Beauty is in the Grace of the Beholder
You are ugly. I’m sorry, but it is true. I have no idea what you look like, but I can say with absolute certainty that you are an ugly human being. This is because ugliness is inherent to being human in this fallen and sinful world and is completely independent of what you look like. Your body is broken and dying. With every passing moment you grow closer to the day when you will shut down completely. Even if you are currently at the prime of your life, eventually your strength and vitality will flee your body and you will be rendered weak and helpless. Even if you possess all the glamour and dashing physical beauty that so many people envy, your physique will eventually deteriorate and leave you with an aged and wrinkled form.
Your ugliness goes much deeper than your body. Right now you may be a great beauty. On the inside, though, your heart and mind are afflicted with a disgusting illness which eats away at you and exposes your ugliness for all the world to see. You think ugly thoughts; you feel ugly emotions; and your thoughts, words, and deeds are not pure and decent. You have clamored after false gods, abused and misused the name of your Lord, and you have not remembered the Sabbath day nor kept it holy. You haven’t honored you parents, you have hurt your neighbor, and you have lusted after someone in your heart, if not in your body. You have not upheld your neighbor’s reputation and you have coveted what is not yours.
Ugliness is a burden that plagues all of us. When God created mankind, it was a good and beautiful thing, but each and every one of us has inherited the cost of Adam’s and Eve’s rebellion. No matter how many times we tell ourselves that we are beautiful—and no matter how often others applaud us for being good people—we know deep down that we are ugly. At times we may feel proud of our accomplishments or confident in our success, but eventually, even the mighty fall and we are faced with the truth: we are ugly.
Life on this earth is a challenge. The world around us is filled with quite a lot of ugliness in the forms of sickness, natural disasters, and civil unrest. This ugliness shows itself in our government as our leaders actively promote and defend the slaughter of the unborn; it shows itself in our communities as families are torn apart due to divorce, domestic abuse, and absent parents. There is no part of our lives untouched by the brokenness of sin, and that disease pushes people to feel and do awful things. For some, the burden becomes too much to bear. For others, it becomes an excuse to rail at the world and exact harm on others.
There are those of us who do our best to live upright and respectable lives, yet our efforts often feel like they are in vain. We try to better ourselves through education and/or work. We try to protect and serve our families and many of us seek to support our community through volunteering and charity. Week in and week out we go to church, say our prayers, pay our taxes, and wish our neighbor good evening at the end of the day. Even so, when we lie awake in the dead of night, staring the ceiling above our beds, we are faced with a long list of things that we didn’t do—or didn’t do well enough. Because let’s face it, we aren’t enough. Our good works, our “trying harder” and our “best selves” are never enough.
The great ugliness of humankind is the culmination of all the weaknesses, faults, and failings that we carry through life, both as individuals and as communities. In light of our hideous, fallen human nature, it may feel like throwing in the towel is the only real option available. When we look into ourselves and the weight of reality sinks in, we know that we are lacking and we realize that the weight of the world is too much for us to carry. The harder and longer we look into the mirror, the easier is to despair. The idea that a place as beautiful and flawless as Heaven could be attainable for beings as hideous as us seems depressingly laughable. In fact, the idea that such a place exists at all might feel like a wishful fantasy.
Our ugliness feeds on itself and grows as depression, despair, unbelief, and self-hatred. It seeks to beat us down and convince us not only that the world is a broken and hideous place, but that we are part of the problem and are helpless to fix it. When someone realizes the extent of their ugliness and the ugliness of all mankind, it can be very difficult to console them. There is no denying that our faults and failings are a terrible thing, and they have a way of taking root in our hearts and minds. There is a great temptation to admit defeat and give up any hope of salvation from this vale of hideous tears, but there is no solace in such a concession. When our ugliness takes hold and begins to define who we are, the world becomes an increasingly dark place.
Thankfully, there is hope even for those of us who have spent a very long time feeling ashamed of our hideous nature. Our ugliness is not the end of the story, because our own beauty or perfection is not what saves us in the end. If our salvation was dependent our ability to alter or remove our ugliness, we surely would be a lost cause. However, thanks to the mercy and loving grace of our heavenly Father, we are not alone and we are not left to fend for ourselves. Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb without blemish, came from Heaven and took on our broken form made ugly by the disfigurement of sin to fight our battle for us.
