“What in the world am I looking for? What is the peace that I can’t find?” — “This Beautiful Life”, Colony House
“…and I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” — U2
Beauty is perhaps the one thing that always brings me back to God.
The beauty of a sunset. The beauty of a good story. The beauty of an artist perfecting a skill, or a fly fisherman perfecting a cast. The beauty of a flock of birds in the morning hours, singing their songs of peace and love as they fly in search of Eden. There are some things in life that are simply beautiful. As Jefferson Bethke says, “beauty is more primal than the curse, and we were children before we were runaways.”
No matter where we look, we are surrounded by remnants of Eden. We are remnants of Eden. Even in the midst of the most painful experiences of suffering, beauty finds a way to flourish.
And yet, despite all the beauty I witness, something within me knows that everything that is beautiful is broken. There is a faint conviction within me that even the most beautiful things in the world are shadows of what they once were, and what they one day will be. There is a glory that has been lost, and I think one of the best places to see this is the ocean.
I first felt the mystery of the ocean allure me when I took a trip to California with my dad during my freshman year of high school. We flew in to L.A. and took a road trip to San Francisco, and the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway awakened a sense of joy within me as a I watched the waves of the Pacific ocean crash against the coast to my left, and saw the winding canyons and mountains to my right. A drive through Malibu is medicine for the soul. Unless, of course, you’re one of the thousands of depressed, stressed, and lonely faces that call Malibu home. But I digress.
There is a certain level of compassion and ferocity that is only found within the ocean. With each new wave comes a rhythmic cry for redemption, a longing for restoration. Its broken beauty reminds me of myself, and of a distant home. Eden.
The most prevalent emotion in my life is one of longing. It is an ache that never goes away. It is a restlessness. An uneasiness. But for what?
We are told in Romans that we have all fallen short of the glory of God, and that verse has been used so many times in a Romans Road tract or gospel presentation that I fear we have forgotten what it means, or perhaps have never even thought of what it may mean. To say that we have fallen short implies that we were made to be more than we currently are, and we all know this. I don’t need your cardboard sign to remind me of how broken I am. What I need is someone to come alongside and show me what it means to be truly human — someone who can defeat the powers that hold me captive to my own sin and desperation, and can lead me to true life. And that, of course, is what we find in the person of Jesus — the truly human one.
So back to that longing. What is it for? I think, when I don’t silence or suppress it, the longing is for life as it was meant to be. For the glory I was meant to bare. For beauty in all its fullness, without shame or brokenness or fig leaves. For God.
Abraham Heschel once said that, “the greatest sin of man is to forget that he is a prince.” Yes, that’s it — when a man forgets that he is a son, he begins to live like an orphan. He rummages around aimlessly, making agreements with the Evil One and becoming more and more of a zombie with each passing day. But, no matter how hard he tries, he can’t get the image of God off of him — he can’t wipe off his inherent worth, value, or dignity. Even in the midst of his most shameful sin, there is a voice beckoning him to return home. Because he knows, if only faintly, that he was born to be a prince.
In his book The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis tells the story of a kid who realizes that his true father was once the king of Narnia, and that he must now take the journey of restoring his father’s kingdom — and in doing so, find restoration for himself. As the back cover reads, “A prince denied his rightful throne gathers an army in a desperate attempt to rid his land of a false king. But in the end, it is a battle of honor between two men alone that will decide the fate of an entire world.” Those words stir desires deep within my soul each time I read them, and I think it is because of this simple truth: we are all prince Caspian.
Once we see past the haze and fogginess of the matrix we live in, we begin to see that we were all made to be princes and princesses, but that the world has been usurped by an evil ruler. And our true father, the One whose image we are made in, is on a mission of restoring his kingdom on earth as in heaven, and is doing so through the restoration of his image bearers. The revolution began on a hill 2000 years ago, when the rightful king of the world became an object of public humiliation and disgrace as he hung naked on a tree. The Tree of Life hung upon a tree of death. For a moment, as darkness covered the land, it seemed as if another would-be messiah had been squashed by the Romans.
And yet, something did begin to change. Death truly had been defeated. Sin had been condemned. Shame had been stripped of its power. The prisoners had been set free. Spring had been brought out of winter. Though it may have not looked like it at first, the kingdom from Genesis had once again been inaugurated.
The beautiful Creator bore the brokenness of his creation.
And this is what we are all looking for — we are all looking for that Man who, in his resurrected body, bears the scars of broken beauty. He is the God who heals, the God who pursues, the God who desires to tear down the walls that keep us from his love. And as we come to know him, we come to recognize that the longings within us for beauty, for purpose, for love, and for life as it was meant to be are echoes of his voice, the same voice that cried out in agony the God-forsakenness of God on calvary.
In Prince Caspian, Caspian knew from an early age the rumors of Narnia before the throne had been usurped — he had heard rumors of a land where animals used to talk, trees used to walk, and peace and love were the law of the land. Something within him groaned for the restoration of this Narnia. He knew that Narnia was not all that it once was, and he knew, instinctively, that he was not all who he was made to be. But as he took the journey that came to him, he discovered for himself what restoration and redemption look like. Might we be people who do the same — people who engage the broken beauty around us and in our own lives, believing in our hearts that everything was made to shine, despite the darkness and hell around us. Might we be people who allow our groaning for restoration lead us deeper into intimacy with God, each other, and ourselves. And might we be people who, in the midst of the confusion and chaos of life, look to the cross, the empty tomb, and the promise that one day all will be made new.