It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
–C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
I believe in the power of beauty to transform our lives.
Beauty makes us hunger for what is beyond. We see that which is beautiful and we long to possess it, to make it our own. Yet, no matter how much beauty we hold onto, we desire the elusive “more.”
This was C.S. Lewis’ point in one of my favorites of his books:
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”—The Weight of Glory
Share Beauty with Gentleness and Respect
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.–1 Peter 3:15-17, NIV
It seems to me that Peter is saying that how I and my fellow Christians speak and how we live are as important as what we say or how right we are. The latter is definitely important, but the former create an environment that helps people to take the Good News seriously. How we live and how we speak can create a hunger for the beauty of hope–or it can create a revulsion to the ugliness of anger, hypocrisy, evil.
Do we live out the beauty of being Christ’s? Or do we live in the ugliness the world sees everyday anyway?
We are Christ’s, but the Bible writers also tell us to “put on” Christ, to put on the the beauty that is found in Him, rather than the deathly garments of our old selves (Colossians 3, Romans 13).
When we put on Beauty, Beauty is compelling. I believe that.
Beauty Is An Indictment
But as a pastor friend pointed out to me recently, beauty is also an indictment. Even when I seek to walk in humility, to love and serve, to not just talk about Jesus but try to live like Him, my underlying belief is that I have been claimed by the One who is the most beautiful–and that all other claims to beauty are poor substitutes for Him. In fact, as Lewis says, I am basically saying that all other beauty is a mere idol.
I imagine most of us don’t like to be told that we have idols. Or, if we don’t mind being told that, perhaps we think there is nothing wrong with idols.
Most of us are comfortable with spirituality. Spirituality is basically “whatever trips your trigger.” It says: I’m not you, so I can’t dare to suggest what beauty is to you. I can’t impose my definition on you. We’re all blindfolded guys tripping around a giant elephant called spirituality. We’re all right, really.
But Christianity says that we’re all wrong and God is right.
Beauty Indicts Christians Too
A lot of Christians I know are really solid on the absolutes of Jesus, the Trinity, the Bible, basic Christian teachings. But I think sometimes we Christians get a little confused. We think we claimed the beauty. We think it’s all about us.
But what the Bible says is that the Beauty claimed us. Chose us. It’s humbling.
Paul said this:
Here is a saying that you can trust. It should be accepted completely. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the worst sinner of all. But for that very reason, God showed me mercy. And I am the worst of sinners. He showed me mercy so that Christ Jesus could show that he is very patient. I was an example for those who would come to believe in him. Then they would receive eternal life.–1 Timonthy 1:15-16, NIRV
Absolute Beauty is an indictment. It troubles us before it heals us. It acknowledges our deadness before it raises us.
But here’s the thing. That’s true for me and my fellow Christians too. Anytime we start getting too big for our britches and start thinking Beauty is all about us and being right and being on top, we have forgotten how merciful this Beauty has been to us.
Anytime we start saying, “I raised myself by the power of my will!” we have seriously missed the point.
Death and Resurrection
We were smeared with the mud of our own unadorned grave, funeraled alone, being gnawed by maggots, grave-food…the ugliest of the ugly.
But Beauty saw a life that could be made new. Beauty didn’t buy us off on the garage sale rack–used, but still with some use in us. Beauty tunneled deep grave-ward, sinking His fingernails into the wet dirt, and the worms shuddering His nerves. He set our decayed bodies up in the grass to wait, took a deep breath, and took the earth and the maggots into Himself. Absorbed them. He died.
But as the crocus burst up between the ugly rocks, His clenched fist pounded up through the earth’s weight. And when He emerged, shaking this dirt from His hair, Beauty breathed life into us…that indestructible life. His Beauty could not help but share and give itself to the ugly dead.
When His oxygen filled our lungs, we coughed out dust and lived again. He sprayed away the filth that caked our bodies, reminded us that we were made from dirt in the first place, drowned the worms that tore our flesh.
He brought his muddy hands upon us and took our sticky clay, rolling it this way and that, and beauty began to shine from us. Like Michaelangelo, He says, “I saw the angel in the marble [or our clay] and carved until I set him free.”
What Beauty Is, What Beauty Does
Beauty is an indictment, yes. A reminder of what we don’t have. A reminder of what we need.
But oh how far He is willing to go to renew us, restore us, give us meaning and purpose and new life.
And oh, when Beauty like that gets a hold of you, how you long to share Him with your fellow yearners.
For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.–2 Corinthians 2:15-17, NIV