The Psalmist says something that should startle a lot of modern people: ‘Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ (Ps. 96). Not many people today think of beauty and holiness as connected. When we think of beauty, we think of sunsets, flowers, paintings, and perhaps the silhouette of a Marvel superhero. When we think of holiness, we think of religious rules, self-denial, and a hyperactive conscience. What could the two ideas share in common? For most people, beauty and holiness are like ‘up’ and ‘down’, or ‘north’ and ‘south’. The only relationship they share is that of being opposites.
This dissociation of beauty from holiness is a problem for worshipping hearts. If, on the one hand, holiness is stripped of all beauty, then holiness ends up having no appeal. We begin to imagine that piety ought to look and feel a lot like a funeral procession. If, on the other hand, beauty is stripped of holiness, then beauty itself becomes a source of danger. Eve is not the only human being to have looked at something forbidden – been struck by its attractiveness – and made a choice that resulted in something worse than a hangover.
So how do we avoid each of these problems? The answer is simple: We need to recover the truth that the source of beauty and the source of holiness is ultimately the same. This leads to a startling conclusion. The highest beauty is the highest holiness. Nothing is more captivating and awe-inspiring than the vision of God. One old hymn-writer made the point in the following way:
How beautiful, how beautiful
the sight of thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power
And awesome purity.
Once we understand this, the confusion above vanishes. First, the drabness of piety is revealed to be a myth. There can be nothing more ravishing than the worship of the Holy One. This, of course, is why from the beginning of creation God has used His servant beauty in order to manifest His presence. For a very long time, God has worked hard to communicate the point that His presence is the fullness of joy.
But, second, acknowledging the beauty of God is the greatest protection we have from the false lure of temptation. What should Eve have done when she looked upon the forbidden fruit and beheld its supposed ‘goodness’? She ought to have compared that superficial goodness with the absolute goodness of her Maker. If she would have done this, the attractiveness of the tree would have been eclipsed by the vision of God and, rather than stumble down a walk of shame, she would have soon found herself bathing in streams of incomparable delight.
For more on the beauty of God, watch this five minute video.