As I write, I can see something of the beauty of creation through my study window. The sky is clear blue, with traces of thin, white cloud. Some of the trees that envelop our housing estate are still lush with bright green leaves, while others are slowly turning into their autumn shades of red and brown. Soft sunshine bathes the tops of the garden hedges with a warm glow. It's a beautiful sight. And that's just the view from my window, as I peer over a row of books and my computer screen to gaze at the outside world. If instead of sitting here, working at this article, I was walking around Stourhead Gardens, then the sight would be even more impressive. Right now, I can imagine the lake lit up by the autumn sun and the trees in all their multicoloured glory. What a beautiful world we live in!
But there is nothing necessary about the beauty of the world. Things sometimes function very efficiently without being especially beautiful. The street light I can see out of my window isn't great to look at compared with a lovely old oak tree, but it illuminates our street pretty effectively at night. The beauty that we encounter every day is a sign of the Creator's loving generosity. He does not want us simply to exist in the most efficient way possible, he made us to live. He created us with the capacity to enjoy the world that he made for his glory and our pleasure. "But" you might say, "there is also much ugliness in the world." Yes, that is true. Rainforests are devastated, rivers and seas polluted. Some people have to live in soulless, graffiti strewn "concrete jungles" rather than pretty Wiltshire villages. Not to mention the moral ugliness that often confronts us - the ugliness of greed, hatred and selfishness. This reminds me of the old expression, "as ugly as sin". Sin, rebellion against the God of beauty has brought ugliness into our world.
How can we recapture true beauty? Not by conforming to the idealised images of human perfection that we find in the fashion magazines. We can't all be supermodels. Even if we could, through the marvels of plastic surgery, that would not make us truly beautiful people. As the saying goes, that kind of beauty is only "skin deep". True beauty comes from knowing the God of beauty. If you want an example of a beautiful life, don't look at the latest Hollywood heartthrob. Consider Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I don't mean look at a picture of him, because we don't know what he looked like. But think about the life he lived. Jesus shows us the beauty of love, grace and truth. In an act of unimaginable beauty, he laid down his life for his friends, dying on the Cross for us. Jesus embraced the ugliness of our sin so that by trusting in him, we might be forgiven and made whole. God raised his Son from the dead. His body that was flogged, crucified and disfigured was glorified. In Jesus, true beauty is restored. Those who believe in him will be made like him. "May the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us" (Psalm 90:17).