Christianity is true, and it may even be good, but rarely is it known as beautiful.
In the classical philosophical and theological tradition, Christianity was to express and reflect “the good, the true, and the beautiful.” Goodness, truth, and beauty all held a place in the vision of the Christian life.
In our day, Christians are mostly known for what we’re against. Rarely (if ever) are we a people known for what we are for. We are a people quick to assert what is true and right, pointing out what is wrong with Game of Thrones or 50 Shades of Gray, but the way we present our views is not always done in ways that are appealing or compelling. Don’t do it is not a compelling enough vision for those who are swept up into different versions of the good life.
If Christianity is going to survive in a post-Christian environment, then Christianity should not only be asserted as true, or even good for the world, but it should be beautiful in itself. It is a beautiful thing to be a Christian because the one who made beauty has made all things that are beautiful.
With that said, though, Christianity is beautiful in all the ways we wouldn’t expect. Instead of a picturesque image of life in a fancy hotel, with a generous donation being gifted to some charity organization, we’re confronted with a Jewish man who was hung bare naked on a cross, bleeding out, suffering and dying for the forgiveness of sins. God sent his beloved Son to die not so that he could love us, but because he loved us.
Christianity is beautiful when it is most hideous. In the gospel, our conception of beauty has been redefined. It is not a joyful sight to behold, but that dreadful event of Jesus on a cross has produced the most joyful sound ever heard for those who follow the way of the cross.
Because of the cross, everything that we once were has been changed. And all of the ugly things we’ve done have been turned into beauty. Our filthy, sin-stained rags have been swapped out with Christ’s clean, white, spotless robes. We were once orphans going about without food or water, but now—through the work of Jesus—we are called sons and daughters and are given food, water, shelter, clothing, and lodging in the Father’s estate. We’re not just invited, but are warmly welcomed into his living room of grace.
It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s also real and grisly, too. Much like the son of Man’s life on this earth, Christianity is beautiful when it defies our conceptions of beauty and strikes us as “ugly,” or as the Apostle Paul puts it, “weak” (1 Cor 1:27).
In the Gospels, we’re told that some of the highest and brightest moments of Jesus’s life were spent in the company of disreputable people. He loved on the poor, the diseased, and spent time fellowshipping with prostitutes. His critics even maligned him as a “glutton” and “drunkard.” To our ears, he spent time with lowly and unworthy people. He hung out with the wrong crowds. And yet, weakness is the way. If we are to be where Jesus is, we need to find ourselves hanging out with the kind of people Jesus spends time with. What people view as despicable is pretty to the Lord.
Christianity, for Jesus and for Paul, is beautiful when we consider not what men look at but what God looks at. As God reminded Samuel (and the rest of us), “the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
Christianity is most beautiful not when it looks most pleasing to the eye but when it is beautiful in word and deed. We can mistake “beauty” for a life that looks good on Pinterest or lives up to flashy and popular colors or trending giveaways. Of course, this is a kind of beauty that only represents people who all look the same—they’re fashionable, they’re visually appealing, and they have high tastes. Christians in the West particularly struggle with identifying the Christian life with successful living. Our country’s largest megachurches have mega budgets and rock celebrities up front and in the crowds of people who attend services. But is that really beautiful, as God sees it? Is that picture of glory marked by the crucified Christ hanging on a cross?
True beauty has been redefined by the cross.
At the cross, ugly is now beautiful, weakness is now strength, folly is now wisdom, and defeat is now victory.
Can you see the beauty of the Lord?