As I drove home from an errand last week, I listened to the song “Crags and Clay” by Gungor. I heard that lyric, the chorus, sung over and over, and fresh from hearing the news, replete with violence and war, I thought, “How? How can God find this beautiful?”
So much ugliness. We subdue the earth, digging up crags and clay, flattening it with concrete, long gashes of highways crisscrossing its skin. Planes crash to earth, bombs rain down, children go missing, the powerless are enslaved and abused. And then there’s the everyday nastiness of cutting remarks, obscene gestures, judgemental stares, more subtle put-downs and exclusions of those “not like us”—and so many are not like us, whichever “us” we belong to. In these days of violence and suffering, of pettiness and apathy, how can beauty be found? How can the one who made it all do anything but weep?
I’m sure the Creator does weep with us, the hurt and brokenhearted, the victims and the survivors, the martyrs and the sinners. The One who made our hearts feels more deeply than we do. He knows the grief and the pain, the ugliness and the terror, the seeping wounds of the spirit that never fully heal. He knows.
When we think of beauty, we think of great works of art, or towering mountains, or sunrise over the sea. And that beauty is wide and deep and obvious to all who behold it—and, perhaps, somewhat rare.
But the One who created us also sees the hidden beauty—the flower in the jungle, the creatures at the bottom of the sea, the stalactites in a cave yet-undiscovered by humans. Beauty for the sake of beauty, in every corner of nature. And among us, the broken, are the everyday kindnesses, the small acts of love, and compassion in the midst of tragedy—a parent who sacrifices sleep to care for a sick child, the driver who stops to let a pedestrian cross, strangers who tenderly place blankets over the bodies of the dead, a prisoner who prays for another, a volunteer giving a grocery bag of food to someone who needs it. So many acts of love, jumbled in with the ugliness, for the same person who volunteers at the food pantry may snap at a waitress at lunch on the way home. The praying prisoner may have committed terrible crimes. The loving parent loses her temper. We are, all of us, tangled strands of light and darkness, and every day, every moment, we choose which strand to follow.
The Lord your God is with you.
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zeph.3:17)
The One who knows the darkness of our hearts also knows it when we take a single faltering step toward the light, and greets that step with joy. The dandelion pushes its way up through a crack in the sidewalk, and the Creator of life rejoices at its perseverance. Life breaks out, no matter what ugliness surrounds it.
Sometimes the ugliness is so pervasive, the evil so deep, that we cannot see. But God sees. Yes, he sees the evil, too, more clearly and painfully than we can. But he also sees the beauty. He takes delight in you when you can’t see the way forward, but try to do the next right thing anyway. He knows when you squelch that impulse to yell at your kids, even if no one else does. He knows when you pray for strangers in Israel, in Gaza, in Ukraine, in Iraq, and sees the beauty of a heart that is soft enough to be broken by the pain of people you’ve never met.
As a dandelion reaches up through the cracks in the pavement, as trees grow toward the sky, as birds chirp in the darkness before dawn, so we reach toward the light, despite the despair and ugliness around us and in us. And the One who made it all finds it—finds us—beautiful.