Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Not the Way It's Supposed to Be

I think what we've been hinting at in several of the recent posts dealing with "beauty" and "ugly" comes down to this:

Beauty is when things or people are the way they're supposed to be.

Ugly is when things or people are not the way they're supposed to be.*

Perhaps that's why every society I can think of points to nature as a thing of beauty. Sure, there have been individuals who disagree, but every culture paints landscapes. Nature is beautiful when it is unspoiled -- untainted -- natural.

Destruction is ugly because by its very nature it corrupts and perverts. Few things are uglier than an oil spill or a landfill or polluted streams and skies. Why? Because that's not the way they're supposed to be. Racism and genocide are ugly. That's not the way things are supposed to be.

In the movie GRAND CANYON, an attorney gets stuck in a traffic jam. He tries to go around it by taking side streets, but his car breaks down in the worst of all possible neighborhoods. He manages to call a tow truck, but before it arrives, the attorney finds himself surrounded by a menacing gang. Just as things are about to get really bad, the tow truck driver shows up. As he begins to assist the attorney, the gang members protest until he takes their leader aside and tells him:

"Man, the world ain't supposed to work like this. Maybe you don't know that, but this ain't the way it's supposed to be. I'm supposed to be able to do my job without askin' you if I can. And that dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you rippin' him off. Everything's supposed to be different than what it is here."

In other words, this situation is ugly. Our world is ugly. We are ugly. That's not the whole truth about us, but it is certainly part of the whole truth about us. And until we are restored and redeemed, this ugliness follows us around, haunting even our best days with the looming specter of our own inevitable destruction.

The hope of Christmas is that one day everything that is currently upside-down will be turned rightside-up -- that one day things will be restored -- ugliness will be banished and beauty will once again reign supreme.

Until then, we survive on glimpses of beauty -- slivers of hope in an otherwise ugly world -- reminders that God is not through with us yet.

*For more on this topic see Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. NOT THE WAY IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE: A BREVIARY OF SIN (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).