This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
So now that we’ve seen something of the place of art, we have to explore the nature of beauty. We instinctively separation “flesh” and “spirit” and put beauty in the “flesh” category as a negative temptation. This leaves us in the situation of preferring the “ugly” as a means of elevating the spirit. But is this right? The impiety and open sinfulness of the artists in society further confuses the question (or even actively prejudices us against beauty).
However, in over-separating the flesh and the spirit we have made a mistake. Certainly Scripture warns us against idolatry, greed, and the temptations of the world. But these are the misuse of matter, not proof against art.
We also have to remember that only God can create, and that therefore beauty is ultimately the Lord’s.
“This in itself forbids us to condemn beauty as such, since beauty is a creation of God. We cannot even say that God created this beauty merely for our amusement. God himself must enjoy beauty. Hasn’t beauty shimmered and glistened century after century on mountaintops and in remote places never trodden by human feet?” (585)
Beauty is for God first, as much of it only He sees in any case. Our sense of beauty images this, and is not shared with the animals. This too is a gift from God. Even the coming spiritual world is pictured using the beauty of this world. So beauty is permanent, not transitory. It is tied to God’s character. This is glory. Heaven will be made from this world’s transfigured and glorified stuff.
Sin has corrupted the created reality, which is lessened therefore in its beauty. So we stand in a third stage between glories and beauties. We are in a situation that did not exist in paradise and will not exist after the eschaton. Common grace keeps this bearable, helps prevent utter collapse into ugliness, and keeps us in a world mixed with beauty and ugliness.
Even within creation we see a hierarchy of beauty and ugliness. [And you’d better believe we get some of Kuyper’s cultural judgments here.] Common grace brings us to the middle between beauty and ugliness, but it also shows us the extremes as a warning and as a promise.
So, common grace has saved some beauty and saved our sense of beauty–though sin has corrupted both of these and at times it becomes corrupted to the point of people actually desiring the ugly. Common grace helps us see this whole landscape, and helps us have the proper view of beauty and ugliness alike.