In his book, The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky introduces us to a character named Myshkin. Myshkin’s idea of life is to help rather than to harm, to give mercy rather than malice, to forgive again and again. Myshkin takes what is cruel and repulsive in the people and culture around him and transforms it. He does this because he believes that, “beauty will save the world.”
Because he refuses to participate in the destructive ugliness around him, Myshkin is labelled the “Idiot”.
The people hate beauty and decide that the only way to destroy the beauty is to destroy Myshkin. But why?
Thy testimonies are sure. Holiness has beautified Thine house, O Lord, forever. (Psalm 93:5)
Throughout scripture, we learn that beauty is tied to holiness (Psalm 96:9) and nothing irritates us more than holiness.
Contrary to popular opinion, holiness is not drab and grey. Holiness is stunning. It’s a tsunami hitting the beach. It’s ten thousand mountain lilies drenched in rain. It’s the lightning that cracks over cane fields. It’s the thunder that shakes the sky. It’s virginal, pure, overwhelming in power.
In our deepest longings we yearn for beauty, but having rejected God’s holiness we increasingly despise the beauty that flows from it.
In that frame of mind, destroying beauty becomes something that we do in countless ways every day.
Like Myshkin’s enemies, we do it by taking aim at the one thing than echoes that beauty more than anything else. Other people. People made in the image of God.
Take the honest woman working hard and succeeding in her business. Ever spread a rumour about her? Ever bagged out your mother in public or slandered your father or despised your neighbour? Why?
Our railing against beauty is a weak attempt to rail against the God who created beautiful things. Beautiful things like husbands, the unborn and petrol station attendants.
Having rejected the beauty, we praise the ugly. Ugly art, ugly houses, ugly books, ugly stories, ugly skirts, ugly hair and ugly imaginations. We graffiti our world in our madness, thinking to eradicate the beauty.
Nowhere was this more true than in the murder of Jesus. Why did they hate the one who had come to save the world by offering forgiveness? Why did they want to get rid of Him who went about making people and things more beautiful than they were before He came?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to adore such beauty and draw near to it?
Perhaps our real beef isn’t with each other. Perhaps it’s with God. Having God around is like having Mishkyn around because it reveals something ugly within us. And that leaves us with two options. Either get rid of the beauty or get rid of the ugliness.
Jesus came to do the latter: to transform the ugliness. To give beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). To fill the earth with His holiness. To call us out from behind our ugly masks so that, with unveiled faces, we might behold the beauty of the Lord and be transformed.