I have been studying the Bible since I was a Junior in high school. Prior to that I had almost no interest in reading or making a serious study of the Bible. I had been exposed to Scripture as I grew up, through participation in churches, but I do not recall perceiving anything noteworthy about it till I was in high school. I first had to come to my own personal crisis point and encounter with the living God in the Person of Jesus Christ before affirming the beauty of biblical revelation.
My story is not uncommon. Scripture cannot be appreciated nor readily understood until we come to know personally the One who first gave to the prophets and apostles (and other writers) knowledge about himself by revelation—which was written, ordered, crafted by human authors and put into the collection of books we have come to call the Bible. The stories, the moral exhortations, the presuppositions and the promises contained in Scripture will appear to the carnal mind as a jumbled collection of sayings, teaching points and narratives that lack a unifying center to explain the whole. The reason for this is certainly due to people’s basic ignorance of the Bible but even among biblical scholars this has often been the case.
There is a common proverb which states, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I have frequently heard this cited in application to the variety of physical characteristics that men and women consider especially beautiful (or handsome). Most frequently people apply this this proverb to art work. What some people consider great art many others either assess with indifference or would state it is ugly and not worth being call “art.”
The core principle of this proverb is also frequently utilized to categorize “spirituality” and religious practices. Specifically, that all forms of religious teaching and “spiritual” practices are beautiful in their own unique ways. And so, as the argument is usually presented, it is mistaken to elevate one religious tradition above any other or to argue that one is superior to any of the others. The historic world religious traditions are part of the plethora of ways human beings express “spirituality” and thus reflect the beauty of human thought and vision(s) of reality. (This is the perspective of the Bahai’ religion in particular.) This effectively reduces the criterion for spiritual truth to the level of mere ascetic appeal.
The point I am highlighting here is taken very seriously by people today. Many people today, including those who identify themselves as Christians, think that arguing against this perspective would seem to be silly or even offensive. For it would be effectively to insult people’s deeply held convictions and values. These core values are sacred and need to honored and not critiqued. For no one has the right to judge another person’s faith or beliefs. Thus goes one of the arguments for the doctrine of religious pluralism. Yet this modern doctrine of religious pluralism needs to critiqued because it is inherently deceptive and is a cover for a new kind of tyranny—indeed, it is a doctrine of demons intended to prevent people from wholeheartedly affirming the beauty of biblical revelation.
There are several fatal flaws in this doctrine but the primary one is simply that no one actually demonstrates their supposed belief in this! Religious pluralism is an empirically verifiable fact within human society—people do think and practice religious devotion differently and they hold to their religious affiliations for differing reasons. But the fact that people identify with and belong to a particular religious (or “spiritual” if you prefer) tradition, or sub-tradition, demonstrates that they are convinced, in fact, that what they have chosen is superior to the many other options available to them. My assertion holds true regardless of whether or not people are antagonistic towards others who think and live differently; this applies even among those whose religious perspective does not mandate that they seek to convert or tell others about it and who categorically affirm that all (or nearly all) religious traditions are valid spiritual paths.
People make these decisions all the time: The man raised in a Christian home chooses as an adult to be an atheist; the man raised as a devout Muslim becomes convinced that Islam is spiritually bankrupt and becomes a disciple of the Lord Jesus; a woman raised in a Conservative Jewish home studies Buddhism and opts to embrace a Buddhist way of life; someone else with no specific religious upbringing becomes interested in Hindu religious practices and develops her or her own meditation practices consistent with a certain school of thought within Hinduism.
I could go on and on with more examples and possible scenarios. My point is very simple and based on human experience. People may like to say that “all religions are equal” or other similar sentiments. Yet everyone must choose, even if in choosing one tradition one can genuinely be tolerant of others’ rights to religious freedom and expression of their chosen religious tradition. This is why it is so hypocritical when Christians are castigated for supposedly being intolerant to people of other religious traditions simply because they affirm specific and absolute truths, rooted in the Bible and centered upon the Person of Lord Jesus.
What we affirm and are enraptured with is the splendor of the Christ, who is the Image of the Father and in whom we see the beauty of God’s character and power. The Scripture narrates and describes God to us and thus we gratefully affirm the beauty of the biblical revelation. Not everyone can see or perceive this beauty in the face of the Person of Jesus. If they could they would not be hostile or resist his word. This should not come as a surprise, for the apostles told us to expect from some people this kind of response (see 1 Corinthians 8:5-6; 1 Peter 2:6-8).
What is it that draws out in people open hostility or passive resistance in to the Gospel? I would suggest it is the unadulterated presentation of the truth. For truth is beautiful to those who eyes can see and ears can perceive. And we find in the Person of the Lord Jesus the embodiment of truth, the demonstration of love and the reflection of the beauty of God’s glory. (See 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 4:3-6) Knowledge of him is given through the Word of God written in Scripture and the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit to individuals by the means of his own choosing. And this witness becomes a mirror for those who persevere in faith (see James 1:25) so that we can understand and fulfill God’s destiny for us as human beings.
The witness of the Scripture is unique. Thomas Dubay, a Roman Catholic spiritual director and writer, has articulated well why Scripture’s witness to truth is incomparably beautiful.
“The sole luminous worldview that does answer fully (and far beyond what we could have ourselves imagined) our finest human needs and aspirations is the biblical revelation taken in its wholeness. There is nothing comparable to it in our global village. We have no intention to belittle any other religion, but the fact remains that no worldview, no other approach to what we are doing in this life, compares with the sweeping biblical vista regarding human dignity: our origin, our nature, our destiny, and the means to their unspeakable consummation.” (Thomas Dubay, S.M., The Evidential Power of Beauty [Igatius:1999], p.274)
I think that one could make a credible case that the proverb, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” is descriptive of some aspects of human life; say in regard one’s taste in furniture, or art work, or clothing or even in people’s physical attractiveness. But the Gospel, which is embedded in and testified to in Scripture, has built into it a supernatural splendor which supersedes all other forms of beauty. It is a splendor which is rooted in the Triune God who inspired and orchestrated the ministry of the prophets and the apostles.
This Gospel has the splendor of divine light and thus demands a response from those who see and hear that word. Like the human body responds to the light and the warmth of the sunlight, so to do people react to truth. They may not be conscious of why they react in the way they do but the hearing of truth does provoke a response. They may well not perceive the beauty of God’s truth (in the written word or in the natural world) but that is not because it is not wondrous; rather, their willingness and ability to see and perceive has been blocked by sin and ignorance. It is by the sheer mercy of God that any of us come to see and affirm the beauty of biblical revelation.