“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”
What does it mean to set your mind on that which is lovely? Literally, the Greek word that Paul uses here means “to engender a kind of brotherly love.” It conveys the notion that there are things in this world that when we look upon them, when we listen to them, when we take the time to appreciate them, there is a certain deep-felt “rightness” and satisfaction that wells up in our hearts. C.S. Lewis referred to this idea as “the Normal” in his novel, That Hideous Strength.
To develop this idea further, there are certain relationships and proportions that we see in the world around us that are naturally beautiful in our eyes. The Golden Ratio, for example, made up of the Fibonacci sequence, is found throughout the created order. This is the ratio found in numerous elements of the human body but the spiral that this ratio creates is found in everything from the structure of DNA to the spiral of the nautilus shell to the spiral of the great Spiral Nebula. Artists talk about complimentary colors and symmetry; architects use varying proportions to create an aesthetically beautiful building, composers use certain progressions of notes and chords, etc… Clearly, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, it is found in how, when we create works of art, those works mimic or approximate what was made by our creator.
Often we speak about the doctrine of the Imago Dei — that humans are made in the image of God — and all the Imago Dei means when it comes to the inherent dignity found in all mankind. We often do not talk at length about the doctrine of the Imitatio Dei — the doctrine that as those made in the image of God, we best live our our lives in imitation of the God whose image we bear. And as God is a creative God, we too are to exercise our creativity to his glory. That does not mean that we create carte blanche, instead it means that we are to create with a certain degree of continuity between our creation and God’s…that is if we want to create something of beauty.
Today, though, it seems that art has moved away from this notion and instead of seeking out that symmetry and continuity, it seems that many artists strive for just the opposite — creating things that shock us as abnormal and hideous rather than lovely. Paul implies that such is not healthy for our personal sanctification. We are to set our eyes upon that which is beautiful and lovely because it seeks to approximate the beauty of the created order to the glory of God. The abnormal that is prevalent in our culture simply reflects the rebellion against God of our times and the chaos that ensues. From this influence we should flee.