Recently, I was told that riding a motorcycle into Yosemite Valley in California can be a philosophical experience. On your left is El Capitan, one of the world’s largest granite cliffs, rising off the valley floor to a height of three thousand feet—truly, a “rock” in the old Hebrew sense of the phrase. On the far end and to your right is Half Dome, with a sheer face on its left and the hint of an ancient volcano on its rounded remains. In between are Yosemite Falls and Bridal Veil Falls and other wonders that impress the soul with a sense of grandeur—a small human in a tight and towering valley of beauty. Surely such beauty points to a Maker yet more beautiful!
Or does it? When I was told about the beauty of the valley, an off-handed remark reminded me of its glacial beginnings. Scoured granite required a mighty force and bears witness to a violent past. Even the granite itself—especially Half Dome—bears witness to a volcanic past. Not necessarily idyllic, to say the least.
What then should we make of such beautiful grandeur after such a violent and volcanic past? Normally, I might have taken a direct line of inference from the size and beauty of the valley to the power and wisdom of God, as if I were seeing the finished painting of the Artist’s original canvas. But the valley was not part of God’s original creation. Indeed, before the volcanoes and violence, there was no valley. Yosemite Valley is not the result of God’s original creation, but rather the result of His judgment. It is not the result of goodness, but of wrath. And yet, it is so beautiful. And that is the mystery.
This mystery is also seen in the Cross. A bloodied man on the ancient wood is not a picture of beauty, and yet the church has loved this picture for centuries—not because the violence itself is beautiful, but because the hidden love of bearing our sin voluntarily and burying our sin eternally is beautiful. And the results are bountiful. Having been justified through faith by the blood of Christ, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, 9). A peaceful river flows at the bottom of a majestic canyon.
Ironically, when we see the beauty of creation, we often directly infer from it the power and wisdom of God, as if such beauty came directly from the hand of creation rather than through the violence of judgment. So too, when we see the Cross, we may see the love of Christ displayed in self-sacrifice, but miss the divine Judgment on our sin, which scours through the granite justice of God and opens for us a peaceful way into His holy presence. In both pictures, the power and wisdom of God are displayed in His grace making judgment a means for peace and beauty. Truly, when Christ is preached, those who are called of God see “the power of God and the wisdom of God” in that bloodied “Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 2:8). Do you?