Beautiful Ugliness

We don’t watch very much TV in our household, but one program we enjoy watching occasionally is Aerial America that airs on the Smithsonian Channel. Each hour-long episode focuses on one state in America, such as Illinois, and gives a bird’s eye view of key places, landmarks, and geographical features of that state. Apparently, the producers have covered all fifty states, because they’ve now expanded to take in other countries—such as New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland—and, most recently, key cities in the U.S.

The other evening we watched Aerial Africa, which centered on the western cape region of South Africa, and then Aerial America: Illinois. One nice thing about the program is it gives the opportunity to discover places that would be interesting to visit someday, and the Illinois episode was no exception. But the thing that really caught my attention was the segment on Chicago, probably because my wife and I had just visited the city a week or so ago. We learned a few interesting facts about the city and its skyscrapers, history, and so on, but then as the camera slowly panned the city from the east over Lake Michigan, the narrator remarked that the unique buildings and other development along the Lake Michigan shoreline “makes the Chicago city skyline one of the most beautiful in the world.” Well, if you’ve ever taken one of those shoreline excursions on Lake Michigan on a gorgeous summer day—or night!—you would have to agree. It is indeed a beautiful sight.

And yet, as I thought about it, I realized that the beauty from a distance is a bit of a façade. It’s true that the city does a pretty good job of keeping things clean—at least in the region around and including the “Magnificent Mile” and the various parks along the shore. Millennium Park down to Buckingham Fountain is really quite stunning for an urban park. But that beauty from a distance masks some tragic ugliness. The homicide rate in the city is atrocious, accounting for nearly half of the increase in homicides in the U.S. in 2016—that in a city with extremely tough gun laws. And even though the overall crime rate in the city remains near a historic low, there’s still a 1 in 90 chance that you’ll be a victim of violent crime in Chicago (compared with 1 in 229 in Illinois). Another area of ugliness is the drug trade. To those of us living in western Illinois, it’s common knowledge that I-88 and I-80—major interstate routes from Chicago to points west—are heavily traveled by drug traffickers, bringing their sordid product to market in rural communities in western Illinois and Iowa.

All of this got me thinking about our human nature. We can be pretty good at creating a beautiful façade, projecting an image that all is well—better than that! Everything’s great! That we’re “Mary Poppins-ish”—you know, practically perfect people. But what are things like behind the image? How really is the marriage and family? What secret corruption is eating away at the soul? What fear, worry, or anxiety is corroding any sense of well-being?

Ugliness for the child of God is on its way out. True beauty is in the process of working to the surface from a transformation within. Remember Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time…”? Couple that with a few other key passages:

“If anyone is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“…He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Child of God, don’t try to put on a mask, a façade of beauty that hides the ugliness of corruption within. Let the inner transformation of heart, mind, attitude, and character—the glory of the Lord Jesus—work its way to the surface of your life. May the Lord make you truly beautiful in His time.