Sacred Winds Ensemble and Ministries

Christian outreach through the arts, music, and education.

The Transcendentals: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

by Bill Haynes

Have you ever gotten out of bed in the morning and thought, “I hope I can find a little good and a little evil today?” Or, “I’m looking forward to having some falsehood mixed with any truth I encounter today?” I seriously doubt that you have. We are just not wired that way. There is something within each of us that longs for the true, the good, and the beautiful. And that is not there by accident. The longing for these Transcendentals is really a longing for God—and it is God who has put that longing in each person who ever lived on the face of the earth.

In his essay on C. S. Lewis’ view of the Transcendentals, Peter Kreeft made the following assertion: “These are the three things that we all need, and need absolutely, and know we need, and know we need absolutely.” There is no ambiguity to this reality. The Apostle Paul makes this clear in Romans 1: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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.” Yet, even though God has made it clear, we still look for truth, goodness, and beauty in all the wrong places.

Each of these Transcendentals expresses an attribute of God that all men seek to possess. They are only perfect in God and can only be experienced in the fullest measure in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But it is amazing that our contemporary culture seeks to find them elsewhere, even within themselves.

Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden, after the creation of the world and all that is in it, that if she would eat of the forbidden tree she would “be like God,” and she would know the difference between good and evil. Evidently, that was a strong enticement: She would no longer need God to tell her the difference between good and evil. What Eve “sees” at this temptation is very telling: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (goodness), and that it was a delight to the eyes (beauty), and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (truth), she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:6).

We have all likely heard the cliché “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” When someone says this, he is saying that what is beautiful to him may not be beautiful to you. From this vantage point, all beauty is a subjective matter based on no objectivity. There is no standard, and everyone identifies beauty differently. 

Truth is pretty much the same in our culture today. Many, if not most, believe truth is always in flux, a matter that changes with each year or political season. Each of us has heard people say, “That’s your truth,” as though truth, like beauty, is whatever I want it to be.

The good doesn’t fare any better in our ever-increasing secular society. Every day, there seems to be a struggle in the news (and dare I say even in our churches) to determine what is “good.” For many of us, goodness rests on how something affects us individually—how it makes me feel. Is it something that I desire? If so, then it is good; if not, then it is bad. 

We live in an age of relativism. The most common response to any criticism is, “Who are you to judge?” Indeed, at one point in our lifetime, the best-known and most quoted Bible verse was John 3:16. But today the most quoted Bible verse may well be Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

To make a case that there are transcendent, unchanging standards that point to God is considered narrow, backward, even bigoted in the twenty-first century; however, to think that we can find truth, goodness, and beauty apart from the living God who created them is a charade. 

In Psalm 19, David describes for us the glory of God’s self-revelation. It is only through and by this revelation that man can know God in any respect. If left to our own imagination, we would create a “god” that is much more like us, maybe a bit stronger—but not too much so. We would certainly not create a God of truth, goodness, and beauty, for such a God would be a threat to our own supposed authority.

David begins Psalm 19 with, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Is it possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the heavens and the sky? The pure blue by day and the stars and moon by night say with a loud, yet audibly imperceptible, voice, “God is!” This is God’s “general” revelation of himself, there for all to see. It is what Paul mentions in the first chapter of the book of Romans. These aspects of nature speak of God’s beauty and power. They remind us that we were created by One who is glorious in himself and needs nothing from us.

But David continues in Psalm 19:7-13 to speak of the “special” revelation of God in his Word. Using several different descriptive words for the Word (e.g., law, testimony, precepts, commandments, rules), David clearly states that they are to be heard and heeded. This Word of God, David says, is “perfect…sure…right…pure…true”—and, further, is “righteous altogether.” So, God’s revelation is without challenge “true,” reflecting his being absolutely True.

David then continues to extol the beauty of God and his revelation: “More desired are they [God’s Words] than gold, even much fine gold” (Psalm 19:10a). Today, when a person buys something to wear as jewelry, or to give a gift that will be admired, the most common choice is gold. It is valuable, but its greatest value is found in its beauty.

Finally, the Word—and the giver of the Word—is good. David describes the Word as “sweeter also than honey and the dripping of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10b). Is there anything known to man that is sweeter than honey? Anything that could be seen as better (or “more good”) than the sweetness of honey? David chooses these examples carefully to describe God and his Word, to show value of the Transcendentals. The Transcendentals point us to something that we need—indeed, something that we want with all our being—and to the only place to find them. They point us to the true and living God, and they call us to worship.

This brings us to the reason we gather for the ministry of Sacred Winds. It is the reason this subject has been chosen for this year’s presentation. It is to point us to the true, the good, and the beautiful that is beyond us, that is greater than us, and that is eternal. In his book of essays, Christian Reflections, C.S. Lewis makes the following observation:

What is our own futility, indifference, hostility, and evil, unless our standard of measure is something greater than our own subjective feelings or our own subjective goodness? If there is no infinite, objective standard of measure, how can we even know what a futile way of life or a meaningful way of life is? If we live by “the good life” we create, our appetites enslave us, and the life we rule over for our own good will come to ruin. If we fill up our lives with meaning defined by Infinite, Uncreated Goodness (and I might add truth and beauty), our lives will surely be the most meaningful of all.

Looking beyond ourselves to the Transcendentals and seeing that they are only truly defined and demonstrated in God through Jesus Christ will lead us to one thing: worship. It will cause us, in this life, to fall humbly before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, just as we will in our next life before the throne of God. It will lead us to say, with the heavenly hosts as seen in Revelation 4 and 5:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

who was and is and is to come! (4:8)

And,

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honor and power,

for you created all things,

and by your will they existed and were created.” (4:11)

Let us worship him now, as we will then, with the words he has inspired in his Word:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb,

be blessing and honor and glory forever and ever.” (5:13)

And may we forever say “AMEN” as we worship!

Bill Haynes is Senior Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Somerset, KY.

Click here listen to the concert, The Good. The True. The Beautiful.

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