...We must have God’s beauty.
So what does God’s splendor have to do with my daily life right now — in my busyness, in my temptations, in my boredom, and in my spiritual dryness? I recently sat down to talk with Dane Ortlund, who serves as the Bible publishing director at Crossway.
Beauty and Busyness
First, God’s beauty soothes our busy and anxious hearts.
“The beauty of God’s tender mercy calms me down, lets me breathe again, slows my heart’s frantic scurrying about,” Dane said. “There is so much ambiguity in living as a moral being. In all my anxiety, he is an undeterred and gentle Father who has adopted and justified me. Edwards really felt that. Especially when you read his sermons or letters, there’s an aroma you smell. He really felt safe and loved and calmed because of God and his gentle care for him as a Father.”
Beauty and Temptation
Second, God’s beauty fills the affections of our heart, which is essential if we are going to meet our foes of sin and temptation with success. “The world tells me that selfish indulgence in lust is where the fun is,” Dane said. On the contrary, “Edwards writes all over the place about quietly enjoying the beauty of God, and communing with him in his Son, who is the mighty and radiant friend of sinners like me. To use a word Edwards delightfully used, enjoying God us.”
One of the crucial battles of the Christian life is discovering the true ugliness of sin and exposing its destructiveness. “Sin is the enchanting allure of what is going to kill you,” Dane said. “I can’t help but jump into the water of sin and get slammed against the rocks of judgment and hell and death. I have no willpower to stop. I cannot stop myself. I need a higher loveliness, a more compelling beauty. I am only going to do , and I will be that way forever. I cannot function any other way. I have a beauty-thirst that must be quenched, no matter what.”
We all do. “The sixty year old who leaves his wife for a younger woman, the teen looking at porn, the banker checking his personal accounts every hour, the pastor feeding his soul on the nicotine of congregational approval — all of these are taking a doll, putting makeup on it, treating it like a spouse, and expecting it to love you like a spouse, when the real person is in the next room wanting to love you truly.”
Beauty and Boredom
Just as God’s beauty confronts our anxieties and our temptations, so also it confronts the spiritual hazards of our boredom.
One year ago, ESPN reported the tragic story of Christopher Lane, a college baseball player who was jogging down a street in Duncan, Oklahoma. Three teens drove up behind him in a car and shot him in the back, senselessly killing the athlete. When the teens were later arrested and asked to explain their actions, they said they did it because they were “bored.”
“That’s where sin takes us,” Dane explained. “Among other reasons, hell is hell because it’s so boring.” Yes, , because hell is being stuck eternally in self-centeredness that is blind to all external beauty, unsatisfied within and unhappy without.
But on the other hand, “Holiness is fun,” Dane says, somewhat cautiously. “Can I say that? Holiness is playful. It’s clean. It’s bright — not dark — because we have been swept up into the love of the Trinity. We have been justified and ratified. We have become human again.”
That’s a very counterintuitive picture of holiness.
“What immediately leaps to our mind when we see the word ?,” asks Dane. “Austerity. Coldness. Grim-faced. Jaw-set. In one of his early sermons Edwards says, ‘Holiness is a most beautiful, lovely thing. Men are apt to drink in strange notions of holiness from their childhood as if it were a melancholy, morose, sour thing.’ But Edwards says there is nothing in holiness but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely. Sin is mire and filth. Holiness is sweet, lovely, delightful, serene, calm. That corrects me. Holiness is calming. It is the only route by which I can actually enjoy my life, because I am not delighting in the world’s fraudulent offers of happiness. Holiness is quietly thrilling. Where else would you want to live but in the brightness of holiness?”
Beauty and Eternity
True joy is not measured by escaping boredoms with entertainment. That won’t work, and for a good reason. “The Christian life does not run properly without joy,” Dane said emphatically. “But that doesn’t mean you need to watch more Letterman. Laughter is not a reliable joy gauge.” Exhaust Netflix and Hulu of all their sitcoms and your greatest joy remains buried in a field not yours.
But Dane is no ascetic. In his book he writes, “The formula to joy is not God [blank] so much as God [blank]” (77). Later he explains, “True joy derives not from God job, family, sex, friends, food, rest, driving, buying a home, reading a book, drinking coffee — but from God these things. . . . Every taste of beauty in this world, from the roar of waterfalls to the chatter of birds to the richness of true friendship to the ecstasy of sexual experience, is a drop from the ocean of divine beauty. Every pleasure is an arrow pointing back to him. Joy is from, and only finally in, God” (79).
In our interview, Dane went so far as to say, “Maybe this sounds cold and unfeeling, but Edwards said that when loved ones of ours die, we don’t ultimately have any reason to mourn, because we will experience forever in heaven everything in the loved one that we loved. Christ himself recapitulates and sums up himself all the other joys. If you have Christ, you have all joy.”
Dane isn’t suggesting for a moment that there are no sweet reunions with friends and family in heaven. He is saying, even in those reunions, what makes them joyful is not the loved one God, but in the loved one there is a substantive encounter with the beauty of God mediated through them.
But all this beauty-talk doesn’t immunize Christians from sorrow and depression. At the end of my interview with Dane, I asked him what counsel would he offer to those readers who are in the dumps right now, who cannot see God’s beauty, who are living through a season of dryness. ...