It is through our baptism and through our membership in Christ’s bride, the Church, that we are washed white in the blood of the Lamb. In becoming true man, Jesus made our fight his own. He took our ugliness and replaced it with his own flawless beauty. All of the ugliness in us is covered in the atonement of Christ’s sacrifice. We are ugly, but our ugliness no longer has any strength over us. The claim that sin and the devil had on us is broken by Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross. All of the evil and horror in the world still plagues us, but it is now buried and powerless. Our bodies will still falter and fail us, but death has lost its sting.
The entire life—and subsequent death and resurrection—of our Lord and Savior was a process of freeing humanity from the burden of its ugliness. In his birth, he took up our frail mortal form and became both God and man, as we confess in the Creeds. In his baptism, Jesus actually took upon himself the weight of our sin which he then carried to the cross. Through his death on the cross, he buried and killed the sins of the world. Lastly, in his resurrection, he vanquished the power of death and left our sins dead and buried, while we remained a part of him in his new life.
In Romans 6:3-4[i] Paul writes, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” This tells us that baptism is the means by which we are tied to Christ’s own baptism and ultimately to his death and resurrection. Additionally, 1 Peter 2:24 writes, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed,” and Jesus tells John the Baptist in Matthew 3:15 to permit his baptism, “for in this way it is fitting for the fulfillment of all righteousness.” In summary, in our baptism we become tied to Christ’s baptism, where he takes our ugliness upon himself for the fulfillment of righteousness. Our ugliness, which has then become his own ugliness, was then carried with and in him to the cross where it was put to death. Our baptism still ties us to him in his resurrection however; so, when he rose from the dead, we too were raised with him.
Death and the devil himself were unable to defeat our Savior.As his children and his people, we need not fear our ugliness any longer. If you are like me, you may protest the idea and find it impossible that the raw and hideous beast we see in ourselves could ever be anything but the ultimate determinant of our fate. Thankfully, the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father is not contingent on the strength of our belief. The power of Christ’s dying and rising again is completely independent of us and our ability to accept that he could love and care for us as much as he does. Just as God the Father chose to send his Son to join on us on earth, Jesus chose to tie the Christian church to himself and his beauty, and he has does so without asking our permission or questioning our personal worth.
By the grace of God, our ugliness and our inability to reach the Law laid before us in the Ten Commandments no longer condemns us. We are still sinful human beings, and our sins do not come without consequences. As long as we live on this earth, we will suffer the weight of this fallen world, but once we are lifted from the vale of tears, the burden of the world, the devil, and our ugly, sinful nature will become null and void. In this life, and on the earth, the faithful Christian is still prone to make mistakes. We will still witness and partake in the ugliness of humanity. However, God’s grace has granted the Church freedom from the punishment that we would necessarily deserve for our ugliness.
The Law of God has not been rendered meaningless, nor has it lost its place in the world. However, we need not fear the Law any long because, through our membership in the Body of Christ’s Church, we are made perfect and uphold the law perfectly. Even though we still fail to uphold all of the Commandments in our day-to-day life, we are baptized into the perfect fulfillment of the Law through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Your ugliness makes it impossible for you to redeem yourself, but that’s okay—because Christ has already paid the price. The hard work has already been done, the price has already been paid. The Law has not disappeared, but it has already been fulfilled.
When a Christian looks into the mirror and struggles to see anything but the frailty of their own flesh, they can cling to the knowledge that God sees his beloved and beautiful Bride, the Church. As they look at their friends and family, thinking about all of the ways they have failed them, they can trust that their Father in heaven sees one of his beautiful children. At the end of the day, when they measure all they have done and see only filthy rags, they can have faith that the Lord sees something worth more than many fine jewels. We are all born ugly, but we have been clothed in the glorious beauty of Christ. In the eyes of God, we are as beautiful, precious, and perfect as his own beloved child—because as a Christian that is what you have become.
[i] All passages quotes from Scripture are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation copyright 1995 by Lockman Foundation.
Photo courtesy of Astrogater.