Battling dark days with beauty and joyWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
“We are exposed to so much brokenness in the city, we must constantly expose our hearts and minds to beauty.”
This quote by Tim Keller is true not only in the city, but wherever we live, and arguably more than at any other time. The past few years have demonstrated beyond a doubt that our world is broken, and we along with it.
Yet at the same time, our world is also filled with beauty and joy, reflecting the nature of the God who made it. As his image bearers, we humans have a unique capacity to appreciate these qualities, both in creation and in our Creator.
Pursuing beauty and joy wherever they may be found is healthy for our bodies and our souls, helping us combat the brokenness around us and within us. And so, it’s worth pausing to consider where and how we might see more of this beauty and discover more of this joy.
Beauty and joy are inseparable
Before anything else, we need to know that beauty and joy are inseparable. Encountering beauty always leads to joy, and joy is the inevitable result of encountering beauty. What’s more, this experience is only complete when shared. As C.S. Lewis observed:
“We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.”
This confluence of beauty, joy and relationship is at the heart of creation because it is at the heart of God himself. When God created the cosmos, he declared it to be very good. This wasn’t a cool appraisal but a deep joyful satisfaction in what he’d made, a joy shared among the three persons of the Trinity.
King David, a man after God’s own heart, wrote and sang the same way. The Psalms are filled with his expressions of joy in response to the beauties of God and of his created order. David yearns to see the beauty of the Lord, delights in the wonders of creation and marvels at God’s goodness and power. These beautiful things captivate his heart and mind as he lies in bed at night, and he calls God’s people to share his sense of joy and worship.
The many faces of beauty
Beauty wears many faces which can elicit different types and levels of joy, depending on individual taste and temperament. The nature of God’s own joy over his creation is beyond our understanding, but G.K. Chesterton offers a compelling speculation about it:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Chesterton’s portrayal of a fierce and free and sovereign Lord is far truer than the deist’s picture of a cold, distant watchmaker. God does indeed delight in repeating his works, but he also delights in variety; every sunrise and daisy is different, yet all of them are still daisies and sunrises. And beyond this simple joy, God also delights in the vast, intricate complex of physical laws by which he governs his cosmos, the mysteries of which we humans have barely begun to penetrate.
God has given us the unique ability to respond to beauty in all its forms with every facet of our being, to his glory and for our good. The change of the seasons, a fine meal with friends, the affection of a beloved pet, listening to music, reading a good book, pondering the mysteries of the universe – each in its own way engages our mind, fires our imagination, stirs our affections, fills our hearts with hope. Most of all, they point us to the beauty of our Creator and invite us to participate in his joy.
Sharing joy with God
The Scriptures call us, over and over, to share in the joy of God, to rejoice in him and to shout for joy in his presence. They assure us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. And so, we want to know more about this joy and the things that give rise to it.
Clearly God takes joy in the many beauties of his creation. He names untold billions of stars and calls forth their vast energies. He clothes flowers with brilliance, cares for the birds of the sky and delights in his giant sea creatures as they splash about in the waves.
God also rejoices over his people, fiercely and passionately: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
Most of all, God has joy in himself among the three persons of the Trinity, the ultimate joy in the perfect, eternal beauty. And he created us and desires us to fully experience that joy with him. This is what Jesus prayed for all his followers, hours before his death:
“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. . . . I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:13, 20-24).
An act of resistance
In a broken world, joy and beauty are radical and subversive. They’re means by which God is pushing back the darkness and will ultimately destroy it, ushering in a redeemed creation in which he will wipe away all our tears and there’ll be no more pain, sorrow or death.
Pursuing beauty and joy isn’t selfish or indulgent. It’s Kingdom work in the service of our joyful, beautiful King. And it’s commended to us by the apostle Paul:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Constantly exposing our hearts and minds to beauty, as Tim Keller urges, and taking joy in it, is good for our bodies and for our souls. As such, it may be the ultimate act of self-care.
More than that, it’s an act of resistance against the darkness and the brokenness around us and within us, an act that allows us to participate in God’s redemptive enterprise, in which he is making all things new – including us.
Sources and further reading
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Waking Lion Press, 2008.
Tim Keller, conversation with Jon Tyson, posted on Twitter, accessed February 8, 2022.
C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, Harper One, 2017.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2022 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.Our recommended resources
Free advice on marriage, parenting and Christian living delivered straight to your inbox