Do you enjoy beauty? Perhaps a dramatic sunset, or a remarkable piece of artistry?
The scene at the top of my Spreading Goodness site is a sunrise on Whidbey Island, Washington, near my parent’s former home. The brilliant colors and the slow motion of a fog bank rolling in from the right captured me on my morning walk. Beauty invites gaze and wonder.
Yet the most satisfying beauty is found in the bonds of love. Picture the caring gaze of a wrinkled grandmother into the eyes of her infant grandchild. Or the smiles of former classmates reunited at a twenty-year school reunion. Even on the morning I snapped the sunrise photo the greatest beauty of the day came in the smiles and greetings of my parents over breakfast.
And all this is a gift from God. God’s eternal bond of love sets up the context for beauty—so that what we enjoy today is an overflow of God’s unending creativity that was first displayed in creation. As we synthesize a picture of God’s original creation from Scriptures we find an intriguing relational cue in a repeated phrase: “it was good.”
Let’s recall that “good” is a value-based word, as is “beauty”. We say, for instance, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Think, for instance of the loving gaze shared by a husband and a wife as they celebrate sixty years of a strong marriage. Each looks back through the memories of shared life and love and sees beauty. Wrinkled skin and frail muscles can’t erase the images of their shared delight years earlier when they were both strong and attractive. Nor dim the joys of receiving children and grandchildren since those beginnings. Beauty is a living, relational word.
And so is goodness. The mistake of a wealthy moralist who approached Jesus hoping to have the Lord validate his own goodness was mistaken in thinking that goodness is inherent in activities—specifically in his law keeping. Jesus startled him with his counter-premise: “No one is good except God alone.” Goodness is a living reality named God.
Let me offer a corollary: beauty emerges in God’s goodness. In other words the whole realm of axiology—meaning and value—is found in God’s creative sharing. His intimate work of shaping complex and interdependent systems in nature is astonishing; and his reach in spreading dramatic galaxies of stars and nebulae throughout the universe overwhelms us as viewers.
So when we think of the creation in Genesis 1 with the repetition “it was good” we should ask if, in this case, goodness was something inherent to the creation—with stars, for instance, treated as essentially good—or is the goodness still something that belongs only to God?
If we explore the creation biblically we find clues about the distinctions of the Trinity, with the unique roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit brought forward at points. The Spirit, for instance, is said to have hovered over the earth during the creation in Genesis 1—suggesting a shaping role—while the Son is treated as the immediate source of the creation in Colossians 1:16, “all things were created through him and for him.”
Can it be, then, that the refrain in Genesis 1, “it was good”, actually reveals the Father’s response as he delights in what the Son and the Spirit are bringing before him? In other words, is it likely that the esthetics of creation are birthed by the love the Son has for the Father, so that he, with the Spirit as his active helper, is pleasing the Father with his incredible creativity? And that the Father embraces all the Son and Spirit offer him by receiving the gift and declaring the works of the Son to be “good”?
We know already, from Ephesians 1:4, that “before the foundation of the world” the Father and the Son were at work in anticipating our union with Christ—as those who would be drawn out of a fallen creation—a proleptic story of creation, fall, and redemption.
In other words we discover how God was active within himself as the triune Father-Son-and-Spirit God working out a future for the realm that was yet to be born. And that realm and his plan were good, with every feature working together for good among his people who would love him in response to his own effusive, creative love.
This is all a bit speculative, I know, but aren’t we invited to taste and see that the Lord is good? Maybe we will enjoy him even more if we start thinking a bit more boldly about the beauty of that goodness. And the love it expresses.