Greg Cootsona: Devotional: Beauty Is God-Deep
“God’s glory is on tour in the skies,God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.”
--Psalm 19:1, The Message
I’m currently teaching a Bible study called “On a Crash Course with the Old Testament.” It began at Genesis 1 and thus with faith and science. What was immediately intuitive to my students?
Not necessarily that a 13.8-billion-year-old universe is entirely compatible with Genesis 1. Instead, it was the beauty of creation and how science grasps that beauty. One student said, “Greg, I think the connection between science and faith is there, but you know what I do? I go outside, and I see beauty in nature—I see beauty in space at night—like the James Webb Telescope will soon show us even more clearly. That’s how Genesis 1 and science come together for me.”
That’s right. I’ve said before that beauty is “Much More Than Skin-Deep.” In fact, I believe it’s God-deep.
Watch this video and see the beauty God has made. I could have picked several, but this one depicts the manifold beauty of God’s creation. As a believer who loves to be in nature, it’s not hard for me to see God’s glory “on tour in the skies”… and in the icebergs, throughout the rain forests, and in many other places.
Is there a favorite spot that you go to catch a glimpse (or even more) of the beauty of creation? Is there a place you’ve been to and wish you could return? How do you feel when you’re wrapped up in that beauty?
Here are some signposts along the path to beauty and its Source. (By the way, we at Science for the Church offer more resources here.)
I learned to look for these signposts early. My father, the engineer, taught me a fascination with the beauty of how things worked—and thus an appreciation for science. My mother instilled a particularly acute sense of beauty. She loved music, visual arts, and language. As a writer, she sought to find le mot juste—“the perfect word”—the word that fit exactly as it should in a sentence.
Beauty means seeing things as they fit together. Being stunned by structure and proportion, we are drawn to learn more.
This is a profoundly important nexus for theology and science. Beauty is the very structure of the universe… put simply what God has imprinted on this world. And that’s why God’s creation is “Very Good.”
It’s been fascinating for me to listen to theologians and scientists describe beauty. Consider first what the brilliant writer and theologian David Bentley Hart offered in his book The Beauty of the Infinite:
“God’s pleasure—the beauty creation possesses in his regard—underlies the distinct being of creation, and so beauty is the first and truest word concerning all that appears within being; beauty is the showing of what is; God looked upon what he had wrought and saw that it was good.”
This beauty draws us to contemplate and understand it. Henri Poincaré, the early twentieth century quantum theorist, wrote:
“The scientist studies nature not because it is useful: he studies it because it gives him pleasure, because she is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth the labor that is spent on her knowledge, and life would not be worth the work in order to live it.”
And so, as Christians, we know this:
In the intricate patterns of the natural world, we find beauty. We see in the natural world the beauty of God who is Beauty itself.
Though not every scientist seeks beauty as a way to discern God’s handiwork, many can see beauty as a pointer to the very way the universe is set up. Listen to the influential theoretical physicist Paul Dirac, “I consider that I understand an equation when I can predict the properties of its solutions, without actually solving it. This result is too beautiful to be false.” Here’s the crucial point (so I’ll add italics): “It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.”
Beauty draws us to truth. It draws us as believers to God. I close with one final signpost to ponder as you contemplate God’s beauty in creation.
Simone Weil, the twentieth century French philosopher, wrote in Waiting for God,
“The beauty of the world is the tender smile of Christ to us through matter. He is really present in universal beauty. Love of this beauty proceeds from God and descends into our souls and goes out to God present in the universe. It too is something like a sacrament.”
Pause & Reflect: Science has revealed so many parts of creation unavailable to the naked eye using both telescopes and microscopes. How have these technologies revealed God’s beauty to you? What do these images say to you? What emotions do they inspire?
I cited Psalm 19 above as the classic source of biblical commentary on God’s beauty. I’ve also learned this from the Apocrypha:
“From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.” (Wisdom of Solomon 13:6 NRSV)
...Do your spiritual practices include the enjoyment of God’s beautiful creation? If not, what changes could you make to help strengthen your perception of created things?
...How do you define beauty? And how do you share the beauty you find in God’s creation with others? How do you help others to see it as the handiwork of God who is Beauty itself?
...Have you ever encountered beauty somewhere unexpected? Did it affect your understanding of God’s presence in the world?
...Being in nature or seeing the various images scientists reveal through their work—these are sources through which we experience “God-craft.” Where else do you find God’s glory “on tour”?
In a word, both Christian faith and science find inspiration in beauty. And that’s good for our souls.
May God’s beauty revealed in science and Scripture meet you today…
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