There are two things I should like to point out about this verse. The first is that the verse does not say, "Whatever you think is true, whatever you think is honorable, ..., whatever you think is lovely, ..., think about these things." So apparently, this verse assumes there are such things as truth, beauty, and goodness, whether anyone acknowledges it or not. Suppose there was no truth, no honor, no justice, no purity, no loveliness, nothing commendable, no excellence, nothing worthy of praise. Well darn. I guess this verse doesn't mean anything. And if we have assumed that the Bible means something, or even more, that it is the Word of God (which is what I believe), then this conclusion is nonsense. Therefore there are such things as truth, beauty, and goodness, independent of the observer.
In quantum mechanics, of which I like to say I know a little, there's a strange little idea which says if you measure a system, you change it. On the microscopic scale, that is true simply because if you want to "see" something, you have to bounce something else of roughly the same size off the something and observe where it goes. It's much like bouncing a ping-pong ball off a bowling ball in order to determine where the bowling ball is, or where it's going. That sounds like a strange way of measuring something, but that's all you can do at the microscopic level. Actually, that's all you do with normal things, only it's light that bounces off the object and enters your eye. All quantum mechanics says is that the light you see, which affects you, also affects the thing off of which it bounced.
But don't let quantum mechanics fool you into thinking that everything is relative, even beauty. Philippians 4:8 says otherwise. That verse says some things have beauty no matter who recognizes it, or even if no one recognizes it.
That's the first thing I wanted to point out about this verse. The second thing I wanted to point out is that the Greek word for "think" is logizesthe. For you people who know a little Greek, that's spelled: lambda, omicron, gamma, iota, zeta, epsilon, sigma, theta, epsilon. This word means to think deeply about. It does not mean to bleep on over. So you're having girlfriend or boyfriend problems. If you're serious about this person, you're going to logizesthe about the problems and try to solve them, not give it a moment or two. Similarly, if you're in a hurry, maybe in-between classes, or you're rushing to a meeting, and you have to grab lunch very quickly, you're not going to logizesthe about your lunch choice. You might give it a moment or two, if that. You're simply going to grab whatever's fast.
I point this out, because this verse would be meaningless if the things we're supposed to logizesthe about were not worth it. This verse does not indicate that we should logizesthe about our hurried lunch choice. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about such a lunch choice anyway. So now the truth comes out, and I must confess, I have had an agenda all along. I'm zooming in on the word "lovely" or "beautiful". Apparently, this verse tells us that if something is beautiful, we should logizesthe about it. So let's do that for a little bit.
Surely this verse is beautiful, so I have no problem applying this verse to itself.
What things are worth this logizesthe kind of thinking? I happen to be something of a musician, so let me apply this to music. And let me take two extremes: a single note versus the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto (my absolute favorite piece of music). Our single note can surely be beautiful. It can be played well, and in tune, with good tone. But I have a sinking feeling that it will not stand up to logizesthe. I could give it a few minutes if I really stretched it. What about the Piano Concerto? If you are ever bored, then sometime try the following experiment. Listen to the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto end-on-end for a whole day. I've had friends who have done this with other, similar pieces. What was the result? They liked it better at the end than at the beginning! A piece like the Piano Concerto is rather like Dr. Who's spaceship, bigger on the inside than the outside. You can keep opening up new worlds, one inside another. It seems to me that the Piano Concerto, then, will stand up to logizesthe, whereas our single note will not.
What is the difference? What makes one work of art the kind of beauty that stands up to logizesthe, and another work of art fail utterly at it? I believe the answer is complexity. In the middle ages (unjustly termed the Dark Ages), people tried to come up with theories of beauty and aesthetics. One theory, which I heard through Dr. R. C. Sproul, was that beauty consists of three aspects: form, harmony, and complexity. The first two are ones which, while I agree with them, I will spend no time on right now. But that complexity aspect is one people tend to get up in arms over. Simple is beautiful, so we say. But I just spent considerable effort trying to show you that simple will not stand up to logizesthe.
So what is this verse saying? Shall we never consider anything simple? What about ugly things? I believe this verse says we should spend a majority of our time on the beautiful things. And if, as I believe, the beautiful especially includes the complex, then we should spend more time on the complex than on the simple.
Ah, but you say that the complex is harder to understand, and requires more work. Sure. But I think it's worth it. This modern world is highly anti-intellectual. Americans don't want to think hard about anything. Why is that? I think that this is because of the theological liberalism that came over from Europe in the late 1800's and early 1900's. We had pastors who were not highly trained, so we sent them over to places like Germany. They came back educated, and also without their faith. The fundamentalists fought back the liberalism, but at the price of their own minds. They thought the solution to educated apostasy (apostasy is lack of faith) was uneducated faith. But the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. So when you go to church, you must emphatically not check your brains at the door. Don't be lazy. And don't be afraid of the great works like Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto. It will reward you according to what you put into it.
Love in Christ,
Adrian C. Keister