We are naturally attracted to beauty. It has a fascination, and we wish somehow that we could be one with it or enter into it or enjoy it even more. This attraction is a subtle message reminding us of the attraction of God himself, and the satisfaction and joy that we can find only by knowing God and having communion with him.
Why is there beauty in the world? Why is a flower beautiful? Why is a hummingbird beautiful? Why is light beautiful? And what is beauty? People dispute about it. Herman Bavinck associates beauty with “harmony, proportion, unity in diversity, organization, glow, glory, shining, fullness, perfection revealed.” All of them together make something beautiful—strangely attractive and splendid and wonderful.
Is God beautiful? The Bible indicates that beauty traces back to God. God is supremely beautiful. His beauty is reflected in the world he made and sustains. We find that in searching for the source for beauty, we encounter ultimate reality, the reality of God himself.
Some theologians, as far back as Augustine, have said that God is beautiful. Others have cautioned against ascribing beauty to God, wanting to avoid a confusion between God and things in the world that are beautiful. So which is it? God is distinct from every created thing; in addition, God’s character is displayed in the things that he has made (Rom. 1:20). So the short answer is that created things that are beautiful reflect God but are not identical with God. Beauty in created things relates to God by “analogy, not identity.”
Beauty In the Tabernacle and the Priests, Reflecting God
Psalm 27:4 describes God as beautiful:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORDall the days of my life,to gaze upon the beauty of the LORDand to inquire in his temple.
According to this psalm, the beauty of the Lord is displayed in “the house of the LORD,” “his temple.” We know from other parts of the Bible that the temple is a kind of small-scale version of the big dwelling place of God, which is the whole universe (1 Kings 8:27). The whole universe also displays the beauty of its maker (Pss. 19:1; 104:1-2).
In the same verse in Psalm 27, the psalmist says that he seeks the presence of God; it is the “one thing” that he asks for:
One thing have I asked of the LORD,that will I seek after:that I may dwell in the house of the LORDall the days of my life…(verse 4)
In seeking communion with God, the psalmist is also seeking the beauty of God. We naturally seek beauty, as something attractive. So Psalm 84:1-2 says:
How lovely is your dwelling place,O LORD of hosts!My soul longs, yes, faintsfor the courts of the LORD.
Let us consider the tabernacle of Moses, which was the predecessor for Solomon’s temple. In Exodus 25-27 God instructs Moses about the building of the tabernacle. The tabernacle is supposed to be a tent dwelling with symbolic significance. It symbolizes that God dwells in the midst of his people Israel: “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex. 25:8). The tabernacle displays beauty, because it represents the splendor of God, who is the great king of the universe.
This splendor anticipates and foreshadows the greater splendor that belongs to Christ, as the climactic revelation of God: the Bible speaks of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). The preceding context in 2 Corinthians 3 explains the analogy and contrast between the glory of God revealed in Moses’s time and the glory of the new covenant:
For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation [through Moses], the ministry of righteousness [given to Paul in the new covenant] must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.2 Corinthians 3:9-11