Beauty and Suffering

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Can pain be beautiful? That is one way to phrase a question I’ve been struggling to answer. I’ve wondered if beauty can be found in suffering. As I have written about in the past, experiencing beauty often includes unpleasant emotions along with positive ones. But there is a great difference between understanding the sense of longing we experience when we encounter beauty and seeking beauty in misery. Beauty and suffering aren’t opposites, but they do not seem to be compatible at all.

I struggle to find an answer to this question in part because I have no personal experience in great suffering. By the grace of God I have been sheltered from much sorrow. Bouts with physical ailments or short spans of anxiety are the closest encounters I have had to suffering. Any degree of anguish I have felt has healed with time. I am not nearly as familiar with pain as I should be to write on this subject with any authority, but I shall try anyway with the little knowledge I do have.

The only times of great total pain, pain that afflicts every portion of my being, I have felt were before I became a Christian. My broken and lonely heart remained inconsolable until the Lord called me to Himself. Only in hindsight can I see that my hurting was integral in my calling; without experiencing the pain and despair brought upon by sin, I never would have been able to accept God’s love. Beauty reflects the Father, and my pain brought me to Him, but I don’t think that means my pain was beautiful. It was deserved; I was responsible for my own broken heart. It was clearly preordained and therefore meant to happen. Even so, I don’t think it being ‘right’ qualifies it as beautiful. If anything, God’s plan for my redemption through suffering was beautiful, but that means the plan carries the beauty, not the pain.

Looking to the cross also helps shed light on the relationship between suffering and beauty. Nowhere in the bible can I find anyone describe the death and suffering of Jesus as beautiful. We remember the crucifixion as ‘good’ only for what it means for us sinners: freedom from sin, death, and Satan. The beauty of the cross does not lie in Christ’s suffering, but in our forgiveness. Here, beauty is only found in the fact that Father’s will was done. Jesus’ unfathomable pain was not the purpose of the cross, it was the means by which the purpose was accomplished. Again, it is God’s plan that is beautiful, not sin’s effects.

Sin is anything contrary to God and therefore cannot be beautiful in any way. Suffering is a byproduct of sin, so it too cannot be beautiful. However, it should be clear by now that God is powerful enough to bring about good even through suffering. As Paul writes in Romans 8:28 “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes.” Suffering is included in “all things”. I guess that answers my question. Beauty can be found in how God works through our suffering, not in the suffering itself.

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