What beauty is worthy of worship? And, what exactly is beauty?
Genesis introduces us to a false, but dazzling beauty. Eve saw that the fruit was “beautiful” to eat and “pleasing to the eye.” Her experience of beauty however is one-dimensional. It is an experience that we often latch on to, often forgetting the “beauty” that composed Christ.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. ~Isaiah 53:2
Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness. ~Isaiah 52:14
The beauty and majesty of Christ are phrases that we toss around often when we reflect on his splendor and grace. What exactly is so beautiful and so majestic about Christ that makes him worthy of one to be worshiped? Isaiah addresses this in his unique portrayal of the beauty of Christ. I find these two images of Christ fascinating: an image of an unadorned Christ at birth and an image of a hideously tortured Christ at death.
In his appearance, we see no beauty or glory. His form was base and lacking before the sons of men or as the Hebrew has it, despised and least among people. Yet in the Psalms we see a poetic-prophetic representation of Christ with the Church that portrays quite a different picture: “You are the fairest of the children of men and graciousness is poured upon your lips.” On the one hand, Christ is acknowledged as the fairest of men, with graciousness that manifests itself in the beauty of his words. On the other hand we have an image of Christ who, ordinary at birth, had no external beauty left at death. In fact, Pilate presents Him to the crowd saying “Ecce homo” to arouse pity for this man who has been overwhelmed and beaten. Augustine addressed this paradox, referring to two trumpets resounding in opposition that both receive their sound from the same Spirit. Though both notes of the paradox of Christ’s beauty resound with different notes, they are not a contradiction; rather, it is precisely the paradox that begins to unravel the essence of true beauty, of truth itself.
The beauty of Christ lies in the fact that he is everything we did not expect. We find a God who manifested Himself in the terrifying appearance of crucified Christ in the most beautiful act of self-sacrifice. We find the beauty in the paradox a baby born cloaked in a swaddling cloth in a humble manger rather than being clocked in the garments of a King. We find a God who is everything that we were meant to be, but were never able to be. It is interesting to me that when I was Hindu, all of the marble idols we worshiped were beautiful- beautiful in both appearance and power and decorated and adorned. But this is not real beauty. It is the mendacious beauty of the fruit that captivates Eve. We know very well just where this false sense of beauty landed Eve, not to mention the rest of humanity. Our perception of beauty is sadly, very similar to Eve’s, and misunderstanding the beauty of Christ will cause us to miss the essence of his very being.
We see our flawed conception of beauty crumble because we see in Christ a new dimension of beauty that allows itself to be struck in the face, spat upon, and crowned with thorns. It is in the depth of his hideous death that we most fully experience the beauty of love. His beauty was hidden, but it was ultimately revealed on the cross. We pursue a God who is the source of all truth – desiring to know who he is, but at the same time remembering who we are, knowing our own limitations and inability to fully comprehend. But it is not a hopeless pursuit. Though we cannot fully see God, we can in fact see his paradoxical beauty. A beauty in pain. A beauty in suffering. A beauty in sacrifice. A beauty in the bloody, marred body of one who loved us. Nothing less than a paradox could capture this beauty: the beauty of love.