One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4
In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic book, The Little House on the Prairie, her family travels by covered wagon from the big woods of Minnesota to the grasslands of Missouri to scratch out a living from the soil. Forty miles from the nearest town, her father (Pa) builds a rough log cabin on the frontier, and the family moves their meager possessions out of the elements. Ma puts a single item on the mantle above the fireplace: a fragile china doll. It is her most prized possession, incongruous in the wilderness for its delicate beauty. In displaying this china doll, Ma seeks to beautify even the roughest of environments.
Humans alone among God’s creatures consciously yearn for and create beauty. When we see pictures of the Paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, France, we understand immediately that people painted them, not antelope or mice. Because God Himself loves beauty and worked to create it when the world was formless, empty, and dark (Genesis 1:2), we as divine image bearers have a natural instinct to carve out beauty wherever we go. Just as God brings beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3), we move into a new home and put up curtains, lay down rugs, and decorate walls with pictures and paintings. We landscape our yards, plant gardens, and dream about ways we can improve our little patch of creation. Even our relationships with spouses, friends, coworkers, and children become venues for cultivation, improvement, and beautification. Our souls hunger for beauty because we are made in the image of God.
If God is the author of beauty, then we as people made in His image are coauthors, working hard to bring beauty from chaos, or to place a tiny china doll on a mantle in the wilderness. The stewardship of caring for the creation that God gave to Adam and Eve has passed to us. Psychologist Dan Allender writes in his book To Be Told, “God always intended for his children to join him in completing creation. We are not inanimate entities that merely reveal glory but living stories that are meant to create glory.” Indeed, in this work of stewardship and beautification God has given us to do, He expects a return: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
The beauty we coauthor can be physical beauty such as artwork, landscaping, or architecture, or it can be the beautiful work of exercising our gifts for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefit of other image bearers: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
Does it seem odd to think of serving at the local soup kitchen or giving neighborhood children milk and cookies as beauty projects? How about sharing the gospel with your mother-in-law or discipling the shy teenager at church? Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
It is a beautiful thing to proclaim the story of salvation into the lives of those around us. It is a marvelous thing to participate with the triune God in His work of beautification in this world—ordained by God, empowered by His Spirit, and most fully imaged on earth by Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15).