The image above is of a painting by the Italian artist, Michelangelo, and forms part of a larger fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. It was painted around 1508–1512 and illustrates the painters perception of how God gave life to Adam, as described in the book of Genesis in the Old Testament.
The outstanding visual representation of the moment of creation and astonishing beauty of the work remind us that, like Michelangelo, we all have the abilities, potential and right to reflect the glory and beauty of God into the world, as we understand it to be.
The Renaissance period, during which Michelangelo lived and worked, was followed by the time of enlightenment in the 17/18th centuries, which challenged the Church’s power and undoubtedly brought better conditions for humankind in the name of political, economic, and social freedoms. However, it also diluted the message of the beauty and glory of creation and Christ’s gospel, as the Church yielded to the power of the movement.
Consequently, the staggering beauty of the gospel teachings, suffused in the glory of God’s creation and Jesus’ mission, is often missed in today’s fast-moving, over-achieving world.
Where do we find God’s Beauty in the World Today?
Beauty is found not just in the creation surrounding us in sunsets and sunrises, seasonal changes of green shoots in spring, multi-coloured summer flowers and birdsong, glorious autumnal displays of dazzling colour changes and the fruits of the fields ripe for picking. But also in our own worlds because as God created the world around us, so we also create our own worlds within us, and around us. We develop our individual worlds in the way we think and act.
We can build our own beautiful world by honing our lives to the teachings of Jesus, or we can do our own thing and create something inward-looking and devoid of real meaning. Because Jesus taught cosmic truths, and when he said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life,‘ John 14:6NIV he showed us a way to follow him and reach our full potential.
Each little thing we do in our day-to-day lives can be honed to be a beautiful act of worship. Making a cup of tea, cleaning our homes, and walking the dog. All these simple things can be beautiful acts of devotion.
God Blesses each one of us with Unique Beauty
But not only that, as we develop a life dedicated to living in the moment with whatever the task is, other natural gifts begin to appear.
As we identify what gifts God has blessed us with, we can practice them to become better and better. Perhaps we have been blessed with the skill to paint, write or sing; by doing these things to the best of our ability, we reflect God’s glory and beauty.
God only knows if we can paint like Michelangelo, sing like Pavarotti, or write like Shakespeare. But whatever beauty we create in the world can be used to reflect God’s glory. This can demonstrate to others that there is so much more to this life available to us than accepting things on a surface level.
Shining God’s Glory in the World
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, we are told that in the most sacred part of the temple were seraphim, each with six wings singing: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ Isaiah 6:3NIV As the temple was full of God’s glory, the Seraphim said this was to be taken out into the world.
God created this world for us to enjoy every day. But our Christian vocation is to go further and fill the earth with his glory. We can do this by developing the gifts we have been blessed with and offering the fruits of our work to the world.
Since the enlightenment, the Church has lessened the emphasis on God’s glory and beauty, but today we can rediscover it and offer it back into our communities.
By doing this, we demonstrate that the Church is not just an accumulation of institutions but a living testimony to the glory of God’s beauty, signposting the way to something more, something staggeringly beautiful – God’s glory.