The “purposeless” beauty of God’s work

The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)

Spain’s largest church, La Sagrada Familia, has been under construction for more than 135 years. Why? Because more than a century ago, the church’s architect, Antoni Gaudi, laid out intricate plans to create a house of worship that would be senselessly, gratuitously, over-the-top beautiful. 

Today, annual construction on the church costs roughly $60 million dollars—a price tag that has drawn sharp criticism from many who don’t see the purpose of such lavish art. If Gaudi were alive today, I bet he’d point his critics to today’s passage to remind us that the God his church worships values beauty in and of itself.

Think about it: The trees of Eden didn’t need to be beautiful. They were “good for food.” Shouldn’t that have been enough? Evidently not, because “in the beginning” God created with both function and extravagant beauty. 

This is a theme we see throughout the rest of Scripture, from the impractically beautiful Tabernacle (see Exodus 25-31) to the eternal City of God (see Revelation 21). John tells us that the New Jerusalem’s gates are made of pearls, streets are paved with gold, and walls are “decorated with every kind of precious stone.” And we know that the width of the cubed city is roughly 1,400 miles (see Revelation 21:16). Multiply that by four and we’re talking about 5,600 miles of beautiful gems lining the foundation of the New Jerusalem. To put that in perspective, that’s roughly the distance between Florida and Greece.

What purpose do 5,600 miles of precious stones serve? My guess is none. But as theologian Gustavo Gutierrez reminds us, “Utility is not the primary reason for God’s action.”

What does this all mean for you and me? It means that not everything we do has to be justified by some functional purpose. It’s OK to redesign a website even if it doesn’t lead to more conversions, or to paint a painting and not sell it, or to decorate your office for Christmas even if you can’t “prove the ROI” of the investment. To create for beauty’s sake is to create in the image of God.

Hours before his death, Gaudi was leaving work at La Sagrada Familia when he turned to a member of his crew and said, “Come early tomorrow, Vincente, so we can make beautiful things.” Hear those words spoken to you, believer. Go and make beautiful things like your Heavenly Father today!


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