Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in Christianity

In philosophy, there are three qualities that are often referred to as “the trandscendentals.” These three qualities are truth, goodness, and beauty, and “transcendental” is a proper designation for them. “Transcendental” is a fancy word that describes an aspect of reality that is not dependent on our personal feelings or opinions.

All three of these – truth, goodness, and beauty – are not dependent on our personal opinions. They are realities that are discovered, rather than invented or randomly chosen.

Consider truth. You and I do not get to make up our own truth, we can only discover what the truth is and choose whether or not we will accept it. Feeling like 2 + 2 = 5 does not make it so. It is a transcendent reality because it does not depend upon our personal feelings for its validity.

In the Biblical worldview, moral goodness is the same way. We do not get to pick and choose which attitudes or actions we consider morally good or bad based on our own personal feelings. Just because I “feel” like murder or stealing is okay does not make it so. Even if the majority felt this way, they would still be wrong.

Even beauty has a certain transcendent quality. Rather than choosing arbitrarily what music or art we find beautiful, we observe and recognize beauty in music or art and identify it as such. Saying “this object is beautiful” does not actually make it so. The object in question is either beautiful or not, regardless of what we say about it.

But as you may have noticed, not everyone in our society respects the transcendence of truth, goodness, and beauty. These days many academics assert that “truth is relative” and individuals may respond to your beliefs by saying “that is true for you, but it is not true for me.” In terms of moral goodness, the ultimate standard in our culture is no longer an objective standard, but rather a question of how we “feel” about it. Much of modern art and music reflects the fact that we have given up on objective standards of beauty and are resorting instead to shock value, vulgarity, and “art for art’s sake” with no message to convey.

The general movement of society away from objective standards of truth, goodness, and beauty probably reflects our disdain for constraints on our freedom more than anything else. As long as truth is comprised of objective facts, it can get in my way and prevent me from believing whatever I want. As long as moral goodness is an unchanging standard that I must submit to, it can prevent me from living out my dreams. Even beauty, to the extent that it supersedes personal feelings, reminds me that the reality of life is not always mine to control.

But there is a special beauty and power in the recognition of transcendent realities. When the psalmist said “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path,” he was recognizing that the truth of the Bible could lead him farther than he could get by his own understanding alone. When Jesus said “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth,” the truth that He referred to was a truth that can transform us precisely because it does not come from within us, but rather from the God who created us.

The Philippians were told “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” This is a description of a life in which we discover and enjoy that which is true, that which is good, and that which is beautiful in the realest of senses.

Will you “dwell on these things” and commit your life to acquiring them?

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Make Me White as Snow

The gospel is a message of good news for all people, and as a result, much of God’s word is written in such a way that the common man can easily understand it.  The Bible is full of illustrations that are drawn from everyday life experiences that we can relate to.  As winter arrives and a snow blankets the ground, I am reminded of one of those illustrations.

In Isaiah 1:18, God invited His people to come back to Him:

“Come now, and let us reason together,
Says the Lord,
Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow.”

David echoed this concept in Psalm 51, when he begged the LORD for forgiveness after committing both adultery and murder.

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

There is something beautiful about looking out across a field that is covered in a blanket of clean, glistening snow.  The flawless white surface conveys simplicity, peace, and above all, purity.  Sometimes we almost hesitate to walk through the yard because we hate to mess up the surface, leaving evidence of our presence with the imperfections we leave behind.

And of course, once snow is made dirty, it is impossible to make it look perfect again.  Once dirt, grime, and sludge from city life have turned it black, or we traipse across that pristine field with muddy shoes, there is no going back.

This is an excellent example of what sin does to our lives.  When we look back at our lives we see dirt, mud, grime, and sludge being tracked all over what started out so perfect.

What God offers us through His Son in the gospel seems almost too good to be true.  He offers to restore that pure white, glistening field to its original condition.  Though our sins are as scarlet, He is willing to make them as white as snow again.  In fact, according to David, He will make us even whiter than snow could ever be.

This is what has been referred to as the scandal of Grace.  This is the outrageous and wonderful nature of our forgiveness.  This is why it is called the gospel, or literally, the good news.  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

He did what we could never have hoped to do in making us as white as snow once more.  The purity that belongs to Jesus Christ Himself is imputed to us, and day by day we are being transformed into His image.

Snow