Despairing of Beauty

July 23, 2013

The common objection to existence of an infinitely loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God is the existence of evil. And while such matters can be discussed on a purely intellectual level, most individuals who ask such questions are driven to ask it due to their own subjective and valid experience of pain. But as we live our lives, we also experience joys and beauties. We are not, however, driven to ask for the meaning of these beautiful experiences the same way we are driven to ask for the meaning of painful ones. There is no impetus, no force to ask what is behind the veil.

But when we sit still and reflect on our experiences of beauty, we are faced with the same important, ultimate questions. If God does not exist, all this beauty will pass away. All our experiences of beauty – all the idyllic hills and valleys, every majestic whale, the bluest of skies and clearest of oceans, the laughters we share with those most dear to us – they are all fleeting and will turn to dust. The whole creation groans even in its highest of joys. And so we are turned again to despair; for while we can enjoy for the present moment all of creation, in the back of our minds we know that this appearance of joy is a facade, that all is crumbling away.

But beauty itself gives us a clue. Much as pain, suffering, and evil give us a clue that there is a such as thing as right and wrong, a law, and a lawgiver, beauty points us to something that is greater than itself. For Beauty, while itself fragile and fleeting, speaks of something that is permanent, that will not be worn away through time. Lovers whisper to each other their undying love; the purple mountains that sit silently in the horizon attest to the immemorial past; the vast endless stretch of oceans and the waves roll on indeterminably. Beauty demands permanence but by itself it cannot hold its form.  Beauty suggests of something that is transcendent that Beauty itself is merely imitating.  We are, then, pointed to something outside Beauty that is everlasting.

While Beauty itself gives us this vague clue, the Gospel message gives us a clearer picture. A God who was infinite, who was not subject to impermanence, took on this fragile form. But because he was fully god and fully man, he was able to fully bridge the gap between this material world that is wasting away and the immaterial world that will last forever. The gap is fully bridged – and perhaps the old myth-makers were driven to invent genealogies of half-gods with the same impulse to somehow bridge that realm of impermanence to our decaying world. But the myth-makers could not imagine that this vast chasm could be bridged in a single blow, by a single being, of a god who would indignify himself and stoop so low. And this incarnation shows us that Beauty never pointed to itself but to him. We believed his message because his message was internally consistent; he himself did not point to himself, but to the Father. Beauty is inherently other-centered; so was he. And while for a moment it looked like he succumbed to inexistence, to death, just like the rest of creation, just like Beauty, it was not so. His resurrection demonstrated concretely that there will be ultimate renewal, that every joyful and beautiful experiences you’ve ever had matters because they are shadows of things to come, that every painful and sorrowful moments in your life matters because they point to an age when they will be no more. And so through the coming, the dying, and the rising, we can make sense of all our experiences and our lives.

What room is there for despair?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: