When the setting sun burns clouds into wisps of gold and red, and when those colors shimmer toward you across the blue-dark water, what do you feel?
When snow has fallen, and you step into the sunshine where your breath makes mist, and glistening mountain peaks stretch before you–extending to the north and south as far as you can see, what happens inside you?
When your friend’s newborn son gazes at you with his soul in his eyes and his fingers unfurl revealing a fingernail–delicate as filo–peeling at the end, what do you feel?
You Could Touch It but Your Heart would Break
Simone Weil says two things pierce the human soul–affliction and beauty.
Rich Mullins agrees. He sings that sometimes the sky seems to stoop so close “you could touch it but your heart would break.”
Beauty penetrates us and makes us ache. We want to keep it, protect it, believe it, come back next year.
C.S. Lewis says we want more than that: “We do not want to merely see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly 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,” The Weight of Glory.
Beauty awakens in us a longing for God.
The Piercing of Beauty
I have a picture by the Hubble Space Telescope. Celestial bodies of every color swirl in patterns of intricate, seemingly infinite beauty.
But why does it look beautiful to me?
Why does the universe not appear to you and me like the inside of a radio? Why does a sunset not move us like the fading of a light bulb? Why is a newborn exquisitely lovely instead of a little repulsive, like our intestines?
The psalmist says God’s creation has a voice that “goes out through all the earth,” declaring “the glory of God,” (Psalm 19: 4, 1). Sun, moon, tides, flowers, and snowflakes all speak, saying every day, every season, every cycle, “God is GOOD. God is BEAUTIFUL. God is GLORIOUS. God is POWERFUL. God is PRESENT. God is LOVE.”
God made the beauty to pierce us and us to be pierced by it: He designed our hearts to hear through beauty the Voice of the One we were created to love.
The Piercing of Affliction
But how is it we become numb to this joy? Deaf to this voice?
Because we are also capable of being pierced by affliction. And God compares affliction with being “storm-tossed,” (Isaiah 54:11).
So when affliction assaults us, storm clouds of pain, abandonment, shame, chaos, and anger swirl around us. Inside the clouds, very little light penetrates. And if God is broadcasting love, our antennas are smothered.
Numb with pain, we glance at the sunset and think it lies to us. There is no goodness out there beyond; there is only cold indifference behind that glory–impersonal molecules dancing like smoke and mirrors.
His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
The psalmist who penned Psalm 136 speaks to this. He repeats twenty-six times in twice as many lines, “His steadfast love endures forever.”
He says God made the heavens, “for his steadfast love endures forever,”
. . . and He spread out the earth and waters, “for his steadfast love endures forever,”
. . . and He made the great lights–the sun and the moon–“for his steadfast love endures forever,”
. . . and he remembers us in our low estate, “for his steadfast love endures forever.”
The psalmist repeats and repeats, “his steadfast love endures forever.”
He knows we are prone to miss it.
So when I see the blaze of a sunset, the peaks of the Rockies, the shimmer of the sea, or the delicacy of the newborn’s fingertips, I must pause and open wide the ears of my heart to hear the beauty whisper-shouting over the storms of affliction: His steadfast love endures forever.
The very fact that I am here, with eyes to take in glory, with a heart that leaps in recognition of beauty, means He loves me still.
He loves me still.
Thoughts for Grace
How are you afflicted at this moment? Which part of your soul most needs to hear you are steadfastly and eternally loved?
Does one of these words fit your sense of affliction:
Take a moment to tell God about your struggle or pain.
He says he is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” Psalm 34:18. He is close to you.
Now close your eyes and take a deep breath. What is the most beautiful thing you can remember seeing with your eyes? Or do you see something beautiful in your imagination?
Quiet yourself there. Breathe in the beauty. Breathe out your affliction. What do you see? Smell? Feel?
Take a moment to tell God what you appreciate about what you see. Express your gratitude to Him. This is important; gratitude makes us able to hear Him.
Now try to hear Him saying to you through the beauty you see, “I love you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) again and again.
If fear, shame, guilt, anxiety, or anger get in the way, try to give these storm clouds to God.
Let the beauty tell you He loves you still. His steadfast love endures forever.