Sustained by Beauty
The Fight of Faith and the Battle to See
By J. Aaron White —
I could tell that it was around five in the morning by the hue of stifled light peering around my window blinds. “He shouldn’t be up this early,” I thought to myself. As the pleas for attention continued to echo from the baby’s room down the hall, I rolled out of my bed and began my day. My wristwatch quickly confirmed what my window blinds told me—it was 5:25am. Courtesy of a pinched vertebrae in my neck, the left side of my head pulsed with the perennial headache that greeted me most mornings. “He’s going to wake everyone up,” I whispered to myself. I glanced into the boys’ room and was relieved to see their little bodies curled up under their fuzzy blue blankets as they remained at rest. My narrow-eyed stupor was partly melted as I entered Ezra’s room. A dimple-cheeked baby in striped pajamas smiled behind his pacifier as I crossed the threshold. “Alright, dude, let’s go get some coffee for daddy and breakfast for you,” I told him. Me and my tiny partner shuffled to the kitchen in silence. After the baby was settled in his highchair, I began nursing a hot mug of coffee as I stared down at my Bible. Another paradoxical day of certain routines in uncertain times.
As Christians, what do we need to do when the mundane collides with madness? How do we persevere in faith when our souls are weary, and our futures are uncertain? Most of us begin making lists. We love lists. We love writing them on Post-it Notes, and we love using the latest life-organizing app on our smartphones. Lists give direction to wandering vessels. Lists give meaning where there is only mindless obligation. The problem, however, is that making a list is not the first thing that God’s Word calls us to do. After studying Peter’s second epistle, I could not miss what the action-prone apostle prescribed to weary, suffering, and disillusioned believers: Believe more before you try to do more.
Peter begins his second epistle by explaining what God did for undeserving sinners, people like you and me, through the cross of his Son:
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Pt. 1:1-4, emphasis mine).
After establishing the reality of God’s sovereign grace, Peter then picks up his list. He issues the command to “make every effort to supplement your faith with…virtue…knowledge…self-control…steadfastness…godliness…brotherly affection…love” (2 Pt. 1:5-7). Fair enough, Peter. But it was early in the morning and my soul was lethargic, my affections were not moving me toward the God-honoring obedience that Peter called me to.
Rather than picking up a whip, Peter picks up a mirror. The great apostle is personally acquainted with spiritual weakness (e.g., thrice denying his Master) and he wants to remind his readers of everything he said in verses 1-4. Despite being a man of action, Peter knows a profoundly helpful truth: the fight of persevering faith is, at root, a battle to see beauty. Rather than telling weary saints that they have a problem with their backbones, Peter tells them that they have a problem with their eyes. After issuing his list of virtues, Peter says, “For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (v. 9). What a gloriously unexpected prescription for spiritual fruitlessness! Peter speaks to weary believers, some of whom are falling behind in the race of faith and tells them that they must believe more before they try to do more. Specifically, he draws a line from their apathy and disobedience to their inability to see the beauty and wonder of God’s sovereign grace. As if suffering a spiritual concussion, they’ve temporarily forgotten who they are in Christ—forgiven, loved, elected, redeemed. Their eyes have grown dim so that their hearts are not overwrought by the splendor of a sinner-loving Savior. They’re a lot like us.
As the coffee cooled in my mug and baby Ezra glibly chewed on his Cheerios, I felt a smile form on my haggard face. As a slave of Jesus Christ, I knew that I was called to pick up my cross afresh and follow in the bloody footsteps of my Master. I knew there were myriad choices of obedience that lay before me that day. I also knew that I needed to rub the grime out of my spiritual eyes before I laced up my boots. So, I took Peter’s advice and went back to verse 3, personalizing the great promise of the gospel: “His divine power [that made the universe] has granted [by grace alone] to [enter your name], all things that pertain to life and godliness [we lack nothing], through the knowledge [intellectual understanding and personal relationship] of him who called [enter your name] to his own glory and excellence [infinite beauty and all-satisfying splendor].” Say it however you like: Beholding fuels behavior, believing precedes doing, observing empowers obedience, seeing motivates service. Peter’s point remains clear and gloriously helpful for weary Christians: persevering faith is sustained by seeing the beauty of Jesus Christ.