A couple years ago, my school performed Beauty and the Beast, the classic Disney fairytale about a beautiful young woman who falls in love with a soul matted by an outward, beastly appearance. My director’s favorite quote and theme of the musical was taken from the narrator’s introduction in the opening scene – Who could ever learn to love a beast?
Let me give you another illustration: A man dripping with guilt and shame and fear and selfishness walks into an empty church, and somewhere inside his soul is a longing that beckons for a Higher Power. Somewhere within is the innate faith, however small, in a Power unseen. So he walks, burdened by his fear and guilty stains, beastly in his wretched sin, and stumbles towards the altar where he cries out for love, for someone to care for him despite his wretched appearance, his shortcomings, his decrepit form. He calls out for someone to rescue him before it is too late, because he is dying. If he does not experience true love before death, before “the last petal falls,” then he will be trapped in his beastly, spiritual prison forever.
He feels dirty and unworthy, but out of the void comes a Savior who delivers a love the man so desperately needs yet doesn’t deserve. How many times have you been that man? Have I been that man? How many times have I come broken before the Savior, wallowing in filth and shame, beastly – undeserving of grace – only to have Jesus remind me again that He loves me? I am a treasure in His sight.
I know sometimes it gets old hearing phrases such as “Smile, Jesus loves you” or “God loves everyone,” but the truth is that He loves the beast inside you and me. Loving is not as easy as Hallmark makes it out to be. It is not a comfortable feel-good emotion, but instead a daily challenge to put others before self. Imagine your best friend right now, or role model. Picture your attempts to serve that person and put them before yourself. Even that becomes a chore, right? Now imagine someone else that seems “beastly” to you. Imagine the perpetrator of a horrendous crime, one with a beastly, savage reputation. Could you love that one? God can. And He does. And the interesting thing is we are just as beastly as those we judge as beasts… yet He loves us still.
Ephesians 3: 17 is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in which he asks that they, “being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Christ’s love far exceeds our own selfish limitations of love. Paul testifies once more in 1Timothy 1:15-16 telling us that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.” From this, we gather the goodness of Christ in extending mercy to those of us stuck in shame.
Remember, God does not see beauty and the beast, but beauty in the beast. And that, my friends, is grace.