Odd, this twisted form
should be the work of God.
God, who makes, without mistakes,
the happy norm, the status quo —
the usual — made me, you know.
The Royal Palm He made;
and, too, the stunted pine.
With joy I see the lovely shapes;
with pride I live in mine.
No accident I am:
a Master Craftsman’s plan.
Ruth Bell Graham
I came across a tortured, twisted pine tree some years ago, high on a ridge — an ugly, misshapen thing at first glance. But I looked again and saw something deeper and better and thought of those whose deformities are overwhelmed by rare beauty.
Appearance is overrated, a mere sensation in the eyes (or brain) produced by shape, color and motion and conditioned a good deal by society and association. (In some cultures, foot-long earlobes and distended lips are thought to be the essence of loveliness.)
A philosopher-friend of mine once pointed out to me that objects cannot be beautiful in themselves for they’re only arrangements of colorless, shapeless, invisible atoms. We can’t see them, but if we could, they would bring us no delight or satisfaction.
There is a spiritual beauty, however, that is much deeper and more enduring than anything we can see with our natural eyes. It is the symmetry and splendor that God brings to his children, what scripture calls “the beauty of holiness.”
Our present culture turns the phrase upside down, worshiping outward appearance and the holiness of beauty. (I’m reminded here of the character on “Saturday Night Live” that always ended his monologue with the reminder: “Looking good is better than being good.”
But that’s a terrible mistake, for it leads us to vanity — the desire to exceed the limits God has appointed for us — and is the means by which pride and self-preoccupation enter in and we miss the highest good. Preoccupation with our bodies, as even pagan philosophers affirm, unavoidably leads to the diminishment of our souls. Plato in his dialogue, Phaedro, argues that we can love wisdom, or we can love our bodies, but we cannot love both.
We must be satisfied, then, with the way God has formed us. Our disabilities and deformities are not a mistake, but part of God’s eternal plan. His way of dealing with them is not to remove them, but to endow them with godlike strength, dignity and beauty and put them to his intended use — as they are.
McGuffey had it exactly right…
Beautiful faces are they that wear,
The light of a pleasant spirit there;
Beautiful hands are they that do,
Deeds that are noble, good and true;
Beautiful feet are they that go,
Swiftly to lighten another’s woe.
McGuffey’s Second Reader
Has aging or accident brought humiliating disfigurement? Do you consider yourself an eyesore, too ugly to be of use?
No, you are “(God’s) workmanship” created as you are for good works (Ephesians 2:10). You are his special creation, designed from birth to manifest God’s loveliness in a unique way. The Craftsman’s plan surpasses the material.
Your countenance, though wrinkled and blemished, can be adorned with the joy of the Lord and made lovely with his kindness and compassion. Your body, be it ever so humble and lumpish, can be graceful in unselfish service and love. This is “grace beyond reach of art,” human ugliness hidden in divine loveliness, beauty at its very best.
And, of course, this is not all that will be. One day soon we will be made new: “We are as God has made us, but we are not as God will make us. We will be made over again and everything will once for all be set right” (George MacDonald).
May the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
David and Carolyn Roper co-direct the work of Idaho Mountain Ministries, a ministry of clergy care. David is the author of 14 books. The most recent: Teach Us To Number Our Days. His musings are archived on davidroper.blogspot.com/
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.