A decade ago, I stepped off a canal boat and into an unassuming brick building in Amsterdam. Worn floorboards creaked as I passed through a door previously concealed by a large bookcase and made my way up steep, narrow stairs. Standing in a small room of the Secret Annex where Anne Frank and other Jews hid from Nazi persecution, I was captivated by a line in the small diary on display:
“I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, beauty is one of the last things on people’s minds. But no matter who you are or what impact this pandemic has on your world, I believe there is a glimmer of truth worth listening to in the words above. In a world of various pains, fleeting pleasures, and endless vanities, the human heart longs for lasting beauty. I know mine does.
The Psalms have brought me immense comfort and clarity over the past six weeks. With so many other joys stripped away—meals with others, places of respite, ability to just go—the Lord has been kind to hone my focus on His lasting promises and character. My heart better understands the words of King David in Psalm 27:4:
“One thing I have asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple."
Treasuring beauty is a worthy endeavor for those who belong to the One who is Most Beautiful. We are designed to gaze at the majesty of our King; it is not an inconsequential act. Beholding the beauty of the Lord has tangible, transformational effects on the soul:
We are able to see (and fight) sin.
To acknowledge the existence of beauty is to acknowledge there are things that aren’t beautiful. So: How do we know what is beautiful and what isn’t?
Scripture defines beauty. In them, God declares who He is and shows us who we are. The Lord gave us consciences, thoughts, and emotions, but due to humanity’s disobedience to God shown in Genesis 3, these are tainted by sin. Romans 3:11 tells us, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
Fortunately, God reveals Himself through General Revelation ("what God has revealed generally in creation about himself, his attributes, and his moral law”) and Special Revelation (“what God has revealed specifically in words about himself, his attributes, the gospel, the way of salvation, and much more in the Bible”). God’s magnificence is displayed in both, but without God’s mercy, it is impossible for us to cherish Him as we ought.
Once God “who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” we became children of God (2 Cor. 4:6). Relationship with the Savior grants us new sight; not only allowing us to see true beauty, but also the desire for our sin to be swallowed up by righteousness.
We are able to treasure grace.
Why would the Lord save such rebellious creatures with such ugly hearts? He does so for His glory, and “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). To know the grace of God is to treasure the person of God, and the person of God is glorious. To see Him is to see His splendor! To see His glory is to be transformed:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Sometimes I forget how essential this simple act of beholding is to my sanctification. My eyes are prone to wander to lesser things and my heart strays when difficulties arise. How sweet it is that God knows these tendencies of my flesh and provides the solution: to look to Jesus. To get caught up in the glory of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and return. To praise the spotless Lamb whose blood was poured out on my behalf.
When anxiety steals my breath away or loneliness lures my mind into a downward spiral, the command of Philippians 4:8 to dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,” and “whatever is commendable” often pulls me from my self-made mire of misery. Heeding God’s instruction causes me to treasure my life in Him and have more gratitude for the various graces He gives.
We are able to suffer well.
The myriad of ways people respond to the sad realities of living in a fallen world come to the surface in light of our current global situation. Some are tempted to go into survival mode, justifying coldness or selfishness. Some succumb to their emotions, drowning in hopelessness and melancholy. Some just go numb.
Followers of Christ are not impervious to these struggles, but the Holy Spirit helps us in our personal suffering and guides us to walk alongside others through theirs. Does this mean Christians should not weep or cry out? Certainly not! Psalms of lament are plentiful. But we have a promise that “as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:5).
Christ not only saves us from eternal suffering; he provides a pure, lovely, righteous example to emulate now. Christ suffered and cared for the suffering. We cannot be afraid to do the same, taking seriously our task to “in humility, count others more significant” than ourselves. Only as we look to Jesus will we be able to properly look to the interests of others.
We are able to perpetuate beauty.
Spending time at the feet of Christ prepares our own feet to bring good news. After the woman at the well in John 4 speaks with Jesus—after she sees her own sin and recognizes Jesus as the Messiah—she immediately goes to her town to share that the Savior has come.
Though stay-at-home orders may prevent us from this type of evangelism, we should still aim to use our God-given creativity to fulfill the Great Commission. In his book “Adorning the Dark,” songwriter Andrew Peterson gives this encouragement:
“Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor, too, by making worlds and works of beauty that blanket the earth like flowers… And until the Kingdom comes in its fullness, bend your will to the joyful, tearful telling of its coming.”
Loving others well means proclaiming God’s greatness and sharing the beauty of the gospel with them in word and deed. Whether it is through Zoom, text messages, letters, phone calls, or something more creative like sharing a song or poem you write, works of beauty that bring encouragement and comfort in Christ are still possible.
As God, “comforts us in all our affliction,” we are able to “comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we see the afflictions of others and have compassion.
Indifference to the refugee, the unborn, the widow, the prisoner, the forgotten, the sick, and the hurting is replaced with genuine, gospel-driven love and desire to share everlasting hope with them. May the Church be bold enough to continue to pour forth this light even when surrounded by darkness.
We are able to endure with hope.
These truly are dark times. Though having to cancel events, cancel services, and stay home has been difficult, the loss this virus has caused is far greater than these inconveniences. People have lost church members, pastors, family members, and friends. But even amidst such profound pain and loss, there is still hope.
There is a promise that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Until then, I will pray for church families to be reunited, for trembling hands to be held, and for tears of joy to fall as long-awaited arms wrap around the lonely. And I will trust God to use the ache in my chest for beauty and goodness to draw me closer to “the King who paints beauty with time.”