Monday, October 20, 2008
The Call of Beauty
Last winter I was driving in my car listening to Krista Tippet’s, “Speaking of Faith” radio program. My attention was immediately grabbed by a quite endearing Irish accent that came over the radio waves. His voice was calming and soothing. He started to talk about beauty as a sort of force from within the world that called to a person. He spoke of the “inner landscapes” of beauty inside the human soul. He named his inspiration for the term the hills of Connemara on the West Coast of Ireland in County Galway. That is where the late Celtic poet and philosopher grew up.
As he spoke my ears were at full attention and my interest was incredibly peaked. “Beauty is a force in the world that calls to us…Humans are the place where the invisible becomes visible…The human soul does not just hunger for beauty, but it feels most alive in its presence.”
That idea resonated inside of me so much! There are so many longings that my soul feels. Yet more than anything, I am inspired by beauty, and not just the obvious beauty of a sunset although, they can be quite breathtaking. However, it is the beauty that I can see in the eyes of a homeless man as he smiles through his circumstances or even the exquisite beauty of a broken heart that causes my soul to be stirred. It is the loveliness of lighting candles just because they make your heart happy or the first tear that falls when you see someone find Jesus. Beauty is found in so many places and so many things. However, one thing can be certain of it…it will call to you even if it whispers from the most unlikely places.
With all that beauty that is so prevalent in the world, there is also an incredible amount of darkness that pervades it. Most of my days are full of struggling to live in that tension. How can I delight in the beauty of a child’s imagination when I know there are millions of children being trafficked around the world? How can I be truly moved by the word of the Holy Spirit coming forth through an individual when there are corrupt preachers scamming for people’s money? To everything good there is also an evil. My Aunt can understand all the woes my soul feels from living in the world and not of it. She always tells me that I want to live in “the garden” (yes, the Genesis garden). This brings me to the obvious conclusion that we were made to live in the garden.
Humanity was made to be in perfect communion with its God. Our souls were made for the beauty of God. Why wouldn’t we recognize glimpses of Him in an instant? We were created for it. However, sin and evil did indeed enter in and humanity was cast out from perfect union. It was then, as N.T. Wright likes to refer to it, that God knew He would have to launch a new project of new creation and new humanity. God knew we would now have to be recovered because He loved us and He refused to be out of union with us.
I love reading N.T. Wright because he puts so eloquently, poignantly and powerfully the language it is sometimes hard for our souls to convey. Mostly because the tension of this world confuses us and makes us feel alone and isolated. Most of us think we are the only ones feeling the things we do. That is a lie. We were made for the beauty of the garden, why wouldn’t our hearts long for it in its absence? There is a lecture that N.T. Wright gave at Seattle Pacific University that I downloaded for free on Itunes. It is called “The Bible and the Christian Imagination.” In this lecture, Wright brilliantly describes the world in which we, via sin, are forced to live in. He states that we live in a world that is, “achingly beautiful and awesome ugly.” What a mouthful! Yes! That is exactly it! That is the tension right there!
In his book, “Simply Christian,” N.T. Wright so poetically and practically brings his readers to the conclusion that Christianity makes sense. I know that is incredibly vague, but you will have to read it for yourself. In the beginning he introduces this idea that, as humans, we all have “echoes of a voice” inside of us. Those echoes are a longing for justice, spirituality, relationships and beauty. Wright constantly reinforces the fact that, as humans, we have this inherent need to see the world set to rights, for justice to be served. We desire to see things that were made wrong, made right. One can’t help but be moved by a child hungry at night or innocent people murdered in Dar Fur. One’s heart is stirred by a couple experiencing miscarriage after miscarriage, when they so desperately want children and would make amazing parents.
Our souls are grieved by a world that has spun off its tilt. We desire a world where things are set to rights. Things were right in the garden. And we feel that, or the lack thereof, everyday. Everything the human soul longs for, God made us for. Here’s where it really gets epic! 2,000 years ago Yahweh sent His only Son Jesus to put the world back to its rights. Everything that was wrong was made right in Him. For he makes all things new as it is written in Revelation 21. We now live in a time that theologians call “the already, but not yet.” Christ has launched new creation, the rescue and recovery of humanity has taken place, God’s Kingdom has been inaugurated, however, it has not yet seen its fullness or completion that is to come in the “new heavens and new earth.” The veil has been torn; we can access God-each and every one of us via the cross. Yet we still live among the debris of humanity’s sin. What an incredible paradox.
The thing I love about the Bible is that it totally reverses that paradox. It answers the why question that is asked in all the confusion…it fills in all the holes if you will…it does so with Christ…check this…
Genesis 1-2 Adam and Eve created in God’s image
…now just a disclaimer on my part…this is meant to be a theological history (the history of God and His character), not necessarily and history of exactly how the world was literally created. We know that God created everything. However, this story is to represent the union of God with humanity, His intention towards humanity and the separation of God from humanity. It sets the stage for the most beautiful story of redemption ever told…
With that being said…moving on…
Gen 2:8-17- God put humanity in a setting to enjoy life with Himself, wholly and fully. There is talk of the tree of Life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rivers are flowing out of Eden to other parts of the world. God beckons Adam not to eat of the tree of knowledge…however; we know how this story ends…
Jumping forward to 1 Corinthians, Paul writes in chapter 15 verse 22, “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” Ha! Look at this Paul is comparing Jesus to Adam; Christ is the 2nd Adam, the new Adam, the new and recreated humanity. What Adam made wrong, Christ made right. Adam let sin in, Christ conquered sin.
Here’s a good one…Paul writes to the church in Rome. In chapter 5 he writes, “For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. …Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” I love this because Jesus was the missing piece that set all of creation back to rights…
I love this one…In John chapter 20 starting in verse 11 Mary is weeping outside the tomb of Jesus because His body was no longer there. She sees a man, who is actually Jesus, and “supposes Him to be the gardener.” As N.T. Wright would point out, this is a great mistake for her to have made  . I guess He was sort of a gardener. Here we see a beautiful reprise of the Garden of Eden being put back to rights.
And finally in Revelation 22 we see the new city of God being described. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life.”
And there you have it. It started in the Garden of Eden, but didn’t end there. Jesus came to inaugurate God’s project of new humanity although its fullness will not come into fruition until the end of the age. Although we long for it to; we have a hope. And our hope is beautiful… “He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”-Rev 21:3-4
We were made in beauty and for beauty and to beauty we shall return. Let it call; our souls are listening, we cannot help but see it and be pointed to the author of all beauty, our God.
 Lecture given at ACU, Simply Christian.