By Bruce Schlenke
Having a brother who lives in San Francisco means we get to vacation in California every so often. The last time we traveled there, my wife and I spent a short five days taking long good looks at tremendous beauty. We got eyefuls of Yosemite National Park and The City by the Bay. High points of our adventure were hiking up to the top of Vernal Falls and beyond, getting caught on a high hiking trail in a sudden hail storm that covered the ground white, and also bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge. Views were spectacular, both in city and park.
I was struck, as I often am on such trips, by the overwhelming natural beauty of God’s creation. And also by the buildings and landscapes fashioned by gifted human hands. Yosemite Park encompasses 12,000 acres of such natural beauty, with an enormous portion of it concentrated in “The Valley”: Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls (the highest in North America), the Arches, Cathedral Rocks, Bridal Veil Falls and 3000 foot granite cliffs. Then also, San Francisco has its unique beauty showing off the artistic and engineering genius of humankind: the Golden Gate Bridge and the Trans America Building (the pointed one), flower and brick contoured Lombard Street, Telegraph Hill and Tower, and creative hillside houses more steeply extreme than Pittsburgh’s.
Theologians and Christian philosophers have presented a convincing array of “proofs” for the existence of God (not that God’s existence needs to be proven, but that skeptics and honest seekers might be led to intelligent faith). Most notably, Thomas Aquinas articulated several of these arguments for God, including what is to me a most persuasive one: that God’s existence is undeniably shown by the design in Creation, i.e. such intricate, congruent and purposeful design in the created world requires an intelligent, powerful Designer.
But lately, I have valued the reality of beauty as a descriptive “proof” of God. Certainly the natural beauty of waterfalls and mountain peaks impress God’s majestic wonder into my mind. But also, the beauty generated by God’s gift of human creativity continues to catch my breath. The Eifel Tower or a huge, sweeping suspension bridge can take my breath away. A painting can capture my soul; Michelangelo’s sculpture “David” stirs things in my heart that never were stirred before. The second movement of Beethoven’s 7th can bring me to tears. What of God’s beauty can turn your eyes to Him?
Who could have thought up beauty? Where does it come from? How can we explain its power to capture and stir and overwhelm? Beauty is the gentle hand of God stroking His love into our senses. Beauty is God’s language of perfect thought. The existence of beauty and its power to reduce me to pure appreciation and awe not only convince me that God is, but that God is very, very good. All the time.
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.