Why do humans love art depicting natural beauty when we can go experience that beauty in the real world firsthand? What value is there in these secondhand experiences captured on a canvas?
Good art awakens our heart to what we can no longer see in the real world because of our sinful familiarity, and we love it for that.So when we see beauty faintly glimmering through in a different format, even though it is two dimensional and limited compared to the real things we can touch in the world, the portrait awakens our senses to what we’ve taken for granted.
God is seeking to do this very thing through his creation. The world is meant to be a painting, a parable, a song, or a story which stirs our heart not so much because of the art, but because of what (or Who) this masterpiece is reminding our hearts of.
Art does not replace our love for the real world; it enhances it by helping us get a fresh perspective. Likewise, natural beauty should never replace our love for God, but it can give us a fresh encounter with his glory.
Creation Reminds Us of the God We Have Forgotten
When we look out over a placid lake with the morning fog still hovering, with the sun rays gently dancing on its smooth reflective face, perhaps the joy swelling in us is really stemming not from the natural beauty but what it is causing our soul to remember – God’s beauty.
We have forgotten him. He is everywhere all the time, but the human heart has grown dull. We’ve taken for granted his protection and his provision. Because of our sin, God’s common grace has become . . . well, common and unappreciated. But God calls out to us through his creation.
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)
All good in life is a work of art picturing something much more ultimate and profound – God himself.God is the real subject of all the natural paintings we find on his earthly canvas. In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. states the spiritual blessing of natural beauty is not that it teaches us directly about God but it allows us to know what the attributes of God are “like.” Lewis states:
Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one. I do not see how “fear” of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags. And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed.”
Nature alone is not enough to know God. The whole world has seen the beauty of God in nature, and yet the whole world does not know God (Romans 1:20). Therefore, to fully appreciate the song nature is singing, we must learn the lyrics not from the created world but from Christ and the word of God.
The Bible Provides the Lyrics to the Song Nature Is Singing
Theologically we refer to nature as God’s “general revelation” while Scripture is referred to as “special revelation.” Notice that in Psalm 19:1-6, David simply makes general statement of how “The heaven’s declare the glory of God,” but nowhere in these verses is there any mention of how natural beauty changes the human heart.
In Psalm 19:7-11, however, we see that the word of God has direct impact on the human soul. Notice that every time God’s word is mentioned, unlike when nature is mentioned, it has an effect:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
God made creation like a musician makes a song. A song is expressive. It can communicate love, hate, beauty, rage, and any other emotion the artist seeks to express. Songs say something of the artist that you feel more than you can verbally articulate or mentally comprehend. Feelings are good, but feelings are not enough when it comes to our walk with Christ. God gave us his word too, not just the natural world.
The song of nature is beautiful to every ear (common grace), but the word of God reveals the lyrics of the song (saving grace). While nature plays a melody all of mankind loves to listen to, the Scriptures reveal the specific message of the Artist which can then actually transform our lives and give us specific instructions on how to live. Without “special revelation” we will look at nature and miss God, as this is what most of the world does (Romans 1:18-25).
Without the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to the Holy Scriptures, the universe’s beauty terminates on itself and man is still oblivious to his Creator. So when it comes to connecting with God, being in nature is not enough. We must interpret the world through God’s word to know what he is really saying. We can’t just “feel” what he might be saying. We must know for certain. Therefore we must know his written word.
God Is the Subject of God’s Artwork
Art is a means to remembering the real beauty in the world. Likewise, God’s creation is not the real point, but is reminding us of the Real Point. Therefore, like a painting of a mountain which makes us want to walk out of the gallery to see the real Alps, when we look out over the beauty on earth we must also look past the natural and go out from this gallery to seek the Supernatural One we’ve been reminded of.
To stay forever inside reading books and looking at pictures describing the amazing world outdoors is a wasted life. How much more a waste to gaze at creation while missing the God whose glory is being revealed in it?