Beauty, it has always seemed to me, is one of the great arguments for God. If we are all engaged only in a pitiless struggle to ensure our DNA survives (as Richard Dawkins suggests), why does beauty matter so much to so many of us?
And it was the beauty contained in the Gospel (“good news”) that moved me so profoundly that I became a Christian nearly four decades ago.
When I understood it, with the help of C.S. Lewis as well as the Bible, I was awestruck. To summarise: God had an apparently insoluble conundrum between his justice and his love. He cannot turn a blind eye to human rebellion and failure (what Francis Spufford called “the human propensity to f… things up” or “HPtFTU”) without compromising his perfect justice. But his perfect love means he cannot remain alienated from those he has created and loves.
How could one resolve such a conflict without compromising one of these twin absolutes? By human logic, impossible! But, as Jesus taught his disciples, our logic is not the last word. The Gospel of Matthew records that Jesus told his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The astonished disciples ask, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replies: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
God’s solution is not to sacrifice his perfect standards of either morality or love, but to maintain both by sacrificing himself. That is the heart of what Christians commemorate at Easter: that God himself intervened in human history, humiliating himself by taking the form of a helpless infant, living a life in perfect conformity with his moral law, and dying an excruciating and shameful death on the Cross.
I know that some consider this a vile doctrine, that what God allows to happen to Jesus makes him a moral monster. They fail to grasp the importance of the understanding that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. It is in that way that God himself pays the price for restoring humanity.
Or, as the Apostle John more poetically puts it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
I have dedicated much of my life to beauty in (I hope) a non-decadent way by absorbing as much music as circumstances allow. But the greatest beauty is moral beauty – compassion, generosity, self-sacrifice – and the most beautiful expression of it that I have found or could conceive of is what Christians celebrate at Easter in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.
Barney Zwartz is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times.