Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's up with the word "Beautiful"?

So, I was cruising around Nashville and Brentwood today, and I flipped to our local Way FM radio station. You know, the one with uplifting music that's safe for the whole family? As if safety is our call as Christians. But, that's another issue for another post. The song that started as soon as I flipped to The Way was Beautiful One by Jeremy Camp. Here are the lyrics to the chorus:
Beautiful one I love
Beautiful one I adore
Beautiful one my soul must sing
Beautiful one I love you
Beautiful one I adore
Beautiful one my soul must sing
As I listened, and actually caught myself singing along, because, let's face it, Jeremy Camp is catchy, I stopped to wonder why "beautiful" seems to be such an important praise song word these days. David Crowder Band's There is no one like you begins like this:
You are more beautiful
Than anyone ever
Everyday You're the same
You never change, no never
Again, an emphasis on God being beautiful. Now, I'm pretty sure that both Jeremy Camp and David Crowder are singing about God as Trinity, and not singing specifically to their boyfriend Jesus, because that would be utterly ridiculous, seeing as Jesus was despised and the prophets talk about him not being beautiful. But even singing about God's beauty sounds strange to me. Why would beauty even matter? Is this one of those "allowing who God is to redefine a word" kind of things? Well, I decided to come back and do some work with a concordance. Just how often is God called beautiful in scripture?

Um, how about never. That's right, not once is God referred to as beautiful. God's word is called beautiful. God's holy mountain and zion are called beautiful. Kings and messengers are called beautiful. There are a lot of beautiful women in Scripture. Wisdom is called beautiful. There are some beautiful garlands being placed on heads. There are even some proverbs and prophetic words that deride beauty as something not to be pursued. But God, in God's self is never called beautiful. I suppose if you want to take the 5 or 6 times the lovers in Song of Solomon call each other beautiful as justification for all this talk of God being beautiful and whatnot, well, I guess that's OK, but not really.

So, what does it say about the contemporary Christian music movement that beauty has become a definitive description of who God is in God's very self? What about one's faith would lead them to perceive God as beautiful? Even if we grant that God might be beautiful, how does that redefine our cultural norms about beauty? Might beautiful be kind of a charged word to use?

OK, enough cynicism for today. As always, comments that help to clarify and enlighten are always welcome and encouraged. Peace to you all.


Patrick Marshall said...

Actually, Psalm 27 does talk about beholding "the beauty of the Lord." But I totally get where you're coming from, Alan. I think that we also have to ask how many times the words Trinity or Triune are used in scripture. None. Yet that is what we claim the very essence of God to be. There is talk of God being "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," and we derive our trinitarian language from that. So maybe this works in the same way. Maybe these song writers derive the "beautiful" language from something else they see in scripture; something more explicit.

Craig said...

I'll take you back, alwayeyays..

On a serious note, you should check out Sara Groves, "Why it Matters" for a really nice song about beauty - its a good one. real art, i promise.

luke said...

hi. i'm two years late to the conversation. but i'd like to join in.

maybe it doesn't have to be in Scripture at all, so long as it's heartfelt by the songwriter. know what i mean? as a songwriter myself, i find that my way of expression is not the same as every other songwriter...much less the songwriters in Scripture...and even less so...those who wrote non-musical/poetic parts of Scripture.

perhaps for whoever writes those words, that is the honest response to the presence of God in their lives. and perhaps it means more than simply "hi God, i think you're pretty." but more acknowledging God as the SOURCE of all beauty...

or maybe it's just hooky and memorable and worth a hundred pounds of gold in publishing money...ha. i don't know. great blog though.