We’ve heard the phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Often this is said to justify different taste in art, music, architecture, etc. In other words, two individuals may look at a piece of art in two completely different ways—one repulsed, the other attracted—based on their own perceptions. Is something beautiful? It depends on who you ask.
When we open our Bibles, it doesn’t take us very long to discover what God views as beautiful. Not surprisingly, His perception is often at odds with man’s. For example, Adam and Eve were attracted to the pleasure of the forbidden fruit and the wisdom that it promised (Gen. 3:6), yet God desired obedience. Their submission to His will, and their choice to walk with Him in faith, was far more beautiful than their temporary pleasure and independence. Later in the book of Genesis we see the nations banning together to create a tower which would grant them great power and honor (11:4). No doubt, they considered this tower to be a thing of beauty and grandeur; yet God considered it an appalling act of rebellion that most likely would result in untold human suffering (Gen. 11:6). Much later, in 1 Samuel 15, Saul was instructed to completely destroy the Amalekites—including their animals—and yet he kept the best of the flock and their king (15:9). His excuse was that he planned to give these as sacrifices to the Lord (15:15). No doubt, Saul and the people thought this would be a beautiful thing to give to the Lord, but Samuel quickly rebuked such a mentality:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
–1 Samuel 15:22-23
All of these examples show us a very important truth: God’s view of beauty is often far different from our own. As he would later tell Samuel as he looked at a wiry young man who would one day be king: “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Peter reminded Christian women that it isn’t the outward beauty that God was concerned with, but their inward character and humility (1 Pet. 3:4). Beauty, it seems, is quite different in the eye of the Creator.
One final example solidifies this point. In Exodus 20:25 God gives what seems like odd instructions concerning altars: “If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it” (Ex. 20:25). Notice that the stones that the Israelites were to use for an altar of worship were to be untouched by man’s tools. Why? Wouldn’t it make more sense to smooth the stones out, chisel some designs into them, and make them look as beautiful as possible for the worship of God? Maybe to us; but to the Lord, such actions would be as profanity to Him.
What can we take from this? In our lives and worship we should always be careful about what we view as beautiful when we offer it to our God. What we may see as a thing of wonder, God might actually abhor (Luke 16:15). Particularly in regard to worship, are we giving God the unhewn stones of a thankful, grace-filled heart in singing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)? Or, are we adding elements that he never asked for—instruments, praise bands, and rock concerts? These may seem beautiful to us, but from whose vantage point? Our own, or our creator? As we seek true beauty—obedience, humility, and faith—let us constantly go to the one standard which shows us God’s heart: His eternal word.