Saturday, July 6, 2013

Truth, Goodness, Beauty

Last week, while I was doing my quiet time, I had an “aha” moment.   For the last (very long) while, I have been slowly reading my way through the book of Romans and reading RC Sproul’s Commentary alongside (Romans: St Andrew’s Expositional Commentary).   Today I had reached Chapter 45 in this commentary – an entire chapter dedicated to the exposition of one little verse:
Romans 11:36 (NKJV): “For of Him, and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.”
In unpacking the significance of the phrase “of Him” in this verse, Sproul says that everything BELONGS to Him and that He is the SOURCE of everything.   Specifically He is the source of:
TRUTH – We are speaking here of objective truth, outside of ourselves and our preferences.   Truth is defined as “that which describes real states of affair”.  Truth is how reality is perceived by God.   No possession we have is more valuable than truth.
GOODNESS – Sproul tells us “the ultimate norm for ethics and righteousness is the character of God”  and that “God’s external righteousness flows from his eternal being.”
BEAUTY – “Every beautiful thing comes from him and points back to Him.”  (Sproul again.)
Immediately, I recognized these traits because they are written right into the definition of education put forth by the Circe Institute: EDUCATION is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty.” (I’ve been listening to lots of Circe talks lately.  Fantastic stuff, if you want something meaty to keep you company while folding laundry or cooking dinner.)  The goal of education is not simply utilitarian – to pass exams or prepare for a job (although that’s a nice side-benefit).   The goal is to become wise, virtuous people who can reflect the glory of God to those around them.   And the way we do this is by absorbing and contemplating that which is good and true and beautiful.
I think this is the goal that Charlotte Mason was shooting for as well.   In her fourth principle, she encourages us not to rely on external tactics such as entertainment, competitions, prizes, grades, fear, or even a winsome personality to motivate students to learn.   Rather, she tells us that “knowledge is delectable” and that the desired end of our educational efforts is “the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.”   What makes knowledge worth pursuing for its own sake?  
Its truth.  Its goodness.  Its beauty.
Obviously, God has revealed Himself to us directly through His Word.   But anywhere we spot truth, goodness, or beauty – these things can also point us to our Creator.  This is why Charlotte used great literature as a vehicle to teach all manner of subjects.   This is why she encouraged us to make room in our schedules for poetry, art, music, and nature.   Even the more ‘technical’ subjects can be vehicles we use to pursue these three things: mathematics and language reveal the order that God placed into our universe and science His intricate, creative design.   When our student asks “Why do we have to learn this?  When am I ever going to need to know this?” – we can tell them it is because it reveals the truth, goodness, and beauty of our God.  We may never need to use chemistry or geometry or music or poetry in our ‘real life’.   But they are still worth studying because each reveals another facet of God’s character, and our souls will be shaped and formed by them.   When we study chemistry with an eye towards seeing God’s design in the universe rather than merely another college-entrance-requirement-hoop to jump through, it can help make us into the men and women that God wants us to become even if we don’t go on to become a scientist or doctor.
As I thought about these points,  the “aha” came as I realized that this is just WHY the pursuit of “truth, goodness, and beauty” should be the goal of education.   When we pursue truth, goodness and beauty, we are pursuing God Himself because He is the source of all these things.

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