Tuesday, October 20, 2015

All Ye Need to Know

The poet John Keats said in his most famous work, 'beauty is truth, truth beauty- that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' There have been so many times in my life- more and more lately- where the beauty of this sentiment has rung not only true but protective and empowering to me, to know that truth and beauty are so wonderfully tied.

Ultimately, it's all we really need to know: that certain things, however rare or invisible or uncommon, are beautiful with a kind of eternal, timeless, universally-appealing and soul-opening beauty. When we meditate on these things enough, over time, they reveal themselves to us as truth: as a sort of anchoring force that cleanses us and brings us back to something that seemed missing. 

A total safety that we somehow got far from that we now, after seeing beautiful little glimpses of it, long to be close to.
I think I've always had a thing for beauty: nature, purity, revolutionary-ness and brilliance- in ideas and in creative life. Not beauty as in 'trendy' beauty or 'shocking' beauty or 'stimulating' beauty, but eternal beauty, beauty that we can recognize on a "deeper" level, beauty which is a quality of something less superficial than the appearance of things and more real. Like a pure, consistent, endless beauty; beauty that even seems to make other things around it beautiful too.

And truth, I am seeing, isn't something that that logically or intellectually opposes other ideas; it isn't something we come upon because we investigate other things and deem them 'wrong.' There's no need for comparison in truth, nor is there a need for its defense or argument: if something is really true, it will have the quality of standing no matter what we say, think, or do about it. 
There's a quote I read long ago that has always stuck with me, by one of my favorite pastors and writers Tim Keller: 'Religious people find God useful, Christians find God beautiful.' When our minds conceive of a god whom we'd like to find useful (a thing that answers prayers as we would like them answered, say; or a supernatural force that holds our hands to save us from pain),  there is little truth to that kind of 'God' because we all have our own agendas for which we would find him convenient. In this thinking, he would falter when we didn't get what we wanted. (And since it often happens that we don't get what we want, he wouldn't be very reliable if this is what we relied on him for.)

There would be no truth to this kind of God because he would be a creation of the individual minds that had created him for their own purposes. This is what I used to believe god was like, so on this argument, I never believe in one. It was a very religious way of thinking, to use god to assert a truth. 

The Christian way of thinking is the exact opposite: let God use you to assert Truth. Not yours- not your wisdom- His.
A god who was useful would depend on individuals' needs for him, and so his qualities would be based on how people make him or need him in their image. He would have no set or eternal or truthful qualities; they would be subjective.

But a God who was beautiful would depend on a collective need for Him, a need that comes from any and every human heart- not as a matter of personal shortcoming or circumstance, but as a matter of our universal condition simply as humans. A God who was beautiful would have a set, eternal, universal, loving, knowable, observable character, from whose image man would be born, as He would be the maker of all things.

His qualities would be objective, beautiful. 
When we get close to this God, His beauty does become truth. Truth that we rest in and surrender to more safely and lovingly and trustingly than anything else. And when we meditate on- take in, learn of, listen to- how and who He is, we bear His image, and in this way we too become lovely (consistent, eternal, peaceful, joyful, fruitful, loving) like Him.

So there is nothing about this kind of truth that has to do with the ruination of any other ideas; we don't call God the truth because 'other things' are 'wrong.' We call God the truth because His beauty is eternal and righteous and anchoring to our souls on the deepest level. We call God truth because His light offers us eternity. We call God truth because He is beautiful, because He stands even when we fall.
He is beautiful with qualities that don't go away, that aren't subject to time, culture, or trends; beautiful in character, not just feeling: and when we take up the task of bearing His image, of trying to become beautiful like Him, we do more than manage our pain or emotions or lot in life- we gain the kind of beauty only He contains, and are therefore able to call on it and live in it at all times. It is an unfailing truth, not based on performance but on character, on who we are because of who we have become from choosing to follow and love Him.

We become much better than ourselves without Him.

We get close, into, His deep, eternal beauty; beauty that is timeless, there no matter what; that cannot fade or lessen; that is not based on appearance, but on a deep sense of inner, eternally available truth. 
We change, God does not change. We falter, God does not falter. We make plans, God directs all of them. We become hopeless, God is hope. We despair, God is always good- in character, in makeup, in who He is. We lean on this to live. He increases in us, and so we become more.

He can't be true if we use Him to advance our own personal purposes; but He can't be false if He uses us to bear the image of His beauty, His glory, His selflessness, and His love.
Print of this painting available here

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