Fathom Mag
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When we experience beauty, it empowers us.

Adapted thoughts from Before You Quit by Douglas Gehman.

Published on:
June 10, 2020
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5 min.
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My brother, Dale, committed suicide when he was twenty-seven years old. He had found Jesus a few years before and was following a call from God into music ministry in southern California. He served as a pianist and vocalist on his church’s worship team, wrote worship music, and formed a Christian music group. But then, for reasons we still do not understand, he fell into a deep depression. Three months later, he ended his life. We were devastated. We came home from Thailand for the funeral to grieve with our family. After two months, we returned to Thailand, but I remember being overwhelmingly sad for a long time. Now, decades later, I still ache when I think about Dale. I think about all that was stolen in his premature death: the creativity left unrealized, his many friends whose lives were thrown into turmoil, the future wife he would never meet, the children they would never have.

In tragedies like these, should we get angry and shake our fists at heaven? Or should we embrace the terrible pain, allow God to comfort us, and let overwhelming sorrow and grief shape us into the likeness of Jesus Christ? In Dale’s death, I learned the stark truth about Isaiah’s words concerning the Messiah: he “experienced pain and was acquainted with [grief].” 

This “experience with pain,” this “acquaintance with grief” is the wonder and beauty of Jesus’s incarnation. God willingly entered this broken world, became flesh, and lived among us. Pain and grief were necessary parts of that entering and living. When we talk about becoming like Jesus, this is the beauty we too must embrace. Sorrow and grief are a part—if not the whole—of our journey of faith and obedience because, like him, we share in human suffering through our own difficulties and the sufferings of others. When we allow painful experiences to work Christ’s redemption in us, we discover something consummately beautiful. 

German philosopher and atheist Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” There is a poignant irony here: in his observation, Nietzsche finds common ground with Jesus. When we have a why to live for, we can endure almost any how. Survival in suffering or difficulty is rooted in our ability to find meaning—even beauty—in something beyond ourselves. For the Christian, this meaning is found in Jesus Christ. 

When I was eighteen, I surrendered my life to Jesus. An aimless teenager, I became tired of the excesses of a generation who grew up in the tumultuous 1960s. We saw the world on the brink of nuclear war. We saw national public figures assassinated: President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and black preacher and activist Martin Luther King Jr. The Vietnam War took the lives of 60,000 young Americans.

The Jesus Movement started in those days. Christian leaders began reaching out to alienated and angry young people with a message of hope through Jesus Christ. I was one of them. In August 1973, friends and praying parents invited, almost dragged, me to a Christian rally where I was confronted with the transforming power of the gospel. I had heard it before, but this time the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3 grabbed a hold of my troubled heart . . . and made sense. “If you want to change the world, you have to start with you! You must be born again!” the preacher said. I sat on a hill with ten thousand young people gathered on a Pennsylvania farmer’s field and prayed, “That’s what I want.”

To this day, I can’t explain what happened that night. I was lost but now I am found. I was dead but now I am alive. The metaphors of scripture seek to explain the mystery of the new birth, but words cannot convey the meaning entirely. My life was beautifully transformed. The glory of God is sort of like that. The way we experience him is deeply personal and internal, yet huge, good, transformative, and ultimately bigger than us. It is transcendent.

The Holy Spirit comes to us, fills us with himself, washes us clean in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and overflows into our lives. It’s the glory of God. We instinctively know we have tapped into something big and wonderful, but it really is beyond description. Words alone cannot capture the meaning and weight of God’s glory. But one thing we know: when we encounter him, our lives are changed. He makes life beautiful. Even difficulty has a divine glow around it. God then inspires us to be courageous and embrace exploits that in themselves are beyond our abilities or inclinations. 

God’s glory is the connecting thread of all biblical stories. Those who experienced difficulty and endured did so because they experienced God and saw something glorious in his plans.

God’s glory is the connecting thread of all biblical stories. Those who experienced difficulty and endured did so because they experienced God and saw something glorious in his plans. The vision sustained their faith. It kept them alive, it empowered them to obey, to press forward, to survive, and to go on as long as they could. Noah saw a future beyond global disaster and built an ark to save his family. Moses saw the end of slavery in Egypt and freedom for his people in a new land of promise. These and other heroes of the Bible—both men and women, plus a litany of heroes throughout Christian history—saw something.

Their vision of the glory and power of God so transformed their lives and nourished their souls that even in the challenges they faced, they were able to survive, endure, and overcome. Their courage began with God. It proceeded by obedience. It finished with glory. What they did would have never happened without God’s inspired directive and their willful obedience. None were without sin. All were flawed. All faced discouragement. None obeyed perfectly. But each one found sustenance in their relationship with God and his glory.

John Piper said the most important sentence in his theology is, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Friedrich Nietzsche called it meaning; John Piper calls it the glory of God. 

What exactly is the glory of God? Author and missiologist Steve Hawthorne says the Hebrew word for glory means “weight, substance, and at the same time brilliance or radiant beauty.” It could be called vision. It certainly is beautiful. It implies something about human experience, something we “see” in our connections with God. It relates to how we perceive him, how we understand God’s identity, and define his work in our lives. But that is only one part of the answer. The human experience with God is not the whole of God’s glory. People see or are touched by the glory of God when we encounter him. But the glory of God is far bigger than subjective human experience. Psalm 19:1–4 says:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork.
Day after day it speaks out; night after night it reveals his greatness.
There is no actual speech or word, nor is its voice literally heard.
Yet its voice echoes throughout the earth; its words carry to the distant horizon. 

God’s glory is his entire incomprehensible identity—his sovereignty and his completeness in himself, an eternal reality that pre-exists the created universe. Hawthorne says, “The Bible is basically a story about God. When we turn to the Bible as a self-help book, we end up bored or frustrated with what seems to be a rambling collection of stories. What if the Bible is more about God than it is about us? . . . How thrilling to discover that every element of scripture . . . converges in one central saga of one worthy Person.” 

What if we reframed our Christian walk in light of God’s magnificent beauty? The unfathomable splendor of a sovereign God who is kind and just . . . and the personal allure of the incarnate Christ who brought that reality into a broken world and then gave his life for us.

Instead of allowing contemporary culture to control an ultimately hopeless narrative, we tune to the creator to tell a different story, one that fills our souls with the truth about who he is and what he has done. That story will fill our lives with meaning and overflow from us in vision, grace, and sacrificial, transformative love for a hurting world. 

Come what may, that is a beautiful way to live.

Douglas Gehman
Douglas Gehman attended Goshen College and Fuller Theological Seminary and completed Master's and Doctorate degrees in Missions at Liberty Christian University in Pensacola, FL. Since 1994, Doug has served with Globe International, a mission-sending agency based in Pensacola. He became the Director in 2001 and the President in 2004. Doug loves coaching and mentoring emerging leaders, helping them discover their giftings and life direction. Doug and his wife, Beth, have ministered in neary sixty nations. They have four married children and eleven grandchildren. Doug is the author of three books. The most recent is their family's story, called White Picket Fences. He loves writing, surfing, cycling, walking, and spending time with his family.

Adapted from Before You Quit by Doug Gehman, Moody Publishers, 2020. Used by permission.

Cover image by Igor Miske.

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