God made our word to be an incredible complex and lovely place; but he didn’t have to, so why did he put in all the extra work?
A snowflake, such a tiny and simple-seeming thing, has infinite mathematical complexity.
Now granted, the physical snowflake can eventually be reduced to atoms and then particles and then quarks and leptons. The pattern that all snowflakes form, however, is also found in mathematical sets of numbers (a variant of the Mandelbrot Set, to be exact). There, the designs unfold infinitely like flowers blooming inside of flowers.
These fractal patterns can be found in nearly every corner of the world, from the scales on a butterfly’s wings to an uncurling fern, the flowering of an artichoke or the pedigree of bees who mate according to Fibonacci’s numbers.
Dr. Jason Lisle pointed to a portion of God’s mind-boggling, infinite complexity through fractals in his presentation on The Secret Code of Creation.
His excitement is very similar to Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries and Professor James White’s enthusiasm when he said, “Beauty built into mathematics. I think God smiled when He made the universe with this hidden in its very fabric.”
Let It All Work Together
Many, many years before anyone had started mapping the points of the Mandelbrot Set, a heretical belief system known as Gnosticism sprang up in the early church. One of its many claims was that God did not create the world; a lesser divine being did so. This meant that only spiritual things were good, and everything in the material world was at best inferior and at worst evil.
While the early church fathers rejected Gnosticism, a troubling hint of the spiritual-physical dichotomy remained and with it a deep-seeded suspicion of natural beauty and aesthetics.
To make matters worse, the Enlightenment came along and stated that intellectuality must reign supreme and appreciation of beauty was reduced to sentimentality. The response was the Romantic era which glorified nature, surrealist art and emotion over logic and knowledge.
In all these movements, beauty was divorced from spiritual, philosophic and scientific thought.
If you appreciated beauty, you were a romantic who couldn’t be trusted to think rationally and were probably a hedonist. If you eschewed beauty as sloppy mawkishness, then you dare not feel anything at risk of losing your intellectualism and sterile purity.
Unfortunately, the church also tends to fall into one rut or the other. Demonstrative prayer, visions and emotional experiences can be elevated above knowledge of the Bible; or ritualistic observance and Bible reading may be considered the only acceptable Christian experiences while any kind of passionate or supernatural encounter with the Holy Spirit is viewed as borderline demonic.
The problem is that the Bible has no trouble with natural beauty, logic, emotion and the spiritual all working together.
Contemplating the Beauty of God
God’s Word frequently balances historical records and philosophical debates alongside aesthetic expressions like songs or poetry.
Historical accounts see people sing and worship God; Job has poetic lines rife with biological and astronomical truth; Paul cites poems in his philosophical arguments; Mary, the mother of Christ, breaks into song while meeting an esteemed relative.
Most notably, Psalms and Proverbs are filled with worship but also important practical advice and meditations.
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4 ESV).
As we look around at the world, we find evidence of a majestic creativity that is echoed in small ways within our own nature and impulses to design and decorate. However, the beauty of creation was never meant to be an end in and of itself.
The overwhelming complexity of the world, from the fractal patterns of cloud vapor to a spiraling helix of DNA, is a testament to how small we are and how great God is.
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20 ESV).
For unbelievers, the physical world’s loveliness and intricate design is a constant nudge toward their maker. For believers, beauty must not ever become the final word of our spirituality, but neither should we let our pragmatic, results-driven culture reduce what is lovely to the superfluous.
As Dr. Albert Mohler points out, “Augustine suggested that Christians uniquely understand that the good, the beautiful, the true, and the real, are indeed one, because they are established in the reality of the self-revealing God—the triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit….
“There is undeniable beauty in creation, but in comparison with the infinite beauty of the Creator, such finite beauty no longer has the seductive allure it once had. All earthly beauty is simultaneously validated and relativized by the contemplation of the beauty of God.”