Everyone sees the same thing. This world is pretty ugly sometimes. The people in it do terrible things. We feel ugly too. Underneath the Instagram pictures we pose for, we can still hear our inner voice writing poetry about our lives in harsh, accusing whispers. Sometimes it all gets to be too much. All of us try to hide that ugliness in our own way. Some build suburbias with manicured lawns, forced smiles, and awkward waves at neighbors they don’t really know. Some bury themselves in any substance that promises to erase the view for a few hours. Some embrace the darkness and try to convince themselves they like it. Some just hide.
All of us are just trying to paint over the ugly. It doesn’t work though. It’s dishonest and it’s bland. It manages to be inoffensive, but at the expense of being fake and shallow. It’s like the art in hotel rooms. It’s so intentionally boring that you can’t remember what it looks like, just that it was…there.
Maybe there really is a generic field with a tree and a placid sunset
somewhere, but that picture hanging in the holiday inn doesn’t tell its stories. It doesn’t show the kids who hid there holding hands and promising to be strong when their parents fought just a little too loud. It doesn’t show teenagers staring up at the stars before they forgot how to believe the world was really theirs to shape for the better. It doesn’t show the man who proposed there, years before the monster named cancer squeezed every bit of life from the woman who wore that ring. Each story holds good and bad, happiness and pain. Hotel art tells no stories at all. It tries to hide every ounce of offense behind something boring, but comfortably numb. It’s deeply dishonest.
This isn’t a “look on the bright side” trope. When it hurts that much, it’s easy to lose sight of all the good in the desperation to get away from the evil. Those problems are there whether you acknowledge them or not. Hotel art erases the good right along with the bad. We love it. We’re so eager to see nothing bad that we’re willing to shut our eyes to seeing true beauty too. The thing is, beauty can be found in the pit.
Art. Music. Literature. The really good stuff has something in common. It’s not just beautiful. It’s honest. It’s shaped by acknowledging the truths of this world. This place is broken up pretty good. There are ugly people struggling, failing, and dying in the middle of it. The church calls it sin. Even apart from the vocabulary, great art can capture the condition, and then find beauty in little flashes of love that overpower it.
We catch glimmers of it in held hands and mutual dreams for more. We see shadows of it in promises of “I do.” It’s the word that captures all I feel in an instant when I hold my family close. CS Lewis said each one of these little miracles is retelling in small letters the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see. There really is just one love story told over and over again. Sometimes we just don’t see it.
Personally, I blame hotel art. The gospel can’t be sanitized. It can’t be apart from people, and it can’t be apart from their stories. It’s for real people with real sins. It’s bloody. It’s offensive. It’s honest about every evil and answers it with a singular good strong enough to forgive, heal, and save. The gospel is everything hotel art isn’t.
Love can’t exist in a vacuum. It needs an object. Love takes shape and then takes action. God is love, so He has to take shape. He has to become flesh. He has to come near to the ones He loves and actually help. Love requires nothing less. This love is named Jesus. He took upon Himself everything we struggle against, real sins that caused real pain, and destroyed it by bearing the punishment for every evil for us sinners. It killed Him, but that was the point. Even the sins we hide away hurt. Even the sins that aren’t our fault kill. God loves you too much to let you deal with that yourself. He bore it for you on the cross. It is finished. You are forgiven. The wages of sin is death, but death is destroyed. Christ rose from the dead, free from every evil. The free gift of God is life everlasting for us sinners.
Hotel art can’t tell that story. Not really. It’s too bloody, but that blood redeems. When you try to scrub the hurt from this story, you don’t just end up with a Jesus who won’t bleed for you. You end up with a different kind of heaven. Heaven is not a generic cloud where nothing bad happens. Heaven is not just a lack of hurt, sin, and death. That’s hotel art. It doesn’t sound bad. The problem is, it’s too far away to matter.
It’s not enough to say “One day you’ll go to heaven.” One day isn’t now, and now is when I need help. I need God to be near me when I’m surrounded by evil. This is the one place I can’t be on my own. If God really sees us in this mess, promising that we won’t really get to be with Him until we don’t really need Him anymore doesn’t sound like love. Love doesn’t dangle heaven like a carrot before desperate people, suffering under the pains of sin, death, and the devil. It can’t. Love has to help now. Love has to actually deliver the promises it makes when we need them. Otherwise, the very best we can hope for is death where all the bad things stop.
If Jesus really died that you should live, wishing for death just to escape the things He’s doing to you here doesn’t seem to fit. That isn’t the gospel. God isn’t a someday God. He dives down into the pit to dwell with you and pull you back up out of it.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.”
David doesn’t write about a someday God who will help in the future. He writes about a God who works right now. You have the same God. Week after week, we kneel in a pit of sin, despair, and pain. Each and every week God dives down into the pit for us. He pours into us His very body and blood which actually deal with this. It’s called the sacrament of the altar. It is Jesus very body and blood given for us Christians to eat and drink for forgiveness, life, and salvation. It’s the meal that joins me on earth to heaven, because each week, heaven comes down just for me and just for you.
God connects me to heaven right here, because here is where I need it. The kingdom of God isn’t hotel art. It’s honest about all the of evil, because it can finally call that evil forgiven. Heaven is a Christ who, even here, even for you, dives down into the pit each and every time you need Him to give you the very blood that redeems, helps, saves. Over and over again. It’s graphic. It’s ugly. It’s beautiful too, because it can finally answer everything hotel art would rather hide. Christ doesn’t need to give you another way to hide your pain. He conquers it for you. He shows you just how beautiful heaven is.
Heaven isn’t just the absence of evil. It’s the presence of a Good so powerful that it overwhelms the rest. It’s a God who climbs down into the pit and dwells here, because that’s where you are, and He loves you too much to leave you here on your own. He pulls you up and sets you on a rock. Not someday. Now. Here. The kingdom of God is where God is working.
So don’t ruin it for me by hanging hotel art in my church. Don’t paint over the real problems of sin and death and evil. You don’t have to. Churches exist as fortresses, built on the rock that is Christ. We stand against the fires and sing victory hymns. We see the ugly, but we see something else too. A Christ who loves us enough to cover himself in it. We look at an ugly cross that shields us from the fires of hell. There’s love down here, and it’s real enough to paint without sanitizing it first. Beauty isn’t found in hiding ugly. It’s found in love that washes ugly sinners in water that drowns the old and raises the new each day. It’s found in what God would dare to call us. Holy. Paint that. Nobody actually likes hotel art anyway.