The Incarnation of Beauty – Part I : The Trinitarian Roots of Beauty
“One thing I have asked of the LORD, and that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.”
– Psalm 27:4
The Centrality of Seeing Beauty (Rightly Defined!)
In all of David’s asking, there is one great overarching request. And in all of David’s seeking, there is one great overarching goal. What is it?
To dwell in the house of the Lord, or in other words, to remain in the presence of God, to maintain constant communion with Him, to sit at His feet and listen to His teaching (Luke 10:39). And why does he ask for and seek this? Two reasons that are really one: so that he might “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” In all that He asks and does, David pursues intimacy with God so that he can see the beauty of God by eyes of faith (gaze), and know Him better (inquire). However, these two are really one because the fruit that we pursue as we seek a deeper knowledge of God from inquiry into His character is precisely the fruit of beholding more of His beauty.
For the next few blog posts (5 or 6), then, I want to focus on David’s ultimate goal: “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.”
David was a man after God’s own heart, and his consuming desire was to know the beauty of YHWH. But this was true not only of David, Moses also longed to see the glory of God (Exodus 33:18, “beauty” and “glory” are very similar terms when applied to God), and Jesus – God incarnate – says that His desire is for His people to be with Him where He is so that they might see His glory/beauty (John 17:24).
So we must conclude that – when rightly defined – seeing beauty is not just something for poets and artists, rather it is an intensely practical and eternally important pursuit, intended by God to consume and drive every human on the planet. To see (by faith) the “glorious beauty” and “beautiful glory” of the Triune God is the heartbeat and hope of the regenerate soul, and I want to take some extended time to consider what this “sight” entails.
However – since this will be a series rather than a single post, I’ll be taking a few days to lay the groundwork for our discussion. Before we talk about beholding the beauty of God, we need to establish a definition and understanding of “Beauty.”
Beauty rooted in the Trinity
In a collected series of writings title “The Mind,” 18th century theologian Jonathan Edwards presented a masterful definition of Beauty that explains not only aesthetics, but also physics, ethics, psychology and the entire human experience. What makes Edwards’ understanding of Beauty such a profoundly helpful and expansive concept is that it finds its spring (as do all things) in the Trinitarian nature of God Himself.
For Jonathan Edwards, the Trinity is the spring and source of all reality which means that a true understanding of anything must begin with a consideration of it in relation to God the Three in One. Therefore, before we move deeper into a definition of beauty, I need to take some time to explain the Trinity as Edwards understands it. Bear in mind that what I am about to explain is a model, it is a way that creatures have tried to explain the Creator. Neither Edwards nor I believe that this explains or de-mystifies the Trinity, however, it is the best explanation I have ever heard and I consistently see it affirmed by scriptural witness.
The Edwardsian Concept of the Trinity
For Jonathan Edwards, God (the Father) is eternal and infinite, the un-begotten God. However, from all eternity, the Father has not been unaware of His own existence….that is to say, He has infinitely and perfectly known Himself. He has, as it were, everlastingly beheld a perfect “image” of Himself within Himself because He has everlasting known Himself flawlessly. Now, when we “know ourselves,” it is a transient and fragmented knowledge, but God’s knowledge of Himself is exhaustive and without error or omission. This perfect knowledge or image of God within God is an inseparable element of His nature, and yet it is not the same thing as the Father Himself…it is the Father’s infinite, eternal, and perfect knowledge, or idea, or image of Himself. It is Himself “over again.” Edwards asserts that this perfect self-knowledge of God is God the Son, eternally “begotten” or “generated” by the self-knowledge of God the Father
(however, when we use terms like “generated” it is important to understand two things: 1) There was never a time when the Son was not, He is eternally generated by the Father’s self-knowledge and 2) the Son is generated not by an act of God’s will, but by His very nature…the Father cannot not generate the Son).
So now we can say that there are “two” in God: God (the Father), and His eternal and infinite self-knowledge (the Son). And yet, if God is not satisfied for humans to merely know Him, and instead calls for them to love what they know of Him (Deuteronomy 6:4), surely it is not sufficient for God merely to know and not to love Himself! Because God is righteous, His affections are in perfect conformity to the worth of the thing perceived, therefore in perceiving Himself within Himself (the Father “beholding” the Son and Son “beholding” the Father) God infinitely and eternally loves what He perceives. Since God beheld (the Son) is worthy of all the affection of God beholding (the Father), the Father pours Himself out wholly and unreservedly in love for the Son and the Son reciprocates by pouring Himself out wholly and unreservedly in love for the Father. This outpouring of Father to Son and Son to Father in mutual love and joy is what Edwards calls “the eternal and most perfect and essential act of the Divine nature.” All that God is – His entire, unalloyed essence – is breathed into this eternal act of love so that the love flowing between Father and Son is God Himself in act. For Edwards, the third person of the Trinity, God the Spirit, is the eternal act of God pouring Himself out in love to and joy in God.
And so, the Edswardian Trinity is this: God (the Father) known (the Son) and loved (the Spirit)…..
“God Known and Loved,” how glorious that the deep longing of every human heart (to be known and loved) is an echo of the Trinitarian life of God Himself. He has made us in His image and our souls ache (though we may not know it) to be drawn up into Him……and if Christ has become our Lord and Love and Life, we have been and will be drawn up.
Now, the implications of this conception of the Trinity (“God Known and Loved”) are paradigm shifting for our view of reality….however, this is simply not the place for me to begin walking through them all. For our purposes we are going to be looking at how Edwards’ understanding of the Trinity gives rise to a working definition of beauty that will help us look at the world – and more importantly at the person and work of Christ – with fresh (and I believe Biblical) eyes.
Until then, may the Lord help us think biblically and carefully about these things in a way that bears fruit in our daily lives…..because glory truly seen will always result in some measure of conformity to that glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
 Jonathan Edwards, Ed. Sang Hyun Lee, 121 , Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (WJE Online Vol. 21)