Wow. We have covered a lot of ground so far. We’ve discussed what beauty is, what things are actually beautiful (God, Nature, Humans, Art), and why they are beautiful. But there’s one more very important thing left to discuss (that will take a while to unpack): how are we meant to respond to Beauty? We used our text (Ecclesiastes 3:11-15) to give us a context to figure out a definition of Beauty, and then we applied that definition to different things, so let’s go back to it and see how we are supposed to respond to this beauty.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.”[Ecclesiastes 3:12-15]
The ultimate response, the final goal, of seeing all the Beauty God has put in our hearts, put in the world, and is doing in and around us, is joy and doing good. But the writer did something before he could declare this: he thought about it and “perceived” this to be the case. You see this in the final verses of this section as well. After declaring the joy that should come from seeing Beauty, he then steps back and sees the bigger picture. He tells us what first must be true about God if we are going to ultimately respond to beauty the way we should.
Reading this reminded me of something C.S. Lewis once said. In one of his philosophical works (I honestly don’t remember which one) he says that humans interact with things by contemplating and enjoying. He says that they cannot do these things at the same time though they can rapidly move back and forth between the two. I think this is a great way of saying what the author in Ecclesiastes is saying. We first must “perceive” (or contemplate) Beauty and then we enjoy the Beauty that God is making all things into and that he has placed into our hearts and world. Often, this distinction between contemplating and enjoying happens so rapidly that it seems like it is happening at the same time, so don’t worry, I’m not necessarily saying that you can’t enjoy beauty before sitting down and thinking about it, researching it, and writing out some paper something. Even before contemplating something and learning its complexities you can enjoy the Beauty of something. But this is the same way that a husband can enjoy his wife on the first day they’re married, but he must spend time and effort after that contemplating and getting to know his wife, so he can enjoy her more fully and more comprehensively. Contemplation is not necessary to enjoy at first, but it is necessary to enjoy fully.
I know this was a brief post. It’s just because the next several sections are substantial enough to deserve their own posts. So, mull on this for a while, read some other new posts of mine at Reform & Revive and GoingToSeminary.com, and Monday we’ll go really in depth into the contemplation of Beauty and beautiful things.