Sustenance for The Spirit
Although we say that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,” I’m not sure we really believe it to be true. This is where we sometimes lie a bit. We want to believe that everything can have some measure of beauty, but I’m not sure it can be so. Kindness kicks in, thankfully, and we don’t have to succumb to brutal honesty, but denial isn’t always the best policy either. If I’m referring to my friend’s new haircut, kindness is always best. But, if we’re referring to pieces in life that we would rather ignore to keep our lives prettier, denial may not be a good thing. Sometimes we have to deal with ugliness to get to the beautiful.
I have enjoyed reading in the Old Testament lately. However, when I do a read through parts of Deuteronomy or I Kings or Judges, or even Job, I come across some really ugly stuff. There are times when God is not happy, and he takes action. There is loss of life and great sadness. There are bad kings with lots of power and God’s emissaries who try to help but get yelled at, and even stoned to death (2 Chronicles 24:20, 21). And speaking of stones, there are deaths by stoning, torture, fire, war, plague and dogs (Jezebel). I can’t think of anything uglier. I know there are non-believers who struggle with these parts of the Bible, but I think if we’re honest, believing Christians often struggle with the ugliness also.
It came to me, as I was questioning some Old Testament passages that were reflective of violence and harsh brutality, that God appears ugly when disobedience occurs, perhaps not just because it was part of the culture of the day, but to contrast the beauty found when Jesus came to earth. It makes my gratitude meter swing extra high when I see days of old full of intensely cruel moments, and I live in the Jesus age where Spirit-induced peace reigns. And perhaps, a God-induced peace was present in the midst of the Old Testament ugliness. What we read is often stories involving large groups and their leaders. We don’t always know a lot of the personal stories. We don’t know how each individual Israelite felt as they watched the walls of Jericho crumble. Besides the fact that we don’t know the whole picture, ever, we only know what we know. We’re beautifully human, and we thirst for high hopes. Then, when something doesn’t measure up, it seems pretty ugly; and, we don’t want to deal with it. In fact, we might want to deny it exists. But ugly does exist, and looking away does not erase it.
I can still hear the popular refrain from my teen years, “Everything is beautiful, in its own way…” (“Everything is Beautiful,” Ray Stevens, March 1970)) I know there’s a measure of truth there, but not at the expense of some true ugliness that resides where we don’t want to see it. We want God to be who we want Him to be. Why do we think our standards even matter to the God who created us and everything we know? God is who God is, in both the Old Testament and the New testament. He shows us the ugliness as well as the beauty of life with Him on earth. The real beauty is yet to come, and perhaps that’s the biggest point of all. Maybe we can’t even comprehend real beauty, living on earth as we do. We know that the pieces of real beauty which exist on earth, are God-born and cultivated as we live in His presence. Even in the midst of ugliness, we always have access to peace, hope and love, which originated and exude from God in heaven. No matter how we see things, we can move past the ugly, to a life where spiritual beauty abounds.
I think Paul understood, and expressed it well as he stated in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (NIV) Spiritually speaking from a prison cell, under the watchful eyes of guards, probably not the best food, and often finding himself thirsty, Paul knew where the beauty of life was found. In Jesus. The Old Testament, and all its ugliness, leads up to Jesus’ birth. The New Testament introduces the beauty of grace through the ugliest event of all time, on a cross at Calvary. Let’s grab hold of every bit of beauty we’ve been offered, not forgetting that ugly exists and can’t be ignored. Not if we’re going to know what beauty we have.
Have a wonderful day!