Beauty or Grace

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (which I finally finished tonight, after over a year in progress!), Annie Dillard includes an unidentified quote about animals of offering:
“A ram that, before the priest slayed and chunked it, had been perfect and whole, not ‘Blind, or broken, or maimed, or having a wen, or scurvy, or scabbed…bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut.'”

It’s not unusual for me to pause and ponder while reading Annie Dillard. This statement prompted more than that though, it struck a deep impression.

God does not require me to offer a perfect animal. (Psalms 40:6, among others.)
It would be hard enough if he did.
God requires, desires, delights in obedience. (1 Samuel 15:22)
God does not require sacrifice, “But a body you have prepared for me.” (Hebrews 10:5)

That’s all good and sound. A relief, really. Until I begin to think about it.

God no longer wants a perfect lamb to represent my holiness.
God would far from accept an imperfect lamb though.

And if God does not want a lamb, I have only myself to offer.
And that quote from Annie Dillard…all the things the lamb of offering could not be, are all the things my heart is.
I am blind and bruised and broken.

I have nothing to give. I have nothing to trade in.
I have nothing to offer; nothing to stand on.

The solution, of course is easy.
It’s not left to us unclear or vague by any means. God goes so far to call His Son, the Christ, the LAMB of God. It’s made very clear what His purpose was, from the moment Jesus entered His ministry, from the moment John the Baptist introduced him: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

I love the book of Hebrews. I find myself returning to it time and again. The whole book of Hebrews is arguing this very thing! There are no more lambs; we can’t hide behind even the most perfect lamb. The lamb could never take away our sins.
And God never intended for that. He always had a better way. It took time to set up. His plan was perfect. And it climaxed with the birth, death and resurrection of not just His son, but the LAMB of God.

We needed to see our utter hopelessness. We needed to see that if we didn’t have the lambs to hide behind, to be a buffer between us and the law, we could never make it. If we had to be our own “lambs,” our own “offerings,” we wouldn’t make it in the slightest.

We could claim, “I have no scurvy!” but we are blind. “But I’m not broken!” We are scabbed. Even a scab – a healing wound – is still the filthiest flaw. Not fit for our King.
What could we ever offer that would be fit for a King?

This is the oldest and most ultimate truth. Conquered only by this truth: Grace.

And it that is the the most striking beauty.
Grace is beautiful to us. Touching and moving of our souls and spirits like none other.

I wonder though if in recognizing and reveling in the beauty of grace, we transpose the ideas a little more than we should.

In art we are drawn to the beautiful and to those things that touch and move us. In art we are drawn to expressions of grace.
Expressions of grace, though, necessitate an object or situation in need of grace.
So sometimes it becomes the object and situation in need of grace that represents the beautiful idea of grace to us – and in so doing, becomes “beautiful” itself.
So no longer is “grace” beautiful, but the object of grace.

This may seem like an argument of semantics… but I think there’s more to it than that.

Multiple times in the New Testament it is recorded that when Jesus looked at the people he felt, he was moved to, compassion.
Those passages of Scripture are deeply touching to me. I might call them, the idea, beautiful. And with that comes the idea, that if this situation is beautiful, if Jesus’ compassion was beautiful, than maybe Jesus didn’t just have compassion on these people, but it was a beautiful thing for Jesus to behold these people. The people were beautiful to Jesus.
I don’t think that’s altogether an illogical flow of thinking.

Neither is it altogether unreasonable considering our state – we ARE sinful, we ARE imperfect, ugly, fallen. So of course we would like the idea of being viewed in an emotionally positive way. Now, maybe “having compassion” offers some lowly implications. But maybe we can also infer that Jesus was saying the people (we ourselves) moved him. If we moved him, we touched him, then we must have some sort of value or beauty to him.
Note: this is flawed thinking – trying to find validation where none is.

When God looked at His world after creation, at man, at his creatures, the earth in all its splendor – he said it was good. But that was before one major event in history. The event that turned this “good” into, “there is none good.” (Romans 3/Psalm 14)

Although I don’t think that “good” here is synonymous with “beautiful”. I do think the idea of “beauty” is wrapped up with this idea of “good.”

The good returns when the sin can be absolved; when we can be an acceptable, a perfect, offering; when God, through the ultimate sacrifice of His son, imputed Christs righteousness on us.
Fancy lingo aside: “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21)

God does not look at us and see our good, He looks at us and sees Christ’s good and the good which Christ can (and will) work in us.
“Not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (2 Cor 3:9)

So in that case, it is – it has to be – ENTIRELY the grace that is beautiful. Not the object of grace.

Yet in this day, in our world, all too often we lose sight of the theme and become enthralled with the object. We like the idea of grace, sure. We are moved by it. But we become enamored with the object of it. We become enamored with the idea that we can be part of a beautiful picture. And we become deceived that it’s us, that we are the beautiful ones.

Sam and I have been putting thought into the idea of “Christian Art” – what is it? What does it mean? Can it and does it really exist?

One thing is for sure: Theology can and DOES determine a proper view of the arts.
It can and does establish standards for beauty (although what those are, I’m hardly able to say in entirety.)

The gospel is central to our lives. It has to be. If we claim it, we can’t exclude any part of our lives, of our thinking, from it.
I do exclude it from my life and thoughts, more often than not, it seems.

So here I am, in one small way being confronted in my soul by the gospel. And at the same time being confronted in my mind.
Am I enthralled, truly, with grace, with the gospel? Or do I just like what it does to me?
Do I find the utmost beauty of life, art, film, even music in the pervasive themes of grace, or in the ideas that you, me, all of us can take on a shard of that beauty simply by being the objects of it?

Honestly I don’t think I have ever given thought to this before.
I don’t know if I entirely like this confrontation, as enlightening as it is.
It means I have to rethink my definition of art and beauty. It means I have to think every time I view it. I have to know what it is I am calling beautiful – even if that means coming face to face with a deeply-rooted self-deception that I and my kind have in us some inkling of beauty or worth.

We don’t. That’s why we are given compassion. That’s why we are given grace.
Let’s not let the credit fall in wrong places here.

We would hardly choose the scurvied lamb to display at the fair, to paint in our Kinkade.
We wouldn’t pick the dented ram’s horn to play in our concert.

Why should we expect God to do so? – And that’s not a question to answer lightly.


1 Comment

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One response to “Beauty or Grace

  1. iseeyoupaintedyoursoul

    thank you for this.

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