What If Beauty Doesn’t Last Forever?

by Allyson Howell (Todd) October 20, 2021

There was a tree in the front yard of our first house in Texas. It was, at least in my memory, a very tall tree with branches I could climb. At my eye level, the trunk had a hole big enough to be home to fairies and magical creatures. I would pull the bark off the tree and any pieces of bark that I liked, I would put in the hole. Other small objects were hidden in this hole, and I was certain no one knew about it – it was my version of a secret wardrobe to Narnia. 

Thirteen years after we moved out of this house, I was back in my old neighborhood and drove by this house to see if the tree was still there. It was, but it was smaller than I remember and less magnificent. 

The tree in our front yard was the first non-human part of creation I remember loving. Beautiful things, whether they be inanimate or human, flood my early childhood memory. When I got my first camera (it was disposable, but still thrilling to me), my first few pictures were of flowers. As a kid, if I was given a blank canvas to draw, the picture would always be of a tree, bike, sun, birds, and flowers. My interest and love for Creation preceded my love for Christ. 

Now, almost 20 years after this tree became part of my memory, I see that even as a child, dead in her sins and longing for a Savior she would one day find, God was already wooing me with His beauty. 

“For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made” (Romans 1:20).

All beautiful things find their origin at the end of God’s fingertips.

He is ultimate beauty and no part of him grows wrinkles through the years. But how do I reconcile when beautiful things become hurtful and painful things? Where is God in that? 

Beauty and tragedy, on whatever scale, seem to be far too familiar with one another. From a tiny flower that is flattened by the heel of a shoe, to a bird that falls to his grave because the windows are too clean, to human tribes that slaughter one another over varied beliefs. 

Earthly beauty doesn’t last forever, though God will restore the Earth to perfect once again. For now, the dirt groans. 

I found a grasshopper after we moved from the house with the cherished tree, to a house in Georgia with no front-yard tree. Following one of my first explorations of this new home, I discovered a grasshopper that became my friend. Hoppy wouldn’t hop away, he would stay near me on the concrete porch and seemed to enjoy the little bug home I made for him, with grass and everything. In the warm sun, I watched as his black beady eyes and captivating form moved about the world we made together. One day, my sister rode her tricycle across our front porch. With no warning, she turned the front tire as she sped along and killed Hoppy. I wept. 

I wept for the grasshopper, yes. But what I didn’t know at the time was my own deep-rooted fears and insecurities that this tragedy illumined. Hoppy was a symbol of my loneliness in this new town. My first friend was taken from me with unwarranted violence. I was distraught. I didn’t know how to reconcile this loss.

In an instant, the objects where we behold the most beauty become a tender bruise on our soft bodies. We’re the most woundable creatures, and some of the deepest wounds come from one another. 

Aren’t the most beautiful relationships able to be the most hurtful? In an instant, the person you find the most beautiful can ask a question that cuts right to your bone to form a gaping wound. Our tongues are master beauty-slayers. We condemn. We manipulate. We lie. We let the rudder of our bodies steer the whole course of a relationship into the blackest parts of the sea. 

Right before I left my home in Georgia, I heard words that still reign in my memory as if they were spoken to me only seconds ago. My preparations to move by myself to the mysterious land of Missouri for a program where I would spend a semester overseas were overwhelming. Those who love me affirmed my call to go overseas. One of those who love me used words as a weapon when I wasn’t putting up a fight. My summer was consumed with paperwork for school, buying clothing for a winter where it actually snowed, and fundraising for the mission trip. One day, all this felt like too much to handle. The one with the word-weapons let their tongue be their god.

The words hurt me. The person behind them hurt me more. Those words were hard to shake. The words left a big bruise, and I kept bumping into furniture and feeling pain all over again. 

It’s hard to trust beautiful things with tragedy lurking around the corner. What if it dies? What if it leaves? What if it’s not what I thought it was?

We could live paralyzed lives with questions like those, yet the questions are valid. What happens when it does die? What happens when it does leave? What if it isn’t what you thought it was? 

Where do we look, then? We could look at trees, see their height, and feel comfort under their strong branches. We could look at a grasshopper, see his faithfulness, and feel seen even by a tiny creature. We could look to a person, see the trust built up over many years, and feel secure in our relationship. Is it worth the risk to look to any of these?

No, we cannot risk it. We cannot turn to lesser things for comfort, companionship, or security. The tree will always be too small, the grasshopper will always die, and the person will always fail. This calls for cynicism. Let us now build up a great wall around our personal kingdom, and let us use nails to hang the “No Trespassing” signs on all four walls, so that none are without excuse if they attempt a breach. 

Or we could look somewhere better. We could look at God. We could get out of our one square foot of kingdom and look up. Is it worth the risk to look to Him?

Yes. In fact, there is no risk. God’s beauty can never hurt us. God’s beauty is perfect, never too small, never able to die, never betrays our trust. 

How could we possibly deserve this kind of perfect beauty? 

Creator God who formed mountains by opening his lips stepped into the earth with a salvation plan in mind. From a whimpering baby, helpless yet sustaining the world, to a rejected man, misunderstood and hated by the very world he sustains, he lived for us. And then on two pieces of wood two thousand years ago, the skin of Jesus was broken and buried so God’s perfect beauty could be ours. When the same breath used to form the earth filled Jesus’ lungs again, the tragedy-laden creation had its savior. 

All the beautiful-yet-broken things of the earth will become more glorious, bright, and alive when the Resurrected King claims the earth for himself once and for all.

Editor’s Note: This originally written for a writing mentorship program and is being reused here.