On his new Facebook page, my friend Ellis Potter asks an intriguing question. “Which is more humanizing: The Good, the True and the Beautiful or the Gratifying, the Affirming and the Empowering? Which set is more self-centered?” It’s also a timely question since it touches on some of the swirling eddies of ideas and values that compete for attention in our postmodern world. Perhaps compete for attention is the wrong way to express it—it’s more like a series of eddies that suddenly twist into a vortex that pulls us under before we a fully conscious of the change.
The categories of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful are profoundly clarifying and helpful. They help us think about reality in a more full-orbed way, and provide ways of naming things that otherwise would be difficult to talk about. Just the fact that they have stood the test of time for over 2 millennia means we must take them seriously. For Christians, of course, there is an added attraction. Not that they form a trinity, for certainly they together point to aspects of the being of God rather than describe separate members of the Godhead. God the Almighty is the essence of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Yet there is, I think, a flaw. I stumbled upon it several years ago when I set out to do a biblical study of the Beautiful. An easy enough task, as far as that goes, because art, creativity, and comeliness are themes that are woven throughout the Scriptures. But then I hit a snag. Using my concordance to identify all the biblical texts in which “beauty” and “beautiful” appear, I discovered there were very few. I dug deeper and discovered the Hebrews didn’t talk and think about Beauty: they were concerned for Glory. A concordance search for “glory” and “glorify” brought an overwhelming flood of references.
This discussion brings us to a significant difference between the Greek and the Hebraic worldviews. The Greek categories of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful are so very helpful, but are also pagan in origin, and are in the final analysis abstract, cerebral, and impersonal. The Hebrew categories of the Righteous, the Wise, and the Glorious, on the other hand, are rooted in the nature of the biblical God, and are always revealed to be concrete, practical, and personal.
This is not a criticism of Ellis’ good question. It is a good and insightful question that people should reflect on it carefully. Nor am I suggesting that the Good, the True, and the Beautiful are categories that we should somehow avoid. But I would argue that as categories they are in a crucial way insufficient and incomplete. In the end, the Righteous, the Wise, and the Glorious contain all that the Greek categories included, but sweep on past them to be demonstrated and rooted in the revelation of the infinite, personal God, in creation, Scripture, and ultimately the living Word.
Source: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ellis-Potter/274439865939134. Like it!