On the Road with Sean Ellis: Beauty


From July 20th to August 8th of this year, I spent almost every day driving around the country. Spending 8 to 11 hours a day alone in a car provides much time for meditation, prayer, and mental frolicking. Much of that thinking was spent on God, His works, our relationship with Him, and how we can glorify him, in song as well as through word and deed. In this first of several articles I’ll be writing for TWS, I’ll be covering my experience with beauty over the course of my trip, and its purpose in the world.

Defining and Experiencing Beauty

While my primary purpose in taking this trip was to see people whom I missed and would be unable to see because of the pandemic, the second purpose of the trip was to see parts of the country which I hadn’t seen before, which were many. The country houses many places of differing kinds of beauty: vast mountain ranges, coastal cliffsides, and sprawling deserts spanning dozens of flat miles. Witnessing these throughout my journey often prompted the question, “What is it that makes these things beautiful?” Was it their sheer size? Was it the contrasting colors? Or was it that all of these things were foreign experiences to me?

All of those were contributing factors; however, the fullest answer came from listening to Scripture. I spent much of my trip listening to the Bible. I’m thankful that I was prompted to start from the beginning, because those first few books of the Bible provided the answer to my question: what makes these things truly beautiful is that they are physical reminders of God’s power. The accounts of creation, the great flood, and the Exodus out of Egypt all provided reminders of the working of God’s power through his physical creation – reminders that also remain in the form of our beautiful world. These thoughts reminded me of Romans 1:19-20, in which Paul wrote “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

The Purpose of Beauty

The asking and answering of that question then prompted another question: “why did God make things beautiful?” Certainly God didn’t make such beautiful things just because he is powerful. Romans 1:19-20 tells us that he created the world the way he did in order to reveal his eternal power and divine nature to us, but toward what end? The answer is multifaceted. First, as mentioned here, the purpose is to be a constant reminder of God’s power and presence. Thomas Schreiner notes, “God has stitched into the fabric of the human mind His existence and power, so that they are instinctively recognized when one views the created world.” 

“That is a worthy purpose,” one might think, “but does God’s creation only serve to remind us of facts, that He exists and is powerful?” These questions are sometimes daunting to ask; but they help lead us to a greater understanding of God’s works. A different phrasing of this question leads us closer to our answer: “why does God want to remind His creation of how powerful He is?” God, being all knowing, knows what his creation would gain from knowing and experiencing his power.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God makes promises to His people. If God is loving, merciful and just, then knowing that He is also powerful provides us with the knowledge that not only would He see His promises through – He can and will see them through. Knowing that God is powerful provides us, his people, with knowledge and assurance that the one who created all things is powerful enough to provide for our every need. We should respond to God’s power the same way David responds in the Psalms: with awe-filled worship. Take, for example, Psalm 65:5 and 147:5 – “By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas;” “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.” David’s earnest praise as a response to witnessing God’s power supplies an example of what our response should be as well.

Faith and Assurance

After meditating on this for a while on the road, I went back to the creation account and reflected on how God created: God spoke his will once, and that one instance has sustained creation for all time. Charles Hodge wrote that “This simple idea of the omnipotence of God, that He can do without effort, and by a volition, whatever he wills, is the highest conceivable idea of power.” I then reflected on a favorite passage, from Lamentations 3, that reminds us, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Uniting these two pieces of knowledge led me to a comforting, glorious conclusion: if God’s very speaking of his word is enough to found and sustain all of creation throughout all time, how much more will his persistent and interminable grace sustain us through every trial when it is made new every morning! 

In the current circumstances of the world, it is easy to be overwhelmed with despair or to numb oneself to modern stresses. Our call in these times, fellow Christians, is to hold fast to God, knowing that, “though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lam. 3:32).  Set your hope in God, knowing that in His infinite wisdom, power, and love, He works all things together for the good of those called to His purpose. Praise the Lord indeed!

Beauty and Music

So, what does this mean for musicians? Musicians – and artists in general – have a particularly close relationship with beauty in the world because creating and emulating beauty is how we make our living. Our answer lies, again, in the Psalms. The Psalmists’ response to God’s power and the beauty of God’s creation serve not only as words by which we can worship, but also starting points by which we can reference how we worship. The Psalmists are unashamed in their worship; whatever their circumstance, they come before God to laud, honor, and hope in him. In the same manner, all Christians, worship leaders in particular, should come before God unashamed, willing to throw every burden at his feet. This may look different for every person; for me, worshiping unashamed means not caring about what others may think when worship brings tears to my eyes, or being vulnerable enough to express earnest worship in the first place. I encourage you to honestly meditate over how you as well can worship in a way that places your hope and trust in the Lord as paramount, and to hold the same hope in God’s love and power that is expressed by Maltbie Davenport Babcock:

“This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.”

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