Seeking Beauty, Finding God

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“He has not left Himself without witness,” said Paul to a group of Gentile pagans. The living God has never failed to speak, draw, and reveal Himself. 

One of the means of this drawing is through the presence of beauty. In the apostate West, beauty is reviled, dismissed, and disdained. Its detractors (rightly) suspect that believing in beauty will lead them unavoidably back to contemplating God. But its power remains. The architect of much of modern nihilism and atheism, Friedrich Nietzsche, once wrote in a letter, “This week I heard the St. Matthew Passion three times and each time I had the same feeling of immeasurable admiration. One who has completely forgotten Christianity truly hears it here as gospel.”

In the East, a strange revival of interest in beauty is taking place. Thousands of Japanese are fascinated with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Organist Masaaki Suzuki represents much of the force behind the Bach boom. Suzuki says that after Bach performances, he is usually crowded on the podium by members of the audience who wish to discuss ultimate questions such as death and eternity—topics usually taboo in Japanese society. Several thousand Christians in Japan now claim that their first contact with Christianity, and with the god of Christianity, was through the beauty of Bach’s music. 

They are not alone in testifying to the power of beauty to convict. Hungarian composer György Kurtág once said, “Consciously, I am certainly an atheist. But if I look at Bach, I cannot be an atheist.” Glenn Gould is said to have remarked “I believe in God — Bach’s God.” During the Cold War, children in atheist East Germany sang in a Bach choir, Leipzig’s Thomanerchor. Could they sing without faith? One replied, “We do have faith. Bach has worked as a missionary among all of us.”

Can beauty, by itself, disclose a full moral system, or the attributes of God, or the plan of redemption? No, it cannot. But God’s drawing of people does not usually begin there. It is only in the evangelised West that we are able to leap to the biblical truths of special revelation in one conversation. For many others, the dawn of God’s light begins with the existence of truth, goodness, and beauty. People are awakened to a reality beyond the physical, one filled with this piercing, heart-breaking, and irresistible thing called beauty.

As the West descends into an apostate culture (the worst kind possible), we would do well to invoke these undeniable realities, to lead people back to the gospel they have rejected.

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David de Bruyn

Pastor New Covenant Baptist Church, Johannesburg, South Africa

David de Bruyn was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he now pastors New Covenant Baptist Church and resides with his wife and three children. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). David hosts a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa, serves as a frequent conference speaker, and is a lecturer at Shepherds Seminary Africa.