Surplus Beauty

When I was young my family owned a cottage. To a child it was a place of wonder, a place of marvels. While I spent ten months of the year in the confines of the big city, summers at the cottage offered freedom to explore and to discover, to be a wanderer and adventurer, to roam at will through fields and forests.

One of my favorite things was to strike out on my own into the woods. Our cottage faced a lake on one side but was surrounded by deep forest on the others. On many a warm summer afternoon I would lace up my shoes, grab a walking stick, and wander away. For the first few minutes I might follow the paths my father had cut through the woods, but soon enough I’d leave it all behind and blaze a trail of my own. I might discover a pond and watch silently as beavers built their dams. I might come across a swamp and watch herons standing stock still as they waited to nab a careless frog. I might find a clearing where thousands of wildflowers waved in the breeze.

One summer afternoon I came upon a rocky ridge that jutted up out of forest, a gray scar slashed through the green woods. I scrambled my way up the rocks and was soon standing on a great slab of stone, the warm sun on my face, the world beneath my feet. All was silent. All was still. I was utterly alone and utterly content. From my vantage point I could see over the forest canopy as it extended to the horizon and for a moment I might have dared to believe it was all mine.

Looking down, I spotted a little flower growing up from this outcropping of rock. A seed had been blown into a crevice and found just enough soil to put down root. It had grown up in the spring and now, in summer, had put out a single bloom, a single white flower. And there it was, glowing white in the bright sun, fluttering ever so slightly in the warm breeze. For a long time I stared at it. I admired it. And I wondered: Why had God made it?

Why had God made that flower? Why had he made it there and why had he made it then? Why did it exist if not to be seen? And who would ever see it but me? It was my flower, wasn’t it? A bit of beauty God had crafted for me. Time slipped away as I gazed at it in wonder and gratitude.

Then, far off, I heard the dinner bell toll. As I clambered back down the rock, I knew there was another answer. I was sure God had made it for me, but knew that ultimately God had made it for him. After all, there were millions of other flowers in that forest that no human eye would ever see, millions of other marvels that would go unspotted in wood and glade, millions of other wonders that would be known to God alone. God had made a world not of minimal beauty or sufficient beauty, but of surplus beauty. The flowers I didn’t see were just as beautiful, just as wondrous, just as significant as the one I did. And while that one flower may have been for me, the others were for him. Their significance was not in making my heart rejoice, but God’s.

I stood still for a moment, listening for the distant sound of the boats that would guide me back to the lake, back to the cottage. I left the flower behind, but took with me the knowledge that God made this world for my pleasure and for his, for my joy and for his own. I took with me the experience of having stood together with God, of having joined with him to admire the kind of beauty meant to delight the heart of a boy and to delight the heart of God himself.

Tim Challies

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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