I frequently pick roses for my wife on my early morning prayer walks, a process that can be painful and even at times bloody. The thought came to me as I was enduring such discomfort the other day, “Is the thorn part of the beauty of the rose?” “Yes,” because Donna’s experience of the rose’s beauty is intensified because she knows it came to her at some cost to me. Contained in this simple understanding is an appreciation of the amazing wisdom of God in creating and guiding this universe. In a time when militant anti-Christian atheism is enjoying remarkable growth and cultural indifference to eternal things is as strong as ever such an insight is desperately needed for the sake of the gospel.
At the end of the Bible vast hordes of humanity are said to “curse the name of God” because of the plagues of the last days (Rev 16:9, 11, 21). Since we are in these times it should not surprise us that many accuse their Maker of indifference and cruelty in relation to the sufferings and injustices of the world (2 Pet 3:3-4). “How can God allow innocent children to suffer etc?” Such heartfelt questions require more than an intellectual response.
The Maker of all has left a testimony of the worthwhileness of history, even with its countless brutalities. Jesus’ words point us to the nature of this witness, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” (John 16:21 ESV). The wonder that accompanies the creation of a new human being overwhelms the anguish of childbirth. Paul vastly expands this image, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:22). The revelation of the glory of the new creation at the End will totally expel all memories of suffering and distress. This might sound like, “Pie in the sky when you die bye and bye”; which is why we must turn to the ugliest and most evil of all events, the cross.
The Wisdom of the Cross
The scriptures intentionally speak of the indescribably repulsiveness of Christ crucified, “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind….he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2 ESV). The unique depths of the ugliness of the cross are not physical but spiritual, and require deep and difficult contemplation.
All conscious creatures suffer pain, but only those in God’s image experience suffering as painfully evil, dark and depressing. The only purely evil thing is an evil will. The uneasy feeling that God might be indifferently willing the disasters of this world reduces Hitler to the status of a kindergarten bully and holds back millions from faith. On the cross Jesus must experience sin’s limitless conviction that God is an abusive “Father” who malevolently wills the suffering of his children. This is a thought so dark and abominable that it drives the pure and holy conscience of Jesus to absolute despair. ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) is a revelation that Jesus is bearing in himself the inner essence of evil. And he bears it to extinction.
The resurrection glory of Jesus is a revelation of the eternity that God had always prepared for humanity (1 Cor 2:8-10). The cross-and-resurrection is the final disclosure to the world of the wisdom, beauty and goodness of God. Only the power of death-and-resurrection can abolish from our minds the suspicion that evil exists in the Godhead. This is the mysterious beauty of suffering for glory, the thorn and the rose (Luke 24:26).
The Persuasive Power of Beauty
Another person’s love is experienced as unquestionably good and beauteous when it involves unnecessary suffering for us. This is the only way we know God loves us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8 ESV). A philosopher I once debated snapped back, “I don’t have to be crucified for my children to know that I love them.” God however must disarm our wicked heart conviction that his failure to use his power for good renders him a cruel or distant Father. The only power sufficient to still our moral demands is the power of the cross (1 Cor 1:18). The beauty of what God has done in recreating humanity in Christ and bringing him home to glory for us has a persuasiveness far superior to any experience of suffering and wickedness. Why then does the gospel seem so powerless in our day (Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:17)?
Embrace the Ugly
In the New Testament those who hear the uncompromised gospel are commonly “cut to the heart” and spontaneously call on the Lord to be saved (Acts 2:37; 16:29-30 cf. Matt 3:1-6). If the “seeker-sensitive “preachers of today never unveil to their hearers the depth of the depravity from which they have been saved how can they understand the glory restored for them in Christ and the limitless beauty of his crucified-and-risen life (Rom 4:5; Eph 2:1-3; Heb 4:12-13)! To bypass the ugliness of the cross (our ugliness) is a mistake of tragic proportions. More profoundly, like Jesus we can reveal the purity of God’s love through voluntary suffering for others (John 10:17-18). As the New Testament witnesses shed their blood willingly to beautify the world (Rev 6:9; 12:11 etc.) we can freely do likewise, giving of the “blood” of our time, presence, money and prayers for the hurting and lost. Then we will see men and women powerfully turn to Christ.
The justification for the creation of this universe with all its agonies and ecstasies is not found in a set of ideas; it is seen in the unspeakable beauty of the Person of Jesus. A Jesus whose loveliness was formed through sharing our entire human history. In the End “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28) and we will understand “from him and through him and to him are all things.”(Rom 11:36). In the Day of Christ we will receive a full and final revelation of “The Unutterable Beauty” of the Son of God (G.A. Studdert-Kennedy) whose death-and-resurrection embraces the whole span of our humanity. It will then be limitlessly clear that in the wise purposes of God all the sufferings of time were worth it for all things were always working together for our eternal good in Christ (Rom 8:28). At the End the persuasive power of beauty shall have expelled all that is evil and we will unquestionably enjoy God forever in an endless world of wonder (Rev 22:15). Such beauty is certainly worth picking roses for.
 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)
 E.g. Satan’s intelligence is a good gift of God; but his will to use this power destructively is wholly evil.