There is little discussion of beauty at the moment. A good portion of our beauty-less conscious can be attributed to the difficulties of the year in which we all find ourselves—2020 has been a dumpster fire by almost all accounts—but our skewed vision towards the broken is also a problem of perspective.
Five years ago, a random Youtube video made the rounds. A high schooler asked people if she could take pictures of them, started recording, and then told them the project was to capture images of, “things I find beautiful.” Brief language involved.
There is something about the combination of the hauntingly simple Arcade Fire score in the background and the confused yet authentic reactions that is just . . . captivating.
As I watch the video all of the insecurities of high school flood back to me as the student’s wrestle with a genuine compliment. The few minutes of film perfectly captures the ambiguous tension of dying to have someone affirm personal beauty and the struggle to actually believe they are telling the truth when the affirmation arrives. At some level, we are all dying to be known and to be found beautiful.
But . . .
When we look around, moments of beauty, like in the video, are difficult to come by. Contested elections, arguments on masks, growing debts, and shrinking sanity all leave thoughts of beauty in short supply. The world that I see most days is many things, but beauty is not on the list of top one hundred adjectives. It feels like we all need someone to constantly follow us, point the camera to who we are, and tell us, “I am taking pictures of things I find beautiful.”
This tension is perfectly encapsulated in the youtube channel of the young girl who made the original video. While her viral moment was a video highlighting beauty, the bulk of the remaining videos on her channel are full of millennial angst about climate change, social media, 2020 in general, etc. The pairing creates a bleak conclusion: while there is a desire to focus on beauty, reality keeps shoving beauty to the periphery.
It is a serious problem. As struggle increases, beauty wanes, hope decreases with it, and the world becomes steadily unlivable—which is an increasingly popular conclusion. So, what are we to do? There is a lot of hurt in the world. There is a lot of hurt in our lives. How can we face struggle and keep from despair?
There have been many attempts to answer this question through human history. Some suggest that people should simply ignore the brokenness and just keep moving. Some suggest that people should sink themselves into a purpose and ground their hope in accomplishing it’s end goals. Some shove down the despair with their chemical de jour hoping that drugs, sex, and rock and roll can alleviate the emptiness that feels all consuming.
The Christian response offers a tangibly different approach. Christians embrace the brokenness. Through the New Testament you will find over and over again those who follow Christ standing toe to toe with suffering, staring the struggle in the eye, and refusing to take a solitary step away from hope. Whether it is Paul in Romans 5 stating that he rejoices in his suffering, or in II Corinthians 6 when he claims that servants of God are sorrowful yet always rejoicing and having nothing yet possessing everything, or the writer of Hebrews reminding his recipients that they joyfully accepted the plunder of their property. But how? How can someone look at this year and refuse to yield, even slightly, their hope?
The writer of Hebrews goes on, “. . . you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one (Heb. 10:34).” The story of the Bible is one of God constantly pointing the camera at humanity and telling us that we are beautiful, while we struggle to understand how to react.
Through faith in Christ, we come to the truth that the all-knowing God of the universe knows us in all of our flaws, all of our limitations, and all of our brokenness, and we are still found beautiful. In the eyes of the Almighty God we are desirable, lovely, even worth dying for, and as that truth is embraced it provides a foundation for hope that cannot be moved.
The Christian life then is one of a paradox. We are stuck in the brokenness—often causing brokenness. Jobs are lost, loved ones die, wombs are empty, relationships are broken . . . and joy abounds. Beauty is not lost when hardship arrives. We are simply reminded of a deeper more abiding possession.
So, as odd as it sounds. I find 2020 beautiful.
At a personal level, it has been an ongoing struggle in a variety of ways and in that tension, I am reminded of God relentlessly pursuing me. When things feel like they are crumbling all around the foundation of my joy has not flinched.
Therefore, we do not despair. As people who are pressed but not crushed, even in the worst of our struggles we find our God pointing the camera at us and reminding us, “I am taking pictures of things I find beautiful.”