Beauty, gospel proclamation, and grace
by Jeremiah Vaught
Beauty is good for the soul. I am not talking simply about fleeting, airbrushed beauty, but that which is absolutely, inarguably beautiful. Beauty has the power to move us away from self-focus to focus on that, which is outside of us. Indeed beauty can make us less selfish.
“But beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” one might say. And of course that person would be right, to a certain extent. Most of what we think beautiful is beautiful extrinsically, that is, understood as beautiful because someone has deemed it so.
Yet, there is still another sort of beauty, beauty that is intrinsic—beautiful irrespective of any human estimation. You might question whether such a thing exists, but for the sake of this brief post, please allow yourself the possibility that I might be right.
My basis for understanding beauty this way is based in the belief that God looks at His creation and calls it “good” --- so it is unfitting for anyone to question this creation’s beauty. There might be someone who thinks an ocean sunset never gorgeous, or a view from a lofty mountain peak never spectacular, or the expanse of stars on a clear night never breathtaking; but such a person is one that, along with G.K. Chesterton, I would call “dull.” I would add from this perspective that all humans have an intrinsic beauty to them, regardless of how they would be judged by men.
Having said this about my belief in intrinsic beauty and the value of beauty to our lives, I want to focus on that which is supremely beautiful. This subject is one whose beauty draws the never-ending interest of even the angels (1 Peter 1:12). It's the Gospel. The beauty of the Gospel is intrinsic -- it is beautiful whether we acknowledge it or not.
This Gospel: the beauty of the infinitely majestic God, God the Son moving into history taking on human flesh as the man Jesus of Nazareth, living a uniquely beautiful life, dying a uniquely gruesome death bearing the pain of pierced flesh and weight of God’s justice in His body, then to resurrect from the dead and to reign forever in all of His beauty. This is the Gospel I am privileged to preach week in and week out.
Yet I often fear, as I did while writing the last sentence, that my words fall far short of displaying the beauty of this Gospel. And indeed, even if I did nothing else with all of my days but reflect on the beauty of Jesus’ accomplished work, I can never fully dissect all of the wonder of the Gospel.
More often than not as a preacher, I feel like I fail to proclaim all the beauty of this Gospel adequately. It can hardly be more frustrating than to be thrilled about something, only to feel unable to articulate with clarity and power the reasons someone else should be excited as well.
It occurred to me this week this feeling that I am describing isn’t always a bad thing. The desire of every believer of Christ should be to proclaim Christ’s great beauty and that desire should grow as we grow. Thus we should not be surprised when we can’t always articulate the glorious beauty of the Gospel of Jesus as powerfully as we desire.
This is not to say we should not attempt to grow in clarity and ability of expression. Certainly I would be dissatisfied if I did not make an effort and actually improve in clarity and power of speech!
However, as we grow, we must be OK with the grace that is there for our inability to portray the beauty of the Gospel. The Gospel was beautiful before any of us were ever a twinkle in our Father’s eye. And so it will be after we pass from this life. Thus there is a grace inherent in the beauty of the Gospel that helps us in our weakness of speech. This is true for all Christians.
The battle of portraying Gospel beauty lies not in making something OK seem glorious, but rather in beholding what is glorious and pointing others to that sunset, to that mountain-top, to that breathless starry night, that wonderful divine rescue mission that is the Gospel.
We all need grace, and as heralds of great and beautiful news and as followers of Jesus we need grace to not feel discouraged when we feel like our words fall woefully short of portraying the value of our Savior. And that grace is there, both because God cares even more deeply than we do about conveying His beauty in the Gospel of Jesus than we do.
Grace is also found in this: that the beauty of the Gospel is transcendent, which means that we can never diminish its beauty. So when we articulate the Gospel, there is always truly nowhere to go but up.
And knowing this should be a grace to all of us that feel deeply the imperfections of our ability to articulate the beauty we have seen and known. May we all walk in this grace inherent in our beautiful Gospel!