“Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Yahweh’s house forever.” Psalm 23 (WEB)
Worlds apart in our minds…and in our hearts…are suffering and beauty. So opposite are these two conditions that to intimately juxtapose them so that they are face to face with one another seems all-together not just unlikely but wrong. Just as oil and water don’t mix likewise are suffering and beauty we say to ourselves. Surely they are so vastly different from one another that they are better and more comfortably comprehended as if they exist on opposite sides of the ocean from one another. Where there is pain, where there is suffering, there can be no beauty. We are so convinced this is truth such that there can be no other understanding to our way of thinking. After all have we not seen with our very own eyes and felt with our very own hearts from our personal vantage point in the watch tower known as experience that overlooks the paths we and so many others have trod that this is so?
Try as we might to avoid all the thorns sooner or later we are pierced. No matter how hard we try there are some thorns in this life which simply cannot be avoided. One day this dark, heartless rider takes us by force, carries us away, and unmercifully thrusts us directly onto the razor sharp point of a thorn. It doesn’t matter why the rider came, it only matters that he did. Cut, bleeding, and deeply wounded by the thorn’s presence the pain runs rampant throughout our entire being. Pressed up against the crumbling, thorn-covered cliff’s edge precariously perched high above the unyielding rocks covering the valley floor far below our hearts long for mercy and deliverance. Engulfed by our pain night and day we desperately search the all-too-blurry horizon through tear-filled eyes for signs of sweet, life-sustaining, live-giving hope galloping heroically towards us and again our past experiences remind us, as if on cue, of the great chasm that exists between
If only such a suffocating expanse of hopelessness could be bridged. It’s not like we haven’t tried to make that journey, of course. After all, pain and suffering seek relief, no, it is far more than that…they demand relief, and so countless times and in countless ways we have tried to cross this abyss, all to no avail, all to our detriment. Sadly, in our own attempts to obtain relief we eventually find that all too often what we once held the reins to now cruelly reigns over us:
(Johnny Cash, Hurt)
But, then God.
What humanity is unable to do the Lord accomplishes. Only He is able to bring these two polar opposites together in such an extraorodinary way so as to create the spirit-lifting rhythm, melody, and soothing notes of harmony that we so desperately seek in the midst of our sufferings. Only He can unite suffering and beauty in such a miraculous way that an even greater beauty of breathtaking signficance and transcendence is revealed. It is a beauty like no other that lavishes our hearts and souls with the deliciously honeysuckle sweet scent of hope which we so desperately seek in the depths of our sufferings. As surely as the air we deeply inhale after a cleansing summer shower is wonderfully new, fresh, and utterly pleasant so is the message of hope delivered by His grace and mercy that is found in our Savior’s love for us. Take heart, sister, take heart, brother, Jesus, our infinite Drop of living water overflowing with hope, comes to those who cry out to Him in their lowest and darkest times of need.
“Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (WEB)
“Jesus answered her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 (WEB)
Poised and perfectly balanced on the sharp point of our suffering like the delicate drop of water at the end of the thorn Jesus compassionately offers His own beauty, joy, and hope to us in our time of heartache for He, too, has personally experienced the anguish and misery from life’s thorns, thorns that were ours and not His to bear.
“So Pilate then took Jesus, and flogged him. The soldiers twisted thorns into a crown, and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple garment. They kept saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and they kept slapping him.” John 19:1-3 (WEB)
Laid low in the darkness will we embrace the hope and beauty offered to us by the One, our precious Drop of Living Water, who willingly places Himself right on the very tip end of the thorn that is the source of our anguish? Will we embrace His presence and know that we are not alone no matter how dark the dark, how excruciating the pain? He has come to breathe life into our breaking hearts for His desire is to set us free, but we must begin to understand that there is a bigger story at work here beyond ourselves. Certainly He understood this in His own life as He stumbled through angry crowds broken and beaten carrying a cross on His way to Calvary, didn’t He? He trusted His Father to speak life into what appeared to thousands of eyes surrounding Him that day to be a one-way, dead-end street with absolutely no hope. And so must we in the presence of thorns. Only then can we find ourselves in His arms swaying to a melody of joy and undeniable hope that is unknown and foreign to the world. Only then can we find the Beauty of Beauties waiting to be revealed within our suffering. Only then can we experience transformative intimacy with Him.
“But may the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered for a little while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” 1 Peter 5:10 (WEB)
The beauty of His precious hope is ever before us. It surrounds us. Even in the midst of our being crushed it is present. Surely, then, the words from that old familiar hymn ring even more sweetly in the warm and radiant sunrise of the wonderful promise of His healing presence in our lives as His precious children:
“This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long,
this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”
Why? Because, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” for then, and only then, is it truly “well with my soul.”
(Francis Blight, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less)