November 14, 1998
Where is the God of Beauty?
1998 by Jefferis Kent Peterson, I
Sometimes we Christians are a boring lot. With intense and focused zeal we pound the drum, driving home the point of our latest cause with rhythmic fury. Whether that issue is politics or doctrine, we sometimes become, to all appearances, one dimensional creatures lacking depth both of thought and heart. Rather than the message of Jesus’ love for all humanity, we carry with us the accusing finger of veiled anger.
That is not to say that the issues that face our culture are not life and death issues – they are. Injustice and the death of the innocent are the very real consequences of our selfishness, and a call to repentance needs to be heard in the land. But who will heed the call if the remedy is worse than the disease? I believe it was Rainer Rilke who said “The words of an unreformed reformer are seldom heeded.” Why indeed should the world heed the message of God’s love from those who have none to give?
St. Paul was a man who, in the fire of his conversion, saw the Risen Christ. He was by nature a zealous man. He had such hostility to his fellow Jews, who believed in Jesus as Messiah, that he traveled from town to town seeking to put the heretics to death. He was on his way to Damascus to further his cause when he was struck down by a blinding vision of Jesus [Acts 9]. After repenting of his former behavior, Paul began to preach the very Messiah Jesus he had formerly rejected. It says he was very successful in arguing and debating for the cause of Christ. He kept winning the arguments and so infuriated his opponents that they kept trying to kill him. Even though he won the debates, it doesn’t say he won many converts. In fact, he baffled people. Finally, Paul had caused so much trouble in Jerusalem that the Apostles sent Paul away from the city, and it says, “Then the Church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace,” [v. 31]. Paul leaves, the city has peaceful relations, and Paul is not heard from again for about 9 years.
What had happened? Why did God send Paul, his future apostle to the Gentiles, into a type of exile? It was because Paul was full of zeal, but he lacked grace and love. He now had the truth, but he still had the same old personality. He was an arguer and a debater. He was more interested in proving Christ than in loving those Christ died to save. Twenty years later, Paul reflects on his zealous addiction that lacked affection:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing,” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, RSV).
Like Paul, we often bang the cymbal of insistence with so little love for those who oppose us that the message we preach is our intolerant selves and not the love of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, for our own sakes and for the sake of the true Gospel, we need to take a break from our religious interests to appreciate and give thanks for the beauty of this life. Yes there is wickedness and evil in the land, but there is also the glory of sea and the sky and the field and the forest. There is music on which flows the melody of creation itself. There is fellowship and friendship and food for the table. There is this need within us to cultivate a thankful life and to know first hand the joy of the Lord. If we do not, then we fail to be God’s true representatives. Can you imagine Jesus not having times of song and celebration and worship? Can you imagine Jesus without laughter? These are not the images of the same God enfleshed whose first miracle was to create wine for a wedding feast in order to keep the party going.
You are the message God is sending into the world. You are his living letters. What people see in you is the Person you represent. Therefore, to be a true message from God, you are to live the love. Any less is a disservice to the One who sends you.