God is the source of all reality, the ground of being and the creator and sustainer of life. Therefore, in order to properly understand what is real, what is (i.e. what has being and existence), and what is alive, we must begin with the bedrock beneath it all -- God, our Father. We must know that he exists and that he lives and loves. He must be at the beginning and at the end of our quest for belief. Without God, we are adrift in an empty sea.
From God come the three transcendentals, or fundamentals, or absolutes that form the foundation for a proper worldview. They are truth, goodness and beauty. If we do not understand them (even if we know God) we will be shortsighted in the way we perceive life, especially in the way we make connections between Christianity and the world around us. For many years I knew of truth, goodness and beauty only as abstract terms; I did not grasp their reality and importance. I knew that these were godly qualities, but I did not realize that they are manifestations of God. God is truth. God is good. God is beautiful. Any created thing that transmits these things is touched by God -- it is revelatory of God. In Phil. 4, Paul tells us not only to consider "whatever is true...whatever is right and whatever is lovely," but to "put it into practice" as well. Then the "God of peace" will be present with us. We will live in the contentment that the interrelationship of these three outpourings of God brings into our lives.
The first thing to understand about the three transendentals is that they exist as real things in their own right. They are not merely add-ons to other things. We may say that the Bible is true, but we must realize that the truth conveyed by the words of Scripture is far greater than the book itself. We may say that a saint was good, but the goodness came from their connection to the heart of God. We may say that a cathedral is beautiful, but, in the humility built into it, it only captures a glimmer of the glory of God. We are humanly inclined to think of them as descriptive of physical things, but because the three are so intimately connected with God -- indeed they are who he is -- they are as real as he is and transcend this material world.
Truth, goodness and beauty come into our lives as gifts from God. James phrased it this way: "Every good and perfect (beautiful) gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change (truth) like shifting shadows." (James 1:17) We pick up on these things because we have been made in the image of God. He is truth, goodness and beauty; we know them through him. When the image of God is corrupted by sin, the perception of them is darkened as well. Those who do not know God know very little of the three absolutes. Either they do not recognize them at all, or they fashion them in distorted ways. Without God, truth is relative and lies are truth, good is personal and selfish, and beauty is disfigured or ignored. Anyone who wishes to appreciate them must have his soul reoriented to God as the source of truth, goodness and beauty. Even Christians need to stop periodically and check our position; it is easy to get carried away by the banalities of this world.
Because truth, goodness and beauty are real and since they come from God, mankind has always known about them to a greater or lesser degree. They are known to all cultures, in all places and at all times. Even if they are not known, or if they are dismissed, or even corrupted, a feeling that they do exist remains. Depending on one's position in the world, this causes conflicting emotions to arise in the soul. Those who have cast them aside may feel angry, disillusioned or conflicted. People who have not really thought about them may feel empty or confused. And people (like I once was) who don't understand them, feel as if they are missing out or unfulfilled. Truth, goodness and beauty were designed by God to be guideposts for the spiritual life of the soul. But, in our fallen world, great tension exists between these ideals in their true intent and their corruptions that are so common to our everyday lives. We will only be able experience the benefits of truth, goodness and beauty by fostering our relationship with God, and allowing him to reveal them to us.
The three transendentals have great value for this life by opening doors into the true spirituality that nourishes the life of the soul. But because they are spiritual, godly and real, they are eternal. They have always existed, for they exist in and through God. They exist now, seen through the eyes of faith, hope and love. They will exist forever in their true forms, for God will re-create all things. In heaven, truth becomes real, for all communion will be genuine and understood by the wisdom of God. Good will overcome all evil and falsity to the extent that we will experience it so fully that good will be the ground of all existence and anything else will be imperceptible. Beauty will be lasting; it will have lost its capacity to fade away. It will be eclipsed into glory as it brings healing to our ransomed souls.
Imagining this kind of reality gives us great hope, but living into their reality, as we are called to do, gives us great insight. Paul wrote, "'No eye has seen (beauty), no ear has heard (goodness), no mind has conceived (truth) what God has prepared for those who love him' -- but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit." In order to experience the three transendentals -- to see them and know them and practice them -- is to live in tune with the Spirit of God, living in our souls, who teaches us all that is true, gives us all that is good and shows us all that is beautiful.