Friday, March 1, 2013

Beauty, Justice, and the Christian Story

Tonight, a friend and I went to an event hosted by Art House Dallas, where a bunch of cool, artistic people gathered to discuss the relationship between beauty and justice. The man leading the discussion was a philosopher-artist-guy with a South African accent and a bow-tie. And it was at a pub. So, it was pretty much the most hipster thing I've done all year, slash maybe ever. Not being a "practicing" artist myself, but having studied music and being passionate about things like beauty and justice (ok, and beer), I really enjoyed tagging along and listening to the great observations of my artist-friends and colleagues! 

The man who spoke, Gideon Strauss, is actually a philosophy professor, so he kept making apologies for being abstract and philosophical and heady and all that. And it's certainly true that using big words like "aesthetics" and "artistic coherence" can seem disconnected from real life-- but as he spoke, my excitement grew because his words connected with my own experience. They entered my world and made sense of it, and gave me a vision for entering the life experiences of others. 

The basic premise of his presentation was that as human beings, we all inherently feel the importance of both beauty and justice. When we look at our own human story, this makes sense: God made the world good-- beauty reminds us of "how things are supposed to be"-- we were created to reflect and enjoy it around us. But because of sin, the world is broken-- and the injustice we see reminds us that this is "not how it's supposed to be"-- and as God's image bearers, we long to see that justice restored. Gideon reminded us that these two innately felt realities, beauty and justice, are part of the same story. We were created for beauty. Since that has been corrupted, justice is what restores it. 

At the heart of this story lies the Christian gospel. Because sin corrupted the beauty of God's creation, God Himself entered in to restore it. He brought justice by undergoing the greatest injustice of history-- by taking on human flesh and dying in the place of sinful people. In doing so, He beat death at its own game and rose victorious to a new life-- beyond corruption and beyond the brokenness that has so distorted reality as we know it on this side of things. What that means for us is that through faith in Jesus Christ, the One crucified and raised on our behalf, the beauty of our humanity can be restored. What's more, through faith in Him, we get to be a part of restoring that beauty to the whole world, because that is what He's about. 

So, back to what this has to to with my daily life experience. If the Christian gospel is ultimately about God doing justice by restoring creation to its originally intended beauty, then there is no dichotomy between justice and beauty. An artist who cares for human suffering ought not wonder if his calling to create beautiful things is somehow insignificant or shallow. A musician who finds great meaning and ministry in bringing music to others ought not feel guilty for following her call to sing. And a pastor who loves to write poetry or read Tolkien aloud to his family ought not wonder if he's wasting his time on less "holy" things. All of these people, in their different ways, are doing justice by creating beauty. They are being about what God is about-- restoring creation to its original goal: reflecting and enjoying Him, the Beautiful One.  

Have you experienced a tension between beauty and justice in your own life? Have you ever thought about those two terms in relationship to the Christian story? Is it healing for you to think that your artistic passion might be a holy calling? What are some other implications of this connection that I didn't mention?

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