Aesthetics in Scripture
That the Bible is an ethical book is evident. Righteousness in all the relations of man as a moral being is the key to its inspiration, the guiding light to correct understanding of its utterance. But it is everywhere inspired and writ in an atmosphere of aesthetics. Study will bring out this fact from Genesis to Revelation. The first pair make their appearance in a garden where grew "every tree that is pleasant to the sight" (
Such is the imagery that from beginning to end is pictured as the home of ethics—at first in its untried innocence and at last in its stalwart righteousness. The problem will be to observe the intermingling of these two elements—the beautiful and the good—in the whole Scripture range. A few texts will set before us this kinship and then the Bible student can detect it as he reads.
"For all the gods of the peoples are idols; But Yahweh made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary" (
Ps 96:5, 6).
If we catch the spirit set forth in such and similar Psalms, we can use it as a magnetic needle to detect its like wherever we shall read: and we shall find that like in abundance.
It is only necessary to turn to the directions given for making the tabernacle, and the decorations of the priests that were to minister in the worship of Yahweh in the ceremonies described, as given in
It is almost idle to refer to Solomon and his temple (
There is beauty in speech. It is a fact that the supreme classics in English and German literature are translations of the Bible. There is no explanation of such fact except that the original justified the translations. You can read indifferently from one translation to the other and catch the same aesthetic gleam. Nobility and poetry of thought lay in what was to be translated. Here is proof that cannot be gainsaid that the Scripture authors sought the aid of aesthetics as garb for the ethics they taught. So they wrote in poetry. So they used allegory, illustration, figure, metaphor that would charm and hold.
The parables of Jesus are examples of this method of clothing thought. They do their ethical work because they have swept into it figure and imagery from familiar aesthetic perceptions. "The sower went forth to sow" (
It is something to which we do not wake up till late in life—to wit, the measurelessness of the provision in Nature for beauty. Common consent awards beauty to the rainbow.
The Bible does not have an aesthetic doctrine as such. The appreciation of beauty is everywhere in the Scriptures, but beauty for beauty’s sake is of no consequence to its writers. One area in which the Biblical appreciation of beauty is obvious is the natural. Genesis passes judgment on the created universe by declaring that God saw that it was good. The Psalms especially reveal an appreciation of the beauty of God’s handiwork in nature (
It was God who made the springs gush forth in the valleys, the grass to grow for the cattle, and the moon to make the seasons, who covers the heavens with clouds, determines the numbers of the stars, etc. The Hebrew mind appreciated the beauty of the earth and all of nature. By way of contrast it can be observed that pagan minds, even influenced by Jewish thought, had some reservation about the beauty of nature. The Hermetic Corpus (writings originating in Egypt about the beginning of the Christian era) were notably influenced by Judaism, but could not fully appreciate the beauty of the natural creation. In the cosmogony of Poimandres (a part of the Hermetic Corpus) there is clearly an echo of
The home land of the Jew was especially beautiful. Jeremiah wrote that God had said “I thought how I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beauteous of all nations” (
The Pharaoh of Egypt was to be likened to the fair branches of the cedar of Lebanon, beautiful in its greatness (
Human beings are spoken of in the Bible as being beautiful, and Isaiah and Ezekiel both disclose the use of cosmetics (
Isaiah described God as becoming a beautiful diadem for His people (28:5) and the Messiah as a beautiful king (33:17). At the same time Isaiah spoke of the coming servant of the Lord as having “no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (53:2). The avoids anthropomorphic representations of God, but there is an undeniable splendor about the description of all that pertains to God. He who sits upon the throne of the universe “appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald” (
Thoughts on Aesthetics in Nature
Reflect that every drop of water in the ocean, or in the hydrated rocks, or in the vapor floating over Saturn, has in it the possibility of rainbow coloring. In fact all matter has color of which the rainbow is only specimen. Any element incandescent has a spectrum partially coincident with that of water and ranging above and below it in the infinite capacity it has to start ether undulations. As apparently the larger part of the matter of the universe is incandescent, we can see that the field for expression in color is infinite. No one but the infinite God can see it all.
If we come down to this plain, plodding earth, cultivation of aesthetic sense will bring out beauty everywhere, from the grandeur of mountain scenery to aesthetic curves and colors revealed only by the microscope. We say the butterfly is beautiful. But the larva from which it is derived often carries as much beauty in mottling of color and of the fineness of of spine and mandible. Looking across the scale in this way the evidence of theism from beauty itself becomes convincing. Beauty becomes a messenger of and from God—as Iris was to the Greek and the rainbow to the Hebrew (
This from Amiel’s Journal Intime, I, 233, sets forth the radical, inexpugnable position of beauty in Nature and in philosophy thereof correctly interpretative:
"To the materialist philosopher the beautiful is a mere accident, and therefore rare. To the spiritualist philosopher the beautiful is the rule, the law, the universal foundation of things, to which every form returns as soon as the force of accident is withdrawn."
As we accustom ourselves to make larger and larger synthesis in the department of aesthetics, what diapason of theistic message may we not hear? Beauty wherever and however expressed is a medium of revelation. It is a bush ever burning, never consumed. Before it "put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." That beauty should be—to that intent, for that end, from everlasting hath wrought the.