What I Saw – November 6, 2019

I almost didn’t go for an evening walk this Wednesday night.  I’ve been doing nightly walks in the country on the outskirts of Columbus all autumn.  The fact that it has been an unusually warm and bright autumn has been encouraging that.  With the change of the temperature on Halloween, though, I wasn’t sure I could keep up the habit.  Add to that the fact that I forgot my jacket when I left for church Wednesday, and you can understand why I almost went home instead of to the trails that afternoon.

However, as I drove to the fateful intersection where I would have to choose one or the other, I for some reason choose “park”.  I turned instead of going straight and 15 minutes later was at the same remote country park my dad took me to when I was a kid.  I found a trail north of that park, parked my car, and started walking.

As I walked, I listened to some Upper Room songs.

I was hoping to receive a word from God from these songs.  Unfortunately I did not.  I was encouraged by them; they are wonderful songs.  But I didn’t receive the word I thought I would.

Now I’ve learned not to be completely disappointed when I don’t receive a word from God, but as I headed for the car I was nonetheless still somewhat disappointed.  And then, just before I got in the car to drive off, I saw this:

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This is a property across the street from the trail, and it took my breath away.  I saw a lot of beauty on that walk that day, a lot of natural, wild beauty.  But this was a cultivated beauty.  As you can see, the grass is manicured, the trees were clearly planted in an organized fashion, and the entire place is surrounded by fence.  So it was a cultivated beauty.  It was a beauty man had touched.  And yet to my eye it was still as beautiful as the natural beauty I had been admiring for the past hour.  As beautiful if not more beautiful.

And that got me thinking.  It got me thinking about beauty in general and about my purpose in beauty in particular.  You see, I’ve always understood that nature is beautiful because God made it so.  I suppose the definitive verse on this idea is Psalm 19:1.

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And I have many times heard people describe the beauty of God’s handiwork in untouched, wild, natural places.  For example, I once stood next to a guy at a mountain lookout in West Virginia.  As we stood there, this guy admired the wooded mountains and valleys before us and then asked, “How can people say there is no God?”

From encounters and statements like these, I’ve always assumed that the greatest beauty in God’s economy was His beauty, His natural, untouched-by-man beauty.  But as I looked at this property by the trail, I started to question that assumption.  I started to wonder if the beauty that results from the collaborations of God and man might not be even more beautiful.

A collaboration was indeed what I was seeing on this property; a human artist arranged that property but they did so with God’s materials; the organization and manicuring were man’s contribution, but the light and color and texture came from the Lord.  That’s what this beauty was.

And I began to wonder not only if such collaborations are more beautiful than God’s solo work, but I also began to wonder if these collaborations are not what God always intended.  Again, I think there has been an assumption to my previous thinking, an assumption I no doubt received from my elders: the assumption that God’s solo work is the best of all work.  But as I looked at this property, I began questioning that assumption as well.

And I believe that I began questioning it on good grounds.  Scripture is clear that God is quite adept at doing things on His own.  But it is also clear that God wants to do things with others.  This is apparently why He created the angels (I don’t know much about angels and have no concern for angelology, but it seems that He created these angels to do certain things for Him or in His stead; that is, He created them to assert His will over the world).  This is also apparently at least part of why He created us.  Before He created us, He said:

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That is, He said His intention was that we would rule the world.  Certainly we would not be usurping His authority in that ruling, so He must have meant that we were ruling with Him.  We see a similar idea in Psalm 8:

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And we see it in 2 Timothy 2:

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The fact of the matter is that we humans were made to be rulers, co-rulers with God, under-rulers beneath God.  The fact of the matter is that there is something wonderful about our God that makes Him want to share rule, power, authority, and dominion even with those who, as Psalm 8 says, really aren’t worthy of it.

That being the case, it stands to reason that untouched beauty/solo work isn’t necessarily the best.  It stands to reason that manicured beauty/collaborations might be equal if not better.  And I know that doesn’t apply across the board; I know everything man does is not beautiful; I could do without the phone poles and lines in the above picture.  But I think it does apply in some limited way (everything that involves fallen man will by necessity be limited and have exceptions, but that doesn’t eliminate the general idea).  I think God has called me and all His other children to collaborate with Him, to create beauty with Him.  I think the beauty our collaborations can generate is every bit as worthy as the beauty His solo works have generated.  I think creating beauty with Him is our purpose, and I further think that is a great purpose and a great privilege.

And that’s what I saw on November 6, 2019.

The Beauty of the Lord

My daily prayers take me through various sources.  Ransomed Heart’s Daily Prayer is one of them.  The Celtic Daily Office is another.  I do the Celtic Daily Office’s morning prayer about once a week, and I do it’s midday prayer more often (it is the only midday prayer I know).  One thing I just noticed about these two prayers from this one office is that they both mention “the beauty of the Lord”.  The morning prayer references Psalm 24:7 (“One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”) and the midday prayer references Psalm 90:17 (“And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”).

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And there were a couple of things about this that struck me recently.  One is that the Lord is beautiful.  Honestly, that’s not the first term I would use to describe the Lord.  I would use “existing”; He just is.  Or might; He’s all-powerful.  I might go to intelligent/wise or even good.  Those are the ways I typically think of the Lord and the order in which I typically think of them.  He’s the Lord, the Creator, the Designer, the Author, the Great Mathematician, the Engineer, the First Cause, etc.  But these verses are saying something more than that.  They are saying He is beautiful: lovely, desirable.   And they are not the only ones.  The church which uses our building in the evenings often sings this song which likewise calls God beautiful.

The second thing which struck me here is that the psalmists wanted this beauty.  They wanted this beauty to be among them, to have it present to them so they could enjoy it.  Again, I don’t think that’s what most people want from God.  They want God’s power to accomplish whatever they want accomplished.  They want God’s favor to give them whatever they want ( and yes, some translations have beauty as favor in Psalm 90:17).  They want God’s benefits, or God’s forgiveness, or God’s righteousness, or God’s reward.  Some want God’s apathy; they just want God to leave them alone and keep His distance.  These psalmists, though, wanted His beauty.   They wanted access to His beauty.  They wanted (I’m assuming, reading into their words what I think is meant to be read into their word) to feel His beauty and to be fueled by His beauty.

This is changing how I see God and what I want from God.  I see Him now as beautiful.  I think I always did see Him that way to some degree, but I really see Him that way now.  I see Him not only as beautiful but as the greatest of all beautiful things, as more beautiful than the beauties I have lusted over and longed for in the past, a real, honest, lasting beauty that is beyond lust and use.  And I find myself wanting that beauty, wanting it more than anything I’ve ever wanted before.  Wanting it and, through the practice of prayer, receiving it.

I believe God wants me changed in this way, and through these prayers I am changing that way.  Through these prayers I am seeing and desiring the beauty of the Lord.