When that notorious beauty-lover Oscar Wilde announced in The Decay of Lying, “Nobody of any real culture… ever talks nowadays about the beauty of a sunset. Sunsets are quite old-fashioned,” sunsets reeled under the blow, then recovered.
~Susan Sontag, An Argument About Beauty
The question of beauty is, as they say, subjective. Sadly, it changes with the times. It seems like something so great as beauty should be timeless and constant, but beauty as we know it is anything but. Beauty as we know it is subject not only to individual opinion, but to societal fads and fashions.
So what is true beauty, if not this fleeting idea swirling around, coming and going with the passing winds and whimsies? For it must be more permanent and real than all that fades. According to the dictionary, beauty is “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind…” That definition is only somewhat satisfying to me. In it, beauty remains in the eye of the beholder, and I challenge that supposition.
I believe that beauty is a more inherent quality, above argumentation and debate. Beauty, in its true form is empirical. Beauty is God, and God, unchangeable, is our eternal measuring stick of the beautiful. Of course, it is our way as humans to always fancy ourselves the ultimate gauges, placing our minds and senses upon the pedestal, declaring our opinions to wear the wig of the grand judge. But we, as we should realize by now, are easily led astray. Once we are capable of tossing aside the sunset, we have proven ourselves broken instruments, ships without rudders. Beauty is not limited by what I judge it to be.
If God is the gold standard of Beauty (with a capital B), then beauty as a quality must be defined as all that points us Godward. Beauty resides in all that reflects God, in everything that shows us even the tiniest glimmers of the devine. One could argue that this is still a subjective quality, but I would argue right back at them that it is not. For the beautiful will emanate God at all times to all people, even though it is up to us to be receptive enough to see. When our senses are perked and ready to receive God, we will see all of his beacons shining throughout our lives.
All true beacons shine even when we do not see them. Their quality is not up for debate. Their light is not dependent upon our reception of it, God knows. It radiates forth for all who have eyes to see, and when it is strong enough, it can even be that awakening that opens eyes until now tightly clamped shut. But a lack of beauty can not be judged by such fickle fellows as us. Only God, the author and benchmark of Beauty itself, the pattern after which all things beautiful are made, has vision clear enough to assess beauty for what it truly is, an image of Himself.
As for us, it seems that we can often detect where beauty is with a fair degree of accuracy, but we should be very hesitant to pass judgment on where beauty isn’t, for it is often lying just beyond our sight, waiting for us to open enough to see its glimmer.
As for the old-fashioned sunset, I think it is going to be just fine.
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