We cannot think about marriage rightly unless we learn to think about aesthetics rightly. Aesthetics is the study of beauty—what is it that makes something lovely? The elements are many, and include things like simplicity, balance, form, and so on. God has fashioned the world in such a way as to please us, and He has given us hearts and minds that are capable of figuring out why they please us.
When we have figured it out—and we only ever figure this out partially—we almost immediately undertake the task of imitating it. We become what Tolkien called sub-creators. God creates loveliness ex nihilo. We seek to create loveliness from pre-existent materials. God creates; we build. But when we build we are reflecting the fact that we were created in the image of God.
We are gathered in front of a beautiful mountain. We do so on beautiful day. We have done this in celebration of a beautiful event. The work that has gone into this event has made it more beautiful—the juxtaposition of the mountain as framed by this arbor. That is which is beautiful is made more so by being framed and bounded.
So not only do many things go into making something beautiful, but there are many different kinds of beauty.
Some painters achieve striking effects by laying down a base coat of a particular color, the way Maxfield Parrish did with his blues. To extend the metaphor, as we consider the pursuit of beauty in our lives, particularly in our married lives, we ought to ask what the base coat of true loveliness actually is.
The psalmist gives us what I believe to be a clear indication.
“Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2).
The beauty of holiness. When people neglect this foundational characteristic of God’s aesthetic nature, they do not abandon the task of creating beauty, but they find themselves trying to achieve it from the outside in. They wash the outside of the cup, and leave the inside of the cup alone. This is why so many people who pride themselves on their aesthetic sensitivities are so insufferable. They can create something beautiful after a fashion, but it is extremely rickety.
Weddings are wonderful. The reality of marriage is God’s crowning achievement, in a world full of wonders. And the ways we have set it off with our various cultural framing devices bring an additional layer of loveliness to the whole thing. But when the base coat is unholy, there are few things worse. When marriage goes wrong, it really goes wrong.
Holiness must lie at the foundation of every good and godly marriage. But by “holiness” I do not mean fussiness, or excessive scrupulosity, or legalism. I mean the kind of liberation and freedom that the good news of the gospel of Christ. In this fallen world, the only people who can be holy are those who are forgiven. And that is not possible apart from the death of Jesus on the cross.
So then—forgiveness, holiness, beauty—in that order.
Luke, your charge is this. You are assuming responsibility as the covenant head of this home. Your task is to keep that foundation secure. Your responsibility is to make sure that everything that goes on in your home is consistent with the grace of God as found in Christ. You must make sure that the Scriptures occupy a central role in your relationship with your wife, and not just a formal central role. Read the Word, discuss the Word, and apply the Word in obedience. Bring your family to worship God every Lord’s Day. Do this in the full expectancy that God will take this foundational precondition for beauty and do something marvelous with it. No beauty will ever take shape in your home unless it is a home that is thus anchored and secured. That anchor is one that you must set, and you must protect it. Never allow yourself to be distracted from this central thing.
Elizabeth, here is my charge to you. As you set about to adorn your home make sure that you do not challenge or subvert the crucial work that your husband has to do. You are not the only artist involved anymore. You are called to work within a different context now. Someone else has put down the base coat, and you paint there. Someone else has sung their part, and you are the antiphonal response. Someone has given you a great landscape, and you frame it. But—as all good artists do—you work with your materials. You do not work on them, trying to change them into something else. The true artist exercises authority just by being an artist. But she also exercises that authority in humility, not expecting to be able to do anything from scratch.
So Luke, you must initiate authoritatively in true humility. And Elizabeth, you must respond submissively with true authority. The result will be the kind of aesthetic loveliness in a home that only the grace of God can achieve.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.