Our pleasure and our duty,
Though opposite before,
Since we have seen his beauty,
Are joined to part no more:
It is our highest pleasure,
No less than duty’s call—
To love him beyond measure,
And serve him with our all.
– John Newton

This hymn relates to the subject of this site. Trust me.

I think the key words in this hymn — at least for me — are “beauty,” “pleasure,” and “love.”

For so many years, I heard from the church about the “duties” that Christians must fulfill. And I’ve embraced that perspective, because it gives me a measuring stick for my own righteousness, and a way to justify criticizing others.

But that is not the new world that Christ came to offer me. That’s the old way—the endorsement of an impossible standard that makes us all judges and hypocrites.

Later, I was blessed to have artists and teachers who helped me discover that beauty — wherever in the world it is found, and whoever reveals it — is a reflection of God’s love, and that it is offered freely. If there is any kind of beauty that doesn’t make me feel grateful, I haven’t found it. And what sense does gratitude make if there is no one to whom we can express it? Beauty is evidence of the kingdom of God. Beauty is telling us about grace.

When I prioritize duty (righteousness), I return to a world under law, a world of shoulds and shouldn’ts, of weighing my deeds against others, and judging others as a result. But when I remember to pursue beauty rather than righteousness, I began to experience this “Christian freedom” that I’d always heard about. What’s more, I become increasingly aware of the myriad forms of ugliness that I carry with me, the flaws for which I need forgiveness and healing. This shifts my attention from “enemies” outside of myself — those whom Christ asked me to love instead of judge — to the enemies within.

But beauty, wherever it is revealed, wherever I find it, is speaking to me of the meaning at the heart of everything. It speaks to me of measureless grace. It speaks to me of love and reconciliation. It inspires me to pursue the source of beauty, to desire to bask in that light and reflect it to others. When I respond in that way, I find that I’m fulfilling the demands of duty and achieving more besides. It is so much better than a focus on cold legalism. It doesn’t feel like worrying about rights and wrongs… it feels like freedom from all of the things that reduce life to petty concerns and stifling systems.

But wow… it’s so easy to fall back into concerns about righteousness. I do it all the time — in person. On social media. And in my heart.

I want Looking Closer to be an invitation for you to join me in seeking out and celebrating beauty wherever we can find it. I’ve read, and participated in, conversations about art that boil down to judging the artist and/or the audience instead of interpreting the art. Our questions should not be about the moral character of the artist or audience, but about beauty. Is there anything excellent, or anything worthy of praise? Let’s set our minds to dwell on those things, because they are springs of living water, sources of truth, strength, and healing.