Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Beauty Principle

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see him, no beauty that we should desire him.

- Isaiah 53:1-2

Who has planned this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
Whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
The Lord of hosts has planned it to defile the pride of all beauty,
To despise all the honored of the earth.

- Isaiah 29:8-9

A tenet of physics is the "Principle of Beauty," that if it's the right explanation it will have beauty. In other words, if it's kludgy and inelegant, it's probably not true. In the Proverbs it is written, "Pleasant words are pure."

Isaiah brings us terrible news - obvious, but we need to be reminded and to consider what it means. Our eye for beauty is broken, so that in Isaiah's words, woe to us because we put light for darkness and darkness for light. We recoil in terror from the truly beautiful. We don't want like Jesus to take up our cross each day. And what is beautiful and honorable to men is abominable to God, as Jesus said, agreeing with Isaiah's prophecy against Tyre and applying it to the whole world. In "God in Search of Man," in the chapter entitled "The Spirit of Judaism," Abraham Joshua Heschel writes:

Deep in our hearts there is a perpetual temptation to worship the imposing; to make an idol of things dear to us. It is easy to adore the illustrious. It is easy to appreciate beauty, and hard to see through the masquerade of the ostentatious. Had a poet come to Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, he would have written songs extolling its magnificent edifices, its beautiful temples and monuments of worldly glory. But Amos of Tekoa upon his visit to Samaria did not speak of the splendor of "the house of ivory" nor sing the praise of the palaces. Looking at them he saw nothing but moral confusion and oppression. Instead of being fascinated, he was appalled. "I abhor the pride of Jacob and hate his palaces, " he cried out in the name of the Lord. Was Amos not sensitive to beauty?

We must not regard any human institution or object as being an end in itself. Man's achievements in this world are but attempts, and a temple that comes to mean more than a reminder of the living God is an abomination.

And that is why God plans to defile the pride of all beauty. If the light in us is darkness, how great is that darkness! May the Lord enlighten our eyes to discern beauty and abomination, and to know the difference.

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