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An Argument from Beauty

I recently had the privilege of seeing “Les Misérables” at the Queen’s Theatre in London.  I believe it has played continuously for something like 26 years, so to say it was fantastic is to not quite do it justice.  For some reason, while I sat enthralled in that theater (generally speaking, I’m not even a fan of musicals), I kept thinking about the popular atheistic beliefs of the big bang, evolution, causality, etc., and I wondered to myself, “If there is no creator, if there is no God, then why is this play popular?  What is it inside us that is moved by what we see and hear on this stage?”

If you truly believe that we are evolved (and evolving) creatures, then there is so much that must be based on causality.  For example, at some point a creature crawled out of the water and needed to breathe air, so after however many thousands of years, the creature developed lungs.  And yet, here I sit in this theatre, with people literally being brought to tears by the drama unfolding before us.  If you know the play or have read the book, then you understand the themes we are dealing with here: love, sacrifice, second-chance, redemption, forgiveness, independence, freedom, etc.  What is utilitarian about any of that?

Of course, one might argue that as we evolved into more advanced creatures we gained a conscience, we developed the capacity to love, etc., but I do not see it.  If we are to believe – as many would like us to do today – that all of life can be distilled to some chemical explanation or some lifeless, scientific cause, then why doesn’t Valjean kill Javert the first chance he gets?  Why does he instead actually end up sparing his life when he is captured behind the barricade?

Maybe it’s a simplistic argument.  Certainly I haven’t fully fleshed out my position in this short post.  The point I would like to suggest is that it seems to me that we see God in the beauty He created.  I am a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  One excerpt from “The Naval Treaty” that I love goes as follows (Sherlock is speaking, while looking at a flower):

“Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

Paul tells us something similar in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  (NIV)

See, I believe that a play like “Les Misérables” is appealing precisely because it speaks to our eternal souls, whether we are Christians or not.  God’s “invisible qualities” can be seen and felt by us because we are His creation, and because we were created in His image.  And so when we see – or hear – beauty, when we encounter redemption, love and forgiveness, it touches us deeply and it stirs our souls.  So, if you get in a conversation sometime in the future with a friend or a co-worker who may not be a believer and you want to try to engage them in a discussion about God, talk to them about something like this.  Ask them where they believe beauty and inspiration comes from; ask them why redemption stories seem to be so universal.  Everyone – EVERYONE – has a worldview.  Do not be fooled into thinking that because someone is a professing atheist that means they do not live out their lives from a particular worldview.  No one is free from that.  Our beliefs about ourselves, our origins, and the world around us have as just as much capacity to affect our day-to-day living regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a Marxist, an atheist, etc.  Professing Christians are often called on to give an account of our beliefs, and that is a fine thing.  In fact, the Bible tells us we should be ready and willing to do this (1 Peter 3:15).  Just remember, it is perfectly fine for you to ask an unbeliever to defend their “faith” as well.

Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Ruth

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