by R. York Moore
While the good news about what Jesus has done for us includes horrific and often offensive elements like sin, death, and judgment, the core of our witness should center on the beauty of God’s actions in our lives and world.
Theologically, the idea of beauty is so much more than our simple, American definition, which is: “…the combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.” This subjective, simple use of beauty misses the whole purpose and place of beauty in God’s created world.
Beauty is about transcendence; it is about bounty, flourishing, awe, and wonder. Beauty encapsulates so much more than just aesthetic pleasure. Beauty does something within us, it summons us to connect at a soul level with its true source–God himself.
Watch a group of people consumed in the shared experience of gazing into a sunset, a woman sitting in front of a roaring fireplace, a man engrossed in a great work of art. All are summoned to something beyond the sun, the fire, the artwork. Beauty summons us at a soul level to connect with something transcendent–with God himself.
Beauty does something in us and in the world around us. If nothing else, beauty tells us there is something more than ugliness, brokenness, sin, disease, and death. Beauty carries purpose and promise, raising our desires and hopes for a world made right.
All of this is why our witness must bear a gospel that is beautiful. Helping people see the beauty in the self-sacrificing, self-effacing work of Jesus’ death causes them to connect with God’s love and purposes in their lives and the world to make things new and to cause things to flourish.
As someone who speaks regularly to students in the Igen/Gen Y demographic, I have found that inclusion of beauty in my gospel witness makes all the difference in the world.
If past generations asked if the gospel was true or if the gospel had social relevance, this emerging generation is asking, “Is the gospel beautiful?” he longing for true beauty is all around us and a gospel message that is rooted in an understanding of beauty is not only a true gospel, but it is a gospel that connects at a deep soul level with young people today.
Recently, I spoke at several universities in different parts of America. In each place, I talked about God’s work in the world, a work to create beauty and bounty where there is injustice, want, and ugliness. I talked about how through beautiful ideas and actions, God is recreating things in us and through us. I explained how God himself is the source of all beauty, and by embracing his beauty, we can experience beauty and go on to do beautiful things.
This kind of language awakens people to the ‘so what’ of the gospel in a way that the mere truth of the gospel does not. I’ve found repeatedly that women and men in the Igen/Gen Y demographic may be ready to believe the truth of the gospel, but often are compelled to respond only after they’ve seen the beauty of the gospel. The good news is that the gospel is both true and beautiful!
At one specific event, after talking about the beauty of Jesus, I gave an opportunity for college students to become ‘interns’ or followers of Jesus for the first time. Several students stood, including a young man named Joe.
Joe stood up exuberantly and immediately. Afterwards, I asked Joe why he responded so passionately to the opportunity to follow Jesus. This 21-year-old said without hesitation, “When you talked about Jesus rising from the dead in beautiful light like a firefly in the dark, I felt compelled to respond!” Beauty connects us with purpose and promise and expands our souls to imagine ourselves and our world as they should be, not as they are.
Joe got that through a gospel that is beautiful. The fact of the matter is that not only is Christ’s work of atonement and resurrection beautiful, but it points us to the ultimate aim of God, a beautiful world where God is worshiped as the source of all beauty.
In Revelation 7:9-12, we read,
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
At the end of the age, we see the source and power of beauty demonstrated in a tapestry of humanity, arrayed around the throne of God. Worship in this context is both the end of God’s beauty and an expression of it. Here, at the end of time, a beautiful gospel produces expressions of beauty through worship, looping back to the source of all beauty–God himself. This is the power and purpose of beauty—worship.
Evangelism is itself an act of worship, an expression of beauty, that creates flourishing and bounty in people and places. This, in turn, produces more worshipers who carry beauty within themselves and express that beauty back to God in the form of worship and service.
There is something about this that is powerfully connecting with this next generation. This goes beyond skits and videos, nice venues, and purposeful aesthetics. Beauty is much more than the right combination of qualities to create something aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Beauty does something, and a gospel that is expressed beautifully produces beauty in those who respond and through those who choose to follow Jesus as a result.
York Moore (@yorkmoore) is national evangelist for InterVarsity USA. He is the author of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Awayand Making All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice and the founder of the anti-trafficking movement Price of Life. Learn more: tellthestory.net