When a local Christian, whom I know, smashed a pie into the face of Qantas CEO and prominent gay advocate Alan Joyce, Satan succeeded once again in portraying Christianity as ugly, prejudiced and hateful.
The Lord however is never surprised and always has a strategy to counter the work of the devil; “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John chapter 4 verse 4).
I believe the divine plan may be summarised in the words of the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky, “Beauty will save the world.” Evangelical Christians have commonly been scared away from such a theme. Influenced by culture we relegate beauty to the domain of feminine, to verses like 1 Peter chapter 3 verse 4, “(wives) let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which in God’s sight is very precious.”
Secondly, we are very wary of speaking of God as beautiful. Surely however if the inner life of a person in the image of God (Genesis chapter 1 verse 26) can be attractive to the Creator it is because he is himself beautiful.
A Beautiful God
Since the “heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 8 verse 1) it seems obvious that the beauty of creation reflects the beauty of its Maker. This is the Lord who “made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verse 11). Even the now fallen angel was once an object of great beauty (Ezekiel chapter 28 verse 17).
The psalmist unhesitatingly speaks of the “beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96 verse 9) and the prophet can speak of seeing the “king in his beauty” (Isaiah chapter 33 verse 17); surely a reflection of the true King, Christ. God commanded that the dazzling vestments of the high priest be made “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus chapter 28 verse 2), yet another image of our great High Priest, Jesus (Hebrews chapter 4 verse 14).
If God is beautiful then in his humanity Jesus is the complete image of divine beauty (Hebrews chapter 1 verse 3).
A Beautiful Obedience
Whilst the beauty of Christ is manifest in his teaching and miracles it is supremely present in his death for others. Moved by infinite love for his Father and lost people the death of Jesus is an act of untellable beauty.
Paul calls it “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians chapter 5 verse 2). In particular the words Jesus spoke from the cross are superlatively beautiful. The prayer, ““Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”” (Luke chapter 23 verse 34).
It flows from a gentle and quiet spirit that refuses to be bitter or retaliate. As such it is extraordinarily “precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter chapter 3 verse 4). Looking at divine beauty through the lens of the cross theologian Karl Barth rightly says, “God’s beauty embraces death as well as life, fear as well as joy, what we might call the ugly as well as what we might call the beautiful.” (Barth) The revelation of beauty always inspires us to move towards the beautiful.
As Paul says, the loveliness of Jesus “leaves us no choice” but to aspire to be beautiful like our Lord (2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 14). But imaging the cross cannot be a feel good experience; it must be deeply practical.
The command, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32) is to be embraced across the whole of life. This is an urgent missional imperative.
Since your average Australian no longer thanks God for the beauty of our skies, seas and sand, and certainly is not moved by soaring Church structures and splendid liturgies, the Lord must confront the lost with his glory in another way.
There could be nothing more beautiful in an age of increasing prejudice against Christianity than tenderhearted forgiveness towards the intolerant. This is the surpassing beauty of the cross that a lost world desperately needs today. “Beauty will save the world.” (Dostoyevsky). No more pies please!
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 6 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
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