Longing for the Divine

For Wonder, Glory, and Beauty

I’m a creative person who has enjoyed building things since I was a little kid. I’ve been fascinated with the ancient portable Tabernacle since my dad first read me bedtime Bible stories when my siblings and I were young. As I got older, I wanted to learn more and began creating models of the Tabernacle or Sanctuary. I also made articles of clothing like those the priests wore when they entered the Sanctuary. I was fascinated by the beauty of the Tabernacle and the priests who were dressed beautifully in it. These glorious images made me think that our beauty-loving God must be beautiful too.

I vividly remember when a Christian leader expressed to me that he disapproved of my creating beautiful things. In fact, he considered it a sin. He scolded me for spending my time this way, for concern with beauty was a waste, a vain, worldly endeavor. He told me I would not be accepted as a true Christian because creating this kind of beauty demonstrated an attachment to the world. I asked this Christian gentlemen to consider how the Sanctuary’s beautiful design corresponded to the presence of God. I believe that God cares deeply about beauty and loves the beautiful. I think it is important to understand that “the beautiful is just as useful as the useful … perhaps more so” (Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, [1862] 2015, p. 25).

The Tabernacle’s magnificent finery, exquisite colors, and costly materials made of gold, silver, and precious jewels were lovely and beautiful. It was not merely material, for it was built according to the heavenly design and thus a preview of heaven and the life to come (Exodus 25:9, 40). It was the meeting place of heaven and earth. The priests who entered this holy portal wore symbolic accessories and clothes of costly fabric, manifesting this better reality. The Bible describes the priests’ vestments with a remarkable phrase: “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2, 40).

While glory certainly speaks to the honor and dignity of the priests, it also speaks to the presence of God and His gracious and generous character (Exodus 33–34). Beauty is an essential attribute of God, as it is defined by the splendor and magnificence of His captivating love. God’s heart is most beautiful. It is an irresistible beauty that we cannot live without, for it makes all the difference in the world. We sense this in moments of highest connection with the glory reflected in the wonders of nature or in moments of insight, such as when we encounter a fine poem or a rapturous song whose beauty stirs the depths of the human soul. 

Beauty reflects God’s glory, and the beauty of His character is central to this glory. The heart’s longing for this kind of beauty is thus connected to the indwelling presence of God. When we see His glory, we know that He is beautiful, for the Bible describes the “beauty of His holiness” (Psalm 96:9) and the desire to “see the king in His beauty” (Isaiah 33:17). We are called “to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Psalm 27:4, NIV).

As a high priest, Aaron had eight tailor-made beautiful garments: (1) a ephod (apron) woven in golden threads with blue, red, and purple yarn and two stone broaches carved with the names of the twelve tribes that fastened the apron at the shoulders (28:6–12), (2) a blue robe with a hem adorned with blue, red, and purple decorative pomegranates and golden bells, (28:31-35), (3) the breastplate of judgment with twelve precious stones worn over the heart, each inscribed with a tribe name (28:13–30), (4) a golden miter inscribed with “Holiness to the Lord” that fastened to the forehead with a cord of royal blue (28:36–38), (5) a long embroidered sleeved linen tunic (28:4, 39), (6) a white headdress (28:39), (7) an embroidered sash (28:39), and (8) linen breeches (Exodus 28:42).

God loves the beautiful, but He most loves a beautiful character. I think it is good to love and desire beauty, but God wants us to first love and seek the highest beauty. In describing beautiful garments, the Psalmist offers the metaphors of being clad in the threads of “righteousness” and “salvation” (Psalm 132:9, 16). Aaron was therefore essentially dressed in divine attributes. As a kingdom of priests, we must figure out how to wear the threads of glory and splendor to be likewise connected to God’s beautiful attributes. 

To find our inner beauty and dignity, we must know what priestly garments were like. We may not literally wear linen breeches, a big hat, or an ephod, but we must see how these sacred vestments can be of service to us today. Our spiritual vestments should reflect God’s glory and beauty. As you look at this world, can you tell me that we don’t need “Holiness to the Lord” written in our minds and on our foreheads? Each of us was created to bear the divine image—the vestments of holiness. We must connect to the holy to learn how to be truly beautiful. We need a spiritual picture of how to cultivate beauty and purity of character. We also need discretion—a breastplate of judgment—so we can make just decisions without being judgmental. Our actions should be robed in a glory that not only is attractive but also displays a character that is pure, noble, and lovely. Today’s world needs us to cultivate traits of true-blue integrity, honor, truthfulness, compassion, and grace.

Glory and beauty are divine qualities. We are not made for a mundane world of disarray, this contemporary world of turmoil that lacks true beauty and tells lies about it. After all, we were made “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2, 40). As scholar N. T. Wright emphatically states, “we are all of us hardwired for beauty, searching for a deeper and richer meaning in a world that sometimes seems to overflow with delight but at other times feels dreadful and cold. Beauty—the haunting sense of loveliness, the transient yet utterly powerful stab of something like love but something more and different as well—is a pointer to the strange, gently demanding presence of the living God in the midst of his world” (Broken Signposts: How Christianity Makes Sense of the World, 2020, p. 92–93).

Our world may not give us the very best or most beautiful. We may experience some of creation’s beauty reflecting glory amid the brokenness, but the world to come offers full glory because God will be there in full potency. The Tabernacle offered a glimpse of this better reality, presenting the wonders and glories of heaven, the celestial space, and the angelic world. The human priests that entered this beautiful place of intimate fellowship with the divine show us that we too are destined to be there. 

Today’s best and most beautiful things will be in this world to come, but they will be even more beautiful—the best plus so much more that no eye has yet seen. What we see as beautiful here will be enhanced. The fine  details and materials with which the Tabernacle was built culminated with the glory of God filling it (Exodus 44:40). The endpoint is God’s full glory and irresistible beauty, which restores the original loveliness to the soul. The vestments made for glory and beauty tell us that God is transforming us into beautiful people—the true beauty we long for.

Craig Ashton Jr.

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