Suffering: Beauty for ashes

Isaiah 61--3.jpg

In his thoughtful and most inspiring blog, “His Curriculum of the Spiritual Life,” RH “Rusty” Foerger offers Poems, Prayers, & Proverbs that speak to what it means to be a “living curriculum” of the Christian Life.  In a recent entry focusing on “The Place of Suffering to the Soul,” where he examined comments from noted author John Ortberg, one of his statements arrested my attention:

Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.”

In reflecting on this quote, a previous blog post came to mind where I commented upon God’s amazing ability to transform the most horrific circumstances into glorious displays of His wisdom, power, and might. I thought of the expression “beauty for ashes” found in Isaiah 61:3 which offers a series of such transformations or exchanges that only God can give. That particular verse was used as the epigraph or introduction to a poem with that title:

Beauty for Ashes

To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified

Isaiah 61:3

Beauty for ashes–we are transformed to testify

Of a life radically changed that we might glorify

The God of Heaven who touches the earth with His love

That overflows with bountiful blessings from above.

We are blessed and highly favored–no one can deny.

 

That we should be chosen by God some may wonder why,

But none can fathom God’s grace, no matter how they try.

We ascend into God’s presence on wings of a dove:

Beauty for ashes.

 

Many times it may seem as if life has passed us by,

But God is faithful; on Him we can always rely.

Nothing in this life surpasses God’s unchanging love;

It is far beyond all that you could ask or think of.

Remember that God is not a man that He should lie:

Beauty for ashes.

The heart of the poem relates God’s amazing ability to transform ashes, symbols of suffering, sorrow, and despair into objects of exquisite beauty and splendor. Another poem examines God’s life-transforming power and offers a related reference with the line: “Just as from ashes beauty and splendor arise.” The poem also contains a theme connected to God with whom all things are possible and with whom nothing is impossible.

No Matter How You Phrase It

And Jesus looking upon them said,  

With men it is impossible, but not with God:

for with God all things are possible

Mark 10:27

For with God nothing shall be impossible    

Luke 1:37                                                                                       

There is none like God who never fails to come through:

Whether you say “With God all things are possible”

Or say “With God nothing shall be impossible.”

No matter how you phrase it, the Word is still true.

As those who observe the times, we wisely surmise

That the Prince of Peace ascended to end all strife,

Leading captive even death to release new life.

Just as from ashes beauty and splendor arise,

We boldly declare the Word of God and assert

The Providence of an all-wise Father who makes

Barrenness to bloom with rivers in the desert.

With the Word of Life, even death itself awakes.

We seek to walk in wisdom and number our days,

Humbly discerning that His ways are not our ways.

In thinking more deeply about the subject, we recognize that beautiful, precious gemstones are derived from natural deposits or mines located across the Earth, with Africa being a particular location of abundant deposits.  In addition, did you know that ashes in volcanoes under extreme heat and pressure provide the perfect conditions to form certain precious stones, such as diamonds, rubies, and sapphires?  As the volcanoes erupt, they push the gemstones to the surface where they can be seen after the site has cooled.  So, indeed, God both figuratively and literally “gives beauty for ashes.” With the Psalmist, we declare:

Psalm 145:7

Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite

Crystal Lewis and Ron Kenoly offer a tender rendition of the song “Beauty for Ashes.”

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