On my flight back home, I “coincidentally” sat next to someone I had not seen since high school. I had heard that he had renounced the faith some time ago and so I asked why he was no longer a believer. He immediately responded, “Why are you a Christian?” I gave some standard apologetics-based answers, but by the end of the flight I was dissatisfied and finally said, “There is a line in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot where the Prince says, ‘I believe the world will be saved by beauty.’ I am a believer because Christianity is that beauty.” And then we went our separate ways. I regret having no time to elaborate on what I meant by that quote, so I do so now.
Beauty is that which moves the affections and passions in a pleasing way. So when I say that I have an insatiable desire to experience beauty, that is to say, I long to be moved. This longing has many levels met by varying degrees of beauty. Porn or romance novels, for example, are some of the lowest forms of beauty because they move a person’s animal passions. Moral beauty, on the other hand, is a higher form of beauty because it moves the soul’s affections.
Thus displaying moral beauty is what separates a great movie from a mediocre one. The heroism in Schindler’s List, the sacrificial love in Titanic, the grace shown to Valjean in Les Miserables are just a few examples of this. This holds true in real life. Moral beauty is what separates a great experience from an average one. Seeing the embraces and kisses of nuns shown to full- blown AIDS patients in Cambodia, seeing a volunteer cradle and sing hymns daily to a blind toddler at an orphanage in China, seeing 300 firemen run up a burning tower to save others are some examples of this higher beauty that moves the soul.
I am a Christian because I am a lover of beauty, and nothing more moves the soul than the gospel. When I discovered that all moral beauty are dim reflections of God’s beauty, I became a Christian. Consider my examples.
Schindler’s efforts to rescue the Jews were noble, but Christ’s rescue was more noble. Schindler regretted not giving up his lapel pin to save more Jews, but Jesus had no regrets; He gave up all including His own life for His beloved elect. The nuns caring for the AIDS patients in Cambodia were compassionate, but Christ was more compassionate. He not only kissed the morally diseased, He took on their disease in solidarity to heal them. The volunteer cradling the blind orphan was lovely, but Christ was more lovely. He Himself became an orphan on the cross so that we orphans may be adopted by His Heavenly Father. The 300 firemen were brave, but Christ was more brave. The firemen ran up the towers with the possibility of coming back unhurt. Christ knew with certainty that He would face the pains of hell yet He still chose to come down. Honor, sacrifice, courage, patience, all moral beauty find their source and perfection in Jesus.
In this light, Dostoevsky understood that beauty would save the world. The incomparable beauty of Christ will overcome the horrific evil, including great apathy towards evil, that engulfs the world.
The humility of Christ’s incarnation is inspiring believers to live in the top worst cities to provide basic services for the impoverished. The compassion of Christ’s crucifixion is inspiring the Dietrich Bonhoeffers. The nobility of Christ’s redemption is inspiring the William Wilberforces. The glory of Christ’s resurrection is inspiring more dignity for the crippled, ugly, and mentally challenged whose bodies and minds will soon enough reflect the worth of their souls. All moral beauty finds its consummation in Christ without whom the world would remain terribly disfigured.
What is amazing about the gospel is that the ugliness of the world makes up a major facet of Christ’s beauty. Those ravished by the beauty of Christ and desire to experience more and more of it cannot do so without first taking into account the suffering of others that is to be transformed into compassion, or facing another’s despair that is to be changed into hope. In other words, the soul’s deepest longing to be moved by the greatest beauty can only be met through the suffering of others. Only in Christ can this truth be seen clearly enough to awaken the kind of longing that will help save the world.
Christ’s beauty will save the world. That is why I am a Christian.