Joshua is interested in teaching his church the song, “Beautiful One,” by Tim Hughes. He wrote:
As I began to think about it, I couldn’t come up with a scripture verse that refers to Jesus as ‘beautiful.’ I did a word search in the NIV and the NASB for beautiful, but it seems to always refer to other things than God. Can beautiful be a substitute word for splendor or glorious or majestic? Is it better to use only Biblical words to describe Jesus?
In another part of his e-mail Joshua pointed out that other songs contain the word “beautiful,” like “O Lord You’re Beautiful” by Keith Green, “I Stand in Awe” by Mark Altrogge (You are beautiful beyond description), and “Beautiful Savior” by Stuart Townend. But Tim’s song uses the word “beautiful” three times in each chorus:
Beautiful One I love you
Beautiful One I adore
Beautiful One my soul must sing.
So Joshua is rightly asking, “Is this something that my church should be saying and repeating?” Here are some thoughts.
1. It’s always wise to use biblical words to describe God, or words that help us better understand biblical words. While we don’t hear God described as “beautiful” very often in Scripture, beauty is an attribute assigned to God, his holiness, and his dwelling place. (Ps. 27:4; Ps. 96:6; 1 Chron. 16:29; Ps. 50:2). Beauty has to do with that which is appealing, attractive, and delightful.
2. God is the essence of perfection and the most beautiful being in the universe. All beauty is defined by and has its source in God himself. Though for various reasons theologians have sometimes hesitated to describe God as “beautiful,” Wayne Grudem defines God’s beauty as “that attribute of God whereby he is the sum of all desirable qualities.” (Systematic Theology, p. 219). Beauty is sometimes used as a synonym for goodness, splendor, glory, or majesty,
3. If Moses was beautiful in God’s sight (Acts 7:20), we can be confident that Jesus is beautiful in the Father’s sight, and should be beautiful in ours as well.
4. In our culture, “beauty” usually refers to an external quality, not an internal one. But in this life, it’s impossible for us to say that Jesus is beautiful because of the way he looks externally. Beauty in Scripture isn’t devoid of an external reference, but it means much more. While we can and should appreciate God’s beauty revealed in creation, artwork, music, etc., what makes God most “beautiful” is his character, attributes, and works – his goodness, love, purity, compassion, etc., and the actions that flow from those attributes.
5. If I lead a song like “Beautiful One,” I want to make sure that people understand we’re singing about beauty as defined by God, not the world. Tim Hughes helps us by drawing attention to God’s beauty displayed in our redemption in verse 1 (unfailing love, your cross) and the beauty of creation in verse 2 (your mighty works). The bridge emphasizes that God himself opens our eyes to see how beautiful he is. All great emphases.
6. So, “Beautiful One,” rightly understood, helps us both express and appreciate the beauty of our Savior. Could it be clarified or developed? Sure, and a leader can do that through other songs or separate comments. I think verse 1 and verse 2 could have been reversed, because seeing God’s beauty in the cross is more significant than seeing his beauty in creation. But, hey, I didn’t write the song.
7. As with all songs we sing in the church, it’s good to think carefully about how they might be misunderstood, what they don’t say, and how they say it. But I think “Beautiful One” simply and concisely helps contribute to songs that help us focus on “the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4).