Beneath Your Beautiful

There are a thousand different ways to hear God speak. So overflowing with His common grace is the created world that you really must close your eyes and ears tight to totally prevent intrusion of the Divine Beauty. And if you're not careful you might actually hear God whispering to you. Still Small Voice and all that.

Sometimes hearing God is as easy as flipping on the car radio to that "godless" pop station. Here in Eugene it's called KDUK (get it?), and from time to time when I'm too rushed or lazy to attach my phone or iPod to the stereo I settle for a little Top 40. Mostly it's kitschy, dancey, wubwuby fluff, but occasionally I'm caught off guard by a legitimately moving melody, or a haunting bit of poetry. Sometimes I even hear a little Truth slip out between the hooks and drops, and I remember that a good pop song can say more about what it means to be human than a hundred sermons.

Enter "Beneath Your Beautiful" by Labrinth featuring Emeli Sandé. I first heard this track while I driving home from work one evening and it about broke my heart open. I almost had to pull over to regain my composure. Go ahead, give it a listen.

Granted, this song isn't saying anything entirely new. There is nothing new under the sun after all. But what moved me was how disarmingly close the song's sentiment was to a notion I'd been turning over in my heart for some time.

See, I have this theory: every one of us, or very nearly every one of us, has buried deep deep down a secret, or a fear, or a jagged edge we dread would ever see light of day. This is no mere insecurity, no quirk we might share with our closer friends. I'm talking a deep existential shame which we are convinced would drive even those nearest and dearest away if they ever found out.

I'm talking pornography addictions, sexual confusions, past abuses. The stuff we never really dig up. The stuff we keep tucked away, content to be eaten from the inside out before ever letting anyone know who we really are. I think more of us carry these core-adjacent fears than are willing to admit.

And the easiest way to direct attention from the inner decay is to wear a bright, decorative mask. A beautiful mask. A mask of wellness, of propriety, of righteousness. "Look at how well I can balance all my plates!" "Look at how functional my family is!" "Look at how many notes I have in my Bible!"

The sick thing is sometimes we get the impression from the "righteous" among us that even God desires for us to wear these masks. God forbid anyone get the wrong idea about us. Masks on!

When our spiritual authorities and elders advise us to bury our weaknesses and hurts, we do it. We don't want to be different after all. We don't want to be broken. So we shove the hurting parts so deep down we almost forget about them. The deeper the pain the brighter the mask. Such is the Christian life.

If that's so then why do I experience such profound relief when I hear these singers profess their desire to see "beneath [the] beautiful"? These lovers beg each other to unearth the secrets, to bring to light the deepest inadequacies. They promise to love one another even after the shameful truths have been made known. That... that's the Gospel. That's the Good News. Or some integral part of it.

For each of us needs, more than anything, perhaps more than air, to know we will be loved in spite of our secret shames. We each need someone to discover how wretched we are and still say, without hesitation or condition, "I love you."

Most of us won't be vulnerable enough to risk it though, because in opening ourselves up we chance those we love might respond with disgust rather than love. And honestly, maybe they will. There's always that chance.

But what if I told you God sees it all and still proclaims our beauty and worth? What if God sees beneath our beautiful and still loves us? That would change everything.

Thankfully, as a Bible believing Christian, I have the stories of Scripture to confirm this conviction. The beautiful, richly true stories of God's Word. And here is one:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:3-11

Here is a woman whose secrets have, against her will, been exposed in a humiliatingly public way. She is dragged, perhaps naked, before the gawking masses. 

And she is brought directly to Christ for judgment. 

What does the incarnate God do? He writes in the sand to take the crowd's eyes off her. He levels the playing field by reminding the pious "religious" types of their own shortcomings and shames. He loves her. They say love is better expressed in deed than in word, and this is as clear a depiction of love as I've ever seen. He sees beneath her beautiful and instead of condemning her he calls her to live a life of health and wholeness apart from the cycle of shame and destruction in which she has found herself.

Some translations record Christ then telling the woman to "sin no more." But I resonate with Rachel Held Evans' suspicion that he said it with a smirk. He was not commanding that she behave perfectly from that moment on (as no human ever could). He was not thrusting her back into the system of buried sins and beautiful masks. He was acknowledging the dysfunction of her past and calling her into new life. Because this is what love does.

God already sees beneath the beautiful, beneath our masks. Some may find that invasive, but for me it is the one true solace. The One who knows every inch of me, every secret, says I am worth dying for, worth the universe and more. That's it. That's the Good News.


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