Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Trees (and the beauty of God)

We shall behold Him....
"Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Ps. 29:2b

A standard Hebrew word for "beauty" is "noam," which means "pleasing or delightful to the senses." It is the word David uses in Psalm 27:4 when he said that part of his great desire was to "behold the beauty of the Lord." It is a bold statement, not just in what it's asking but also in what it's implying, i.e., God's beauty is a sensory experience (and not just a mental abstraction). However, David did not use "noam" here in Psalm 29:2. He uses "hadarah" instead, which includes the idea of "noam" but carries it further. "Hadarah" means "ornamentation" or "decoration," and could be associated with one's apparel ("adornment"). It is similar to the Greek word "κοσμος" in that they both mean "order," a specific kind of order: an arranging or arrangement of beauties ("noam") that accentuates and maximizes their overall beauty.

The beauty of holiness.
Think of it like a Christmas tree, which we decorate ("hadarah") with beautiful things ("noam") in order to make an even more beautiful thing, a summation of beautiful parts. I can think of other examples, like jewelry, which is the taking of separate, individual jewels ("noam") and arranging them in a particular sequence ("hadarah") to create an even greater beauty. Another good example, as I mentioned earlier, would be clothing. The "beauty of holiness" is sometimes translated the "attire of holiness," a less poetic but not unfair reading. Individual pieces of clothing may be beautiful ("noam") with their own colors and patterns, but style (and occasionally fashion) comes from arranging ("hadarah") these pieces together into a single, stylish ensemble.

There are more examples I could give: a stained-glass window, the human body, and even the Bible itself are all examples of separate, individual beauties ("noam") brought together to make a beautiful arrangement ("hadarah"). The overall point, however, can be summarized in three startling thoughts: (1) God's beauty is for the senses; (2) beauty belongs to order, and the greater the order the greater the beauty; and (3) holiness is a kind of beauty, a "hadarah" beauty, an arranging of single beauties into a magnificent whole. Perhaps it is the greatest beauty of all, since it is the beauty that belongs to God, a beauty that our sense are capable of beholding and desire to behold.

"When shall I come and see the face of God?"

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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