.