Why did God make Beautiful Things? #Calvin

“Why did God make you and all things?” we asked our little, adorable grandson. He replied, “For His own gwory.” By the word gwory he actually meant glory. When  we behold God’s beautiful handiwork with joy and awe, God is glorified in us.

John Calvin noticed utilitarianism’s bad effects 500 years ago; namely, treating creation only as something useful for us without regard for how beautiful it is – without reference to how beautiful God must be. God created all things that we may not only see beauty, but also to savor it with reference to God’s glory and attributes (Romans 1:20-ish). We were meant to participate in the life of God everywhere and all the time, especially when we gaze at the beauty of creation or Christ in the scriptures (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6).

Creation is beautiful to behold and to enjoy, and God is glorified when we are happy beholding and enjoying the beauty He reveals to us in what He has made.

The Fundamental Question

Below Calvin waxes eloquently about how dreadful a utilitarian view of creation truly is. Calvin asks the fundamental question about God’s purpose behind creating beautiful life forms for our pleasure in God: “Did [God] not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use?”

“In grasses, trees, and fruits, apart from their utility, there is beauty of appearance and pleasantness of odor. For if this were not true, the prophet would not have reckoned them among the benefits of God, “that wine gladdens the heart of man, that oil makes his face shine.” . . . Has the Lord clothed the flowers with great beauty that greets our eyes, the sweetness of smell that is wafted upon our nostrils, and yet will it be unlawful for our eyes to be affected by that beauty, or our sense of smell by the sweetness of that odor?

What? Did he not so distinguish colors as to make some more lovely than others? What? Did he not endow gold and silver, ivory and marble, with a loveliness that renders them more precious than other metals or stones? Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use? Away, then, with that inhuman philosophy which, while conceding only a necessary use of creatures, not only malignantly deprives us of the lawful fruit of God’s beneficence but cannot be practiced unless it robs man of all his senses and degrades him to a block” (Calvin, Institutes; 3:10:2-3).

God Exceeds Our Expectations & Thoughts

“However many blessings we expect from God, his infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.” Indeed, “it is no small honor that God for our sake has so magnificently adorned the world, in order that we may not only be spectators of this beauteous theatre, but also enjoy the multiplied abundance and variety of good things which are presented to us in it.”

We are more than spectators.

Calvin, quoted in Howard L. Rice, Reformed Spirituality: An Introduction for Believers (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 59, emphasis added.

 

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