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Beautiful

When I was young, I would beg my dad to pull over whenever we’d drive by a beautiful sunset. I didn’t know why, I just knew it was something too good to miss. I had to see it, had to take it in.

As a teenager, I became captivated by pornography. I didn’t know why, I just knew the images were intoxicating, and I wanted to see more.

As human beings, we long for beauty. To do so is in our DNA.

But there’s a difference between what I experienced gazing at the changing colors of the setting sun and what I experienced watching porn. Porn does something to beauty. It doesn’t destroy it altogether, but if we’re not looking closely, we miss that it twists it, darkens it somehow.

Porn guts beauty of something essential, then holds it up for us to behold.

Imagine with me for a moment the beauty of creation that captures you:

Maybe it’s the first green of a crocus reaching up through the snow or  the shade of a giant oak stretching across the grass, the deep roll of thunder from one end of the sky to the other or the soundlessness of the falling snow, the scent of fresh baked bread or the sudden spritz of aroma when an orange is peeled open, the softness of a baby’s cheek or the strength of a father’s embrace.

When we allow ourselves to behold beauty, it draws us, moves us, meets us. But have you noticed it also remains slightly aloof? Beauty both fills our longing and incites longing in us. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

“We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

C.S. Lewis

Beauty draws us in, but how do we enter in? How can we become one with it? Beauty insists on remaining free, fleeting, untamed. It doesn’t allow us to possess it. Beauty gives abundantly, but it cannot be controlled or contained.

It disappoints because beauty never intends to lure us to itself as an end.

Beauty disappoints us in order to point our gaze to a higher place.

Pornography, in contrast aims to keep you for itself, to deplete your will until you can no longer say no to it, and to make you love it most of all. It tries to intoxicate you not with love but with lust, and so despite what it suggests, porn hates beauty. It guts beauty of its true aim and holds up only a husk, shouting for your attention and insisting it can be yours for the taking, to control, to possess…or to destroy as you will.

Enter Jesus, who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2 ESV). Enter Jesus, who in torture and death would be marred more than any man, even beyond recognition (Is. 52:14). And yet, Jesus, when lifted up, draws all people to Himself (John 12:32). Jesus came not to snuff out beauty, but to restore it.

“Look at the birds of the air!” “Look at the flowers of the field!” They tell us something about God. So does the rain shower, the dew, the moose, the hummingbird.

So does he. So does she. So do you. Look!

Beauty, as God intended, draws us even as it points us onward. It calls attention to itself, sometimes powerfully so, but not for its own sake. If it possesses you, it is so your will would flow with its own until it reaches its Source. And if it is possessed by you, it is only as a willing servant on loan to lead you to its Master.

And I think in its truest form, beauty is humble. You and I have always been free to drive right on by the sunset.

My dad, he stopped the car. He drank in grand sky with me. Together we shouted, “Whoa!” and “Wow!” unbidden. Together we sat silently in wonder.

Neither of us knew it, but those moments on the side of the road staring out the windshield were part of what awakened my heart to God, and part of what led me away from porn to Beauty Himself.

That’s what beauty aims to do.

Question: I’ve listed several things in this post that I find beautiful. What about you? What do you find beautiful? Can you see how they are pointing you to God? 

Looking for beauty,
Josh

10 thoughts on “Beautiful”

  1. Your list was perfect Josh. Recently I was looking at a large tree on the edge of rippling water in sunlight. I changed my focus from the tree, to it’s reflection in the water and was floored by an image of God…. A majestic tree bathed in thousands and thousands of glints of dancing light. I imagined God, majestic, surrounded by a million souls who found their way home.

  2. Great reflection. The beauty of nature has been such a gift to me in my journey. You captured it’s meaning so poignantly. I also think it just brings so much peace to the body and soul. Sunsets are one of my favorite moments of beauty – especially when they are over water with a reflection!

  3. Great question Josh! I really enjoy God’s creation especially the animals. Where I live in NJ whether driver or walking deer seem to be everywhere.From the smallest dawn’s to the adults. This just tells me just how great our God is. Awesome!

  4. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    What about beauty which we create? As a musician by vocation, I find that the creation of beauty is much different than observing beauty. Whenever I see or hear something beautiful, there is a longing attached and perhaps that pointing to the deeper meaning/creator. Whenever I create beauty, however, I must admit that it does satisfy in a way which feels that it has existed to serve that exact purpose of my creating it. If anything, I feel a release of longing when I create beauty, not a sense of longing. Hearing Rubinstein craft a Chopin Nocturne fills me with awe and mystery/longing — playing it myself fille me with satisfaction and fulfillment.

    1. I love this reflection, Jon. I think you are tapping into some of the connections between beauty and self-giving. I’ll be musing on your thoughts. Thank you!

  5. I think this is my favorite of all the essays you’ve written. The beauty of this world draws us to the Lord, shouts to us that he is a God of love, a God of giving, a God of rapture. Thank you for all of the images. I would only add at this time of year that this is my favorite season and the colors simply take my breath away. Thank you so much for reminding us of the true nature of beauty.

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