The Beauty of Christ 

God is good, and his goodness is shown more clearly in Jesus Christ than in any other way. This is a strong beauty in Jesus Christ.

"Beauty" is not a word we generally apply to men, but this post is an introduction to a series on the beauty of the entire Christian faith, and the Christian way of thinking. Mathematicians speak of and see beauty in their demonstrations. Scientists consider beauty (elegance, simplicity, fit, etc.) to be a sign of a theory's truth, an indicator of accuracy. There is beauty in Christianity. Some of it is theoretical: its explanations for the natural world and the human condition are elegant, simple, profound.

When I first put my faith in Jesus Christ, I had seen and was persuaded by strong evidences that the Bible's historical record could be trusted. Those evidences are as strong as ever, but they are not absolute proof. I've read at length about various philosophical arguments for God, and some of them are very, very convincing to me. Still, there is no complete proof that God exists or that Jesus Christ is his Son.

There is enough there, though, that I am perfectly willing to stake all that I am on what I believe. Recently I've come to realize there's a unifying theme to all that seems convincing to me in Christianity, and that is its beauty. 

It's a truism that no one in history matches him and his influence. More remarkable is the fact that even in myth or fiction there is nothing like the life of Christ. There are characters who resemble one piece of him or another: spiritual teachers, miracle workers, gadflies to the established order, and so on. But no other person has even been imagined in whom it all fits together so well, so beautifully. Has another character ever been conceived who combines such genuine, human, almost earthy reality with such transcendent spirituality? Jesus walked, ate, worked, prayed, got tired, got hungry, just as we do. Bill Cosby said in a comedy routine years ago, "I started out as a child." Cosby's line was comical because we don't usually point out something so ordinary. Jesus didn't have to do that--he didn't have to do the ordinary--but, as God come to dwell with us, he started out (on earth) as a child. He grew up as needy and dependent as any of us. He celebrated at celebrations; he wept at a funeral. He learned by practice what it means to be obedient. He learned by practice what it means to be challenged, to be opposed, to suffer.

So there was a distinct humanness to him, which never once disappears from his picture on the pages of the New Testament. There was also, unmistakably, the divine. He claimed to be one with the Father (the Greek there mean sharing the essence and not just the thoughts or the purposes); he forgave sin as only God can; he claimed to have been around before Abraham and used the unique, unutterable name of God for himself when he said it. Somehow he does it without it ringing megalomaniacal.

He healed, he freed people from demons, he raised the dead, he walked on water, he fed the multitudes. Think of others who have been portrayed in myth or fiction as having powers like that. Do they display the same groundedness, the same reality of humanity that he did? He brought the human and divine together in a way that no storyteller has matched; possibly because it's a life beyond human imagining. It could never have been thought up if it had not been observed.

He loved; he taught love, grace, compassion, and forgiveness, even toward one's enemies. He taught it by consistent example and not just by words. He was gentle with those who needed gentleness. He was terribly powerful with the smug religionists, the hypocrites, those who used religion to put heavy burdens on others and to exalt themselves. The power he used, though, more often than not, was the power of their own words against themselves. It was the power of a mirror reflecting truly on them. He was unremitting in his insistence on truth, truth lived out in love.

There is a literary analogue to the trial and death of Christ in the execution of Socrates, who died willingly for the sake of the truth. I love the Socrates story too. Both stood before injustice with a stance of powerful humility: they each proved their case by their deaths. The death of Christ is different even from that of Socrates, though; for Socrates met his end quite peacefully, surrounded by sympathetic friends. Jesus Christ forgave his literal torturers, while hanging from what has often been described as humanity's cruelest-ever instrument of execution.

Thus even before we come to the most significant, and most contested, claim about the life of Christ, we see something unique, beautiful, unmatched. It's been said that early believers made this up, under pressure of persecution. I'm highly skeptical they could have done it. I'm even more highly skeptical that a group of Jews would have entertained a moment's thought of a divine-human person like this. And that, under the historical circumstances they lived in, they would have invented and clung tenaciously to a tale of a resurrection--that crowning act of an unparalleled life--takes more faith to believe than that the resurrection actually happened.

This is (some of) the beauty of the life of Christ. We his followers have not always reflected it well, but nevertheless his picture stands in glory in the pages of the Bible, and has inspired many to seek, even if not to fully realize, a life like it.

This is not proof. Alister McGrath, the Christian theologian/apologist from Oxford, said in the question/answer period following a lecture:

"I think any worldview goes beyond the available evidence. Whatever you're saying, whatever you say is meaningful, whether you believe in democracy, Christianity or atheism, actually, you're going beyond the available evidence. And I think that means you're making statements that actually in the end cannot be proven to be true. You take them on trust because you believe they are rational, you believe that they are right, but you cannot prove them to be so."

I agree. This is not proof; no worldview has such a thing in any final, incontestable terms. Nevertheless, there's something mightily compelling here, so that among the choices of worldviews, this one stands out as rational, as one we can believe is right: partly because of its beauty.

Part of a series on Beauty as reason to believe in Jesus Christ:
1. The Beauty of Christ
2. The Beauty of God's Word
3. The Beauty of God's People
4. The Beauty of Virtue
5. The Beauty of Creativity
6. The Beauty of Explanation: The Human Condition
7. The Beauty of Explanation: The Solution
8. The Beauty of Hope

(Thank you to Stand To Reason blog for the McGrath link. This comment occurs just before the 48-minute point.) 

Posted: Wed - February 21, 2007 at 04:15 PM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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