Irrational Beauty

Jeff Earleson


Like many fellow Imagoans (Imagonites? Dei-ists? someone please tell me!), I grew up in a fairly traditional church background. They taught (among other things), a literal Six-Day Creation, complete with flannel-graphs, finger puppets, and pastel-colored paintings. Creation really spoke to me, and I was fortunate growing up that our family took trips to national parks did a lot of hiking. It was pretty awesome as a kid to imagine mountains and valleys and rivers and waterfalls being spoken into existence in literal days.

However, I'm pretty analytical (Enneagram 5: The Investigator, for those familiar), and as I grew up, this creation view began to cause me some problems. I was fascinated by natural sciences, and one doesn't have to delve too deeply before some pretty serious conflicts surface between observable geology, astronomy, archaeology, and what happens in the first several chapters of the Bible. For a while, I tried to reconcile and blend two opposing worldviews, but eventually creation itself launched a path of deconstruction — starting with the Creation Story.

Rational deconstruction can be an amazing thing, and for me it was a particularly engaging process. I was able to poke, prod, and examine my faith with a myriad of questions that came from humanity’s observations of creation. Unfortunately, this sort of pure rationalist thinking, where all that matters about creation is what you can concretely observe and prove, had some pretty significant impacts on my faith.

For me, that meant that my faith grew smaller. Jesus might have interesting things to say about how to live or what morals to have, but that's not rational science. My view of Jesus was relegated to be more "high school guidance counselor" and less "God." However, I think that even though creation got me into this predicament, it also shows a path forward.

Rationalism tells me that we have a sun like ours because of its stable output of light and heat; that we are 94 million miles from our sun so that we can have liquid water; and that we have a moon close by to stir our oceans with tidal forces and help protect us from meteors. But I can think of no rational explanation for our moon to precisely orbit in such a way that occasionally the moon just barely occludes the sun, giving humanity a brief glimpse at the wispy corona. For me, this inexplicable coincidence tells me that just as central to the design of the Earth as rational things like liquid water and tides — is beauty.

I find that irrational beauty like a solar eclipse is the perfect antidote to the jaded, skeptical, cold path that deconstruction can lead to. And I find that creation is full of irrational beauty. I love to backpack in the Rockies, and rationalism tells me that they are simply the product of geological forces and erosion, tells me where I should set up camp, and what gear to bring with me. But the irrational beauty shows me that the mountains are majestic, gives me a reason to trek miles with a heavy pack, and provides meaning to the peaks.

I think it’s the same for my faith. Rationalism tells me the merits of a particular theology and gives me context for a parable or Old Testament story. And I don't want to diminish the value of that. But it’s the irrational beauty of Jesus and themes like faithfulness, self-sacrifice, and love for the marginalized that give me a reason to keep following, to trek through life with my faith — and they bring meaning to the journey.

Jeff Earleson is 34 and loves capturing the irrational beauty of creation through landscape photography.

Christina Hite