Beauty in Life, Grief and Suffering

How Do We Reconcile Temporal Beauty in a Broken World? (Part One)

Several weeks ago, it snowed in Minnesota. Finally. After getting by with an inch of ice and a dusting of hard, sleet-like snow for most of the winter, we have enough to use our snowshoes.

Since I was a little girl, whenever the weather predicted snow, I hoped for the beautiful “catching” kind, crystalline flakes which pile up on the pine and cluster on the bushes. On those ephemeral mornings when the world is transformed, something would urgently call me out to go and lose myself in “wonderland.” For if I didn’t get out soon enough, the wind would chase the beauty of the piled snowy trees to the smooth surface of the ground, spoiling and breaking.

The morning I wrote this, I sat on the couch, watching the wind on its mission. Tears started to well up in my eyes. The beauty of a snowy world reminded me of Heaven. And it was so soon tainted with the imperfection of Earth. I suddenly understood my lifelong fascination with snowy days. It speaks to the longing for perfect beauty, which I finally understand is truly a longing for Heaven.

I have been helping a friend with a project on healing, and reading her words have forced me to face the difficult days I haven’t thought about. In the moment of struggle, I just move to the next thing. I don’t focus on the pain. I’d much rather distract myself.

Do you ever struggle to know how you are feeling? You’re just doing ordinary things, feeling rather numb, and then something small will trigger a whole flood of emotions, and you don’t even know why you’re crying. That has happened to me often recently.

We were watching “Joni,” a movie about Joni Earekson Tada’s life. We were only a few minutes in, and all of a sudden I completely broke down, sobbing. Through all the doctors I’ve been to, after the visits, after all the new developments, even when we lost our home, I rarely cried. Oh, I’d tear up often, though I never actually cried. But watching Joni’s story was too much. We turned it off.

I am much more affected by tiny reminders of the worst days than I ever was as I lived through them. But even through this season of struggle, my fascination with beauty still remains. There is a pain that comes with this love; I see beauty with all the cracks and fissures. Nothing is truly perfect in my world anymore. Every time I see a glorious sunset, the beauty is tinged with the frustration that it is even now fading, changing, and passing away.

Pslam 30:1-2 struck my heart deeply the other day.

“The Mighty One, God the Lord,

   speaks and summons the earth

   from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,

   God shines forth.”



Zion-God’s holy mountain. The perfection of beauty.

So much of my life I have pursued beauty, sought it out wherever I am. I love it, whether it surfaces in a dried flower skipping with the wind, a winter dance, or the majesty of a summer sunset. I want beauty, perfect beauty. But I’ve been faced, again and again, with the reality of my own brokenness, and the brokenness of the world altogether.

There is no perfect beauty. In old novels, it’s common to have a beautiful young heroine, who is also wonderfully virtuous. Or as L. M. Montgomery would say, “superlatively beautiful and good.” I think such an imagery appeals to us because as humans we see beauty and want it to also be paired with good.

Beautiful things ought to be good. Good things ought to be beautiful.

But in this world, often the ugliest people are the kindest, and the most beautiful, the most cruel.

The snow falling off the trees, the rude awakenings to the reality of this unhallowed earth, its sin and sufferings and shame, hurts; we don’t want to believe in ugly things. We want to believe people are inherently good at heart, that wrongs can be righted, that no sickness lasts forever, that there is a cure for cancer. Ultimately, we don’t really want to acknowledge evil. But we will eventually have to, although if our belief in good is challenged often enough, we distance ourselves from the reality of both pure evil and pure good. We learn to act like there is nothing wrong with our immediate world and that there are many irreversible things wrong with the world at large. We distract ourselves.

For to face the truth about good and evil is to face the evil that has confronted us. I am learning that grieving is hard work and so is healing. To do both, we must wrestle with the hardship we have each faced.

As I write, the forecast for Minnesota predicts snow again in the next few days. And again I will face the breathtaking beauty and its inevitable gradual dissipation. Why can’t it just stay forever, preserved in its purity?

One reason is perhaps the different seasons. If it was always pure white winter, we would never bask in a mellow spring day, or hear the giggling summer, or watch the trees turn crimson. Life is not stationary. It moves, it ripples. We are not the same people we were yesterday. We change. And if every day was one kind of perfect beauty, we would never experience another kind. In a broken world, we need the wind to chase away the snow. But perhaps it isn’t really destroying it. Perhaps it is washing the canvas clean for a new masterpiece.

Another is that if life was perfect, if indeed we as humans were perfect, self-sufficient, holy as the angels, we would not experience the depth of mercy that broken, needy people can find at the Cross. Pain reminds us of the Gospel, that Christ died, first from our sins, but also to bear our wounds.

In Luke 7:41-42 Jesus tells this parable. “ ‘A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?’  43 Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’” In the same way, those whose pain is great will love Him that much more for bearing our pain with us.

Glimpses of the life beyond the curtain, like an unshattered snowflake, are reminders of how far we have fallen-and how much we have been redeemed.

Every day glorious sunsets are ignored by busy people. Temporary beauty is a reminder of grace. You have one life. You will never have another opportunity to repent. God’s grace will not last forever. If you disdain it now, think not to accept it tomorrow. Today is the day of salvation.

Grief-such a strange thing. You never know when it’s going to crash down on you. For me, it was sitting on the couch, watching the snow fly from the trees, that finally pressed this question on me. The question of why beauty fades, why we have to die, why life can never stay the same. I didn’t figure it out in this blog post-how could I? But in this new season of blogging, I’m writing, hoping to encourage but also, just casting these emotions out to ask-does anyone else feel the same?

It’s okay that I don’t have all the answers. Some of these questions are the questions humans have always faced. And it’s hard to read Scripture and realize that the Lord didn’t lay it all out for us in a nicely categorized confession-of-faith. As I wrote in my last post, maybe that’s because God wants us to wrestle through these difficult questions.

Maybe He wants our hearts to break as we watch beauty disappearing, so that we run to Him.

I would honestly love to know-have you ever felt similarly? If commenting on a blog post is too open for you, well, I’m moderately active on Instagram and I love getting messages from fellow wilderness wanderers. If you’re hurting, I’ll pray for you and cry with you and maybe send you Scripture. I usually reply within a week-I can’t usually think through a coherent reply right away.

(In part two, I will share more on Psalm 30:1-2 and how Jesus is the reconciliation. I am excited to delve into this with you!)

2 thoughts on “How Do We Reconcile Temporal Beauty in a Broken World? (Part One)

  1. Bethany… *breaks down crying* My heart has been totally and completely crushed twice already this week. And it’s only Tuesday. This post is so beautiful and powerful and I am so, so blessed by it.

What did you think?