There’s a very iconic and on-the-verge-of-overuse quote from C.S. Lewis that, despite its imminent cliche-ness, is perfect for this introduction:
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Lewis made this observation in Mere Christianity, a book he wrote that put forward an argument for the truth of Christianity based upon the objectivity of morality. The fact that objective standards of morality exist is inherently obvious to everyone. There is no culture in existence that has ever praised cowardice or selfishness, and when one person feels like they are being mistreated, they will quickly abandon their moral relativity and let you know about it. In other words, we all understand that there is such a thing as a standard of goodness. And it’s this desire for the good that led Lewis to look beyond this world to find it.
That, in fact, is where goodness comes from—another world. The ancient philosophers referred to goodness, along with beauty and truth, as the “transcendentals.” A “transcendental” is something “beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience.” Put simply, a transcendental is something that does not originate with us. No human person created “goodness” or “truth” or “beauty.” They just are.
Which is why philosophers throughout the ages have realized that these three properties come from a source that is not of this world. The desire for truth, beauty, and goodness are cravings we all experience, regardless of our culture, upbringing, race, or social class. This universal craving is evidence of the idea that these qualities are desires that infringe upon us from the outside, from out there. Thus the transcendentals—truth, beauty, and goodness—have been at the center of much spiritual and philosophical thought for thousands of years.
They originated (probably) with Plato, a Greek philosopher. The Greeks believed that the world was created and ordered by and through the words of the gods, an idea known as the Logos. The Logos was the transcendent source from which the physical world derived and it was the pursuit of understanding and experiencing the Logos that was a large part of Greek thought. Plato speculated that the transcendent Logos could only be sensed and understood through transcendent means. Thus in his search for traces of the transcendent Logos in the world, Plato stumbled upon the transcendental properties of truth, beauty, and goodness. The idea was that the pursuit of these ideals would lead one to understand the Logos and therefore understand the purpose of life.
Theologians picked up on this idea, most notably the Apostle John, who could sense that the Greeks were onto something. Writing primarily to a Graeco-Roman audience, John began his Gospel by appealing to their very own ideas:
“In the beginning was the Logos (Word), and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God” (John 1:1).
Anybody who knew anything at all about Greek culture (which was literally everyone) would’ve known exactly what John was talking about. He was appealing to the ultimate source of reality and explaining that it was God. But He didn’t stop there. John continued describing the Logos in verse 14:
“And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us.”
This, of course, is a reference to Christ, the Son of God, who descended from heaven and assumed a human form. John is telling his Greek audience that what they’ve been searching for for hundreds of years is Jesus Christ. And John then explains that all the transcendent qualities they’ve spent centuries studying are all found in the true Logos:
“…and we have seen his glory (beauty), glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace (goodness) and truth (truth).”
John knew his audience, and he knew exactly what kind of imagery his word choice would evoke. He acknowledged the idea that there exists a transcendent reality from which truth, beauty, and goodness come from, but that that transcendent reality, the divine Logos, was a personal being that we can know: the Son of God. John was making the startling claim that all truth, beauty, and goodness are found perfectly displayed in the Christ, the divine Logos.
C.S. Lewis, like the Greeks of millennia past, felt the innate sense that this world could not satisfy every desire that he had—desires for truth and beauty and goodness. Those desires come from another world, and it’s that other world that Christ has given us a taste of now, and has invited us to enjoy forever in the age to come. This world is not our home, but due to the presence of truth, beauty, and goodness, it does contain traces, echoes, of our true home.
Nick Dellis argues, “the three transcendental realities of truth, goodness, and beauty find their objectivity in the fact that their ultimate form comes from the eternal and unchanging nature of God. So as one observes the world around him while contemplating and living in accordance with the transcendentals, he grows closer and closer into a state of blessedness because he draws nearer to the character of God.”
I’ve been studying truth, beauty, and goodness over the last several months and have come to the same conclusion as the above author–that these qualities find their source in God and therefore can be used as “lenses” through which to view the world and see God. Hans Urs van Balthasar, who wrote extensively on these values, contended that the incarnation of Christ is the perfect representation of truth, beauty, and goodness, since He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1). Therefore, the pursuit of these values is a way to cultivate a deeper vision of the glory of Christ, which allows us to be transformed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3). As we seek truth, beauty, and goodness in the world, we are hearing, seeing, and feeling the reverberations of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God into this world—we are experiencing echoes of the home we long for.
“Echoes of Home” is a newsletter project that is an evolution of my previous newsletter, “All Things Considered.” Each issue will consist of three sections:
- The True — a short, concise, almost devotional like meditation on Scripture. This could be a quote or original content from me.
- The Beautiful — a song, film, piece of artwork, poetry, etc., that I’ll recommend and provide a very brief, Christocentric analysis of.
- The Good — Either one or more events/testimonies/stories from my/others lives of what God is doing in the world to curb the constant barrage of negativity that the news and social media throw at us.
Of course, I’ll also include what books I’m reading, article recommendations, etc, but the main idea is that this will be a way for us to seek the glory of Christ together through the true, the beautiful, and the good. I plan on sketching out these ideas in more detail on my blog as I explore them deeper, but the newsletter content will be brief (sub 800 words total is the goal) and will not necessarily be thematically connected in any way other than being centered around these three ideals.
If you’re already subscribed to my previous newsletter, then you don’t need to do anything. But if you’re not, and this idea intrigues you, please sign-up here.
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from—my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” – C.S. Lewis