What if, more than anything else, all this is about truth?
What if beauty is nothing more than the truth about God sounding forth, and the whole universe is his bullhorn? What if events from the very beginning are a moving symphony proclaiming the nature of God — all of humanity a great dance troupe bursting across the earth, even our missteps declaring the glory of God in reverse?
If only it were easier to infer good things from the calamity all around. Instead, our treacheries seem to announce that humanity is a vile orphan, full of greed and betrayal. How often we see people trampling their fellows in an ongoing orgy of self-promotion. Even our love is inconstant and feckless, so often displaced by self-seeking.
Then, just when we are tempted to conclude that there is no all-powerful integrating thread of goodness in the universe, along comes a Corrie Ten Boom or a Mother Teresa to confound our suppositions. Moreover, the glory of the creation itself stands in perpetual opposition to the cry of the pessimist. The whole earth is covered with sublime things, miracles both living and inanimate. The concentrated beauty of art, music, literature—the Shakespeares and Mozarts and Michelangelos—all give voice to a higher order that is stunningly beautiful. Contained within all that beauty is the truth about God that cannot be silenced.
There is beauty in everything: great and small, inward and outward, hidden and prominent. All of it speaks of a God who is wonderful beyond our wildest dreams. Even what is evil displays his greatness by contrast, just as the literary foil accentuates the qualities of the hero. Even at our most depraved, the wickedness of humanity serves truth. We threw all our ugliness at Christ in a crescendo of murderous evil. But Jesus, without lifting a finger against his enemies, caused his beauty to triumph. His love goes on forever, incinerating the testimony of the Hitlers and Stalins for anyone who is willing to uncover his ears.
It has been said that the joy of men is the glory of God. If that is true, then what is our suffering? It is the glory of man gone wrong. But God in his sovereignty makes use of all of it to help his children.
Perhaps sin is primarily a distortion. Its evil lies in the way it chokes the light (beauty) of God. If humanity was meant to reflect God’s glory, then the greatest detriment of sin is its corruption of humanity’s main function — reflecting God’s glory. In this evil age, humanity displays corruption instead of the glory that was intended. But despite all the proclamations of the secularist, there is an inward collective remembrance inside us, just enough luster left in our moldering world to make us grieve over our broken glory.
But keep reading: although we are in Paradise Lost, there is Paradise Regained yet to come.
For most of my life, God’s truth was one percent love and 99 percent judgment, like a letter from a conquering army to the cringing nation it has just destroyed — requiring tribute, setting down laws, delivering dire warnings. Certainly there are some parallels here: we are to have a reverent regard for God’s commands, and the Christian must make his peace with being overshadowed by Almighty God. This is part of truth. The scriptures describe salvation as involving surrender to God in terms that invoke the imagery of war. Christ compared the kingdom of God to an advancing army, whom we would be wise to entreat to “ask for terms of peace.”
But this disquieting arrangement is so transitory in the Christian life that it is almost insignificant when once the Christian has committed himself utterly to God. I suspect that this kind of ruthless language is used to jar the sinner out of his drugged slumber, to communicate how abysmal his predicament really is without Christ. Once he has seen his doom and ensconced himself at the foot of the cross, he finds that his conquering King is full of love, grace and unfathomable kindness.
The beauty of God has been a primary source of joy and peace in my Christian life. Always before, Christianity consisted of much more loss (Law) than gain (Grace). The constraints of God’s commands and the requirements of duty stood in grim opposition to my happiness and freedom.
But God has revealed to me that the things I love most passionately are his own handiwork — that he, in fact, placed those passions in me. I have become increasingly aware that the things I celebrate with trembling pleasure — art, literature, music, drama, humor, intriguing stories, intense conversations, outrageous personalities, beautiful women, noble characters, humility, love, honor, gentleness, human warmth, compassion and forgiveness — come directly from God’s hand. The older I get, the more I celebrate these varieties of God’s self-expression in the creation. I look heavenward and worship the God who makes things so lovely that I am overcome with awe and wonder. These things are all variants of the beauty that comes surging out of the healthy human spirit, as though we were the very brushstrokes of God. Who is this God who is so great that even the flecks of paint on his canvas are living, breathing souls, with awareness and independent wills?
I am convinced that it is God’s Spirit who has moved my affections from the base to the noble. As it is said, “Less of me, more of him.” Accordingly, the things I celebrate are increasingly the lovely things that are God’s own. Meanwhile, he has pointed out to me those things (we may call them “sin.”) that degrade the joy of living. God takes nothing away from his children. Rather, he gives them everything.