Beauty

IMG_2381It has officially been two weeks since I arrived in Slovenia. This country is astounding: mountains, rivers, countrysides, castles, European aesthetic everywhere. Constantly students and citizens tell us about the seaside, the lakes, the caves, and the hiking trails they find the most beautiful. It certainly is beautiful.My team here has been learning a little bit about that beauty too. We’ve raised questions like “Why do we find things beautiful?” and “What’s the point of beauty?” To me, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without God. We read Tim Keller’s Reason for God and he explains that our feeling of awe and beauty and smallness when looking at something beautiful like a mountain comes from a desire for beauty. This desire is evidenced in our culture, seeing as we have thousands of Instagram, Facebook, VSCO, Twitter, et cetera accounts dedicated to photographing beautiful things. Keller explains too that just like any other desire we have (hunger, thirst, tiredness, et cetera), we will go lengths not only to taste beauty, but rather to attempt to fulfill this desire for beauty. Humans climb Mt. Everest, they dive into Mariana’s Trench, they hike to Angel Falls, explore the Amazon Rainforest. We have a innate desire to experience beauty that pushes us beyond common physical and emotional barriers.Yet, often, we see these sights, are awe-struck, and leave feeling like we need to see more. We’ve lit a hidden desire within us that slowly consumes us to our core. We must go hiking more. We must see more mountain ranges. We must go to more beautiful beaches. We hike to the top of the hill just outside our city in flat Ohio, see the stars and the city lights, have our breath taken away; then we wonder what the same constellations would look like on an untouched mountain in Colorado. We go to a lake or pond and are intrigued by what lies in the depths and rest on the rocky shores; then we wonder what it would be like to see the beaches of Hawaii or to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. We feel like each beautiful place we go to is only a glimpse a more beautiful thing we have yet to see.Being in Slovenia, this has been extremely true. Talking to people that live here, they seem to have become habituated to the beauty of the nature near them and crave more. Every student I speak to in the capital city desires to travel to the seaside because they are unfulfilled by the beautiful city that surrounds them. I even find myself and my team having the urge to explore the caves, mountains, and rivers after only being in the city for two weeks. It’s easy to become numb to beauty near us because natural beauty, in its nature, cannot fulfill our desire for beauty.Now this surpasses the visible beauty of nature. It stretches into beautiful music, fashion, architecture, design, artwork, people, culture, and anything else you can imagine. And the same rule applies: we experience beauty in these areas and desire more of it to fulfill a deep desire. So, this all being said, should we assume this desire continues unfulfilled throughout our entire lives? Are we bound only to survival alone, always striving for the next more beautiful thing? Is beauty the same as thirst and hunger and sleep that we ought to try and quench as much as possible to survive until we pass away and it doesn’t matter anymore?I’ll argue that no, this is not the purpose or the meaning of beauty in the world. Just like for hunger and thirst and rest there is a real, eternal fulfillment that exists. It is not a desire that we have to deal with and quench; it is a desire that points to a deeper need and image of God.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:32-37)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus is the water of life; the bread of life; and a refuge when we are weary. He quenches all of these desires eternally – it only makes sense that He would quench our other desires as well. Jesus also enables us to quench our desire for beauty. This in essence, proves that our desire for beauty is only a deeper yearning for Him.

[The man said,] “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves.”

[The woman said,] “How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh, how charming!” (Song of Solomon 1:15-16)

The entirety of the book of Song of Solomon is an expression of this desire we feel for perfected beauty and an explanation of where we can find it. The lovers gaze at each other with a bewildering fulfillment in one another’s complete and whole beauty.  They detail each specific, perfect part of one another that is beautiful, down to every last detail. This book is a metaphorical account of God coming together with His Church. The Church looks onto the perfect God, and is bewildered by His perfect beauty; God looks onto the Church and sees His perfect son, Jesus, and is overcome by the beauty so much that He loves us. He exclaims in joy when He sees us, saying,

How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from the hills of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone. Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate. Your neck is like the tower of David, built with courses of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense. You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:1-7)

We are immersed in a beauty that cannot be surpassed and our desire for beauty is completely satisfied in God’s beauty. We rejoice in it. We declare His beauty to Him. We long for this beauty, knowing it is the most beautiful. And in the midst of our fulfillment of beauty we know that it is limitless. We know that this isn’t a beauty that we keep to ourselves for the fear that it will be corrupted like some earthly beauty. No, there is no fear in this beauty. We don’t hide it as our secret place to escape humanity and destruction. We know better, we know that beauty in its purest form drives out all imperfection, acting as a furnace to refine all things less than perfect. Instead, we bask in the beauty and draw others toward it. In Song of Solomon the woman is confronted by her friends who are confused as to why she thinks her husband is so much more beautiful than the rest – how is she so fulfilled by his beauty? She responds,

“My beloved is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels. His cheeks are like beds of spice yielding perfume. His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh. His arms are rods of gold set with topaz. His body is like polished ivory decorated with lapis lazuli. His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars. His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.” (Song of Solomon 5:10-16)

She unashamedly and joyfully declares his beauty in every last detail. She acts as the Church ought to – in reverence and uncontainable joy; fulfilled in every way; and unabashedly devoted to the Lord of all things. She cannot help but tell her friends about the beauty she has found. She cannot contain the joy she finds in being completely fulfilled. Church, that is how we ought to act. Christ is that beauty. God is the beloved husband and we, the Church, are His bride, adorned in white, brought together by the red-stained linen of Christ. Let’s share our joy. Let’s be full and overflow. Let’s bask in the beauty and splendor of Christ. God Bless,Sam Note: This post was started in early June 2017 and finished in late August 2017.

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