Sunday, April 17, 2016

Easter 22 Beauty

. . . he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. [Isaiah 53:2b]

Christianity has a broader aesthetic than might initially be assumed. Indeed, Christians often overlook this.

We like to focus on the conventionally beautiful, the lily, the sunrise (or sunset), the eagle or dove (depending upon the verse to be illustrated) in flight.

And to be sure, the Bible is full of the traditionally beautiful. David is described as particularly handsome. Bathsheba, Delilah, and Esther (to name a few) are said to have been very attractive. The lovers in the Song of Songs are each described in idealistic ways.

Note, however, in Genesis, how creation isn't described as beautiful, but as good.We often look to the natural world for examples of beauty (I know I do) and can forget that it wasn't created beautiful, but was created good.

And then we have things like Isaiah's description of the "suffering servant." This servant is not seen as beautiful, not as a handsome hero coming in to save the day and, probably, a beautiful princess. This servant of God is described as bruised, unattractive, undesirable.

Of course, when the first Christians read this passage, they thought of their crucified teacher and lord. Crucifixion being the ugly business that it is, early became a central image for the newly emerging religion. There have been recent historical critiques that the cross didn't become the central image until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and was used as a sign of power (i.e. threat) to people (a worthy idea to consider, I think), but there's plenty of references in the first Christian writings and early Christian art to balance that view. Jesus did not come out of the grave like a freshly scrubbed Brad Pitt, but instead presented himself to the disciples bearing the marks of the crucifixion.

And so, we come to a tension in theological aesthetics of whether beauty is good or if good is beauty and to what extent and how and what to do with it. In the Renaissance, we got beautiful paintings of ugly events. In the Modern era, we got ugly paintings of inspirational events. The age old symbolism of the ugly witch being bad became questioned and the hero was not always handsome and virtuous.

In resurrection, the beauty before us isn't always pleasing to the eye but it is good. It is surprising. It is unexpected despite all the ways we've been told about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment