WAS BORN IN A HOUSE, NOT A HOSPITAL. THE HOUSE WAS MADE BY MY grandfather, with none of today’s tools or technology. He cut the trees and sawed the wood with a handsaw, and put zinc on the roof of a love nest for his beloved wife, who bore 12 children in that humble home.
This past Christmas, memories of life when adults seemed like giants compelled me to take one last look and recall the sights and sounds of those early years. I took a quick visit to the cradle of my formative years with two aunts, an uncle, and my sister. We drove as close as we could to the barely accessible, muddy, slippery footpath on a hill located in St. Mary parish on my paradise island of Jamaica.
As we trudged through the overgrown paths and visited the homes of the few relatives who continue to live there, it was like stepping back in time. They still live dignified lives, using outhouses and red-stained floors polished by hand with coconut husks. I peered around, admiring formerly huge mango trees under which I once found shelter from rain and sun, now so diminished in my eyes that I could reach up and pluck their leaves effortlessly.
When my aunts talked about how loving and generous my grandparents were to others, and pointed out where they thought my grandfather was buried, I was almost overcome by a sense of gratitude. It suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t shameful poverty but a passion for ministering to others that I inherited from him. It’s not where one is from but where one is going that matters most.
I have been blessed to see some of the most beautiful people and places in the world. I have hiked through Greek islands, gazed upon the ruins dedicated to the goddess Athena, walked where the apostle Paul spoke from the Areopagus, saying, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22).
I felt powerful feelings of fear mingled with excitement as I clung to my sister in the Eiffel Tower’s “eye of the needle” before the threat of terrorism closed it to tourists.
I’ve been dazzled by underground chambers decorated with fantastic shapes of stalactites and stalagmites alongside water-sculpted pillars reflected in watery mirrors in the Luray Caverns of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
I have watched the stunning colors of a California sunset at the beginning of the Sabbath in Loma Linda, and I am mesmerized by the pristine beauty of giant icicles hanging like curtains from the roof of my new home in Michigan. But it was in that humble birthplace that I found peace from my past. My liberation also comes from the beauty of the earth, despite the ravages of sin that daily threaten to tear apart the world God created and loves so much.
Yet, nowhere and nothing surpasses the beauty of Jesus, especially His experience on the cross to save me and the rest of humanity. In Isaiah 53 the prophet vividly foretold that Jesus would be beaten, bruised, and bloodied during His cruel crucifixion.
So how can beauty, not shame, be seen in Christ’s crucifixion as a criminal? Brennan Manning provides an answer in his book Souvenirs of Solitude: Finding Rest in Abba’s Embrace: “His soul was ennobled by a dignity, suffused with a love that illuminated, transformed, and transfigured His suffering and death. This was the mightiest act of love ever to rise from a human soul. Surely the Crucifixion was a brutal, dehumanizing atrocity exteriorly, but it was beautiful because of the sentiments in Jesus’ soul–unwavering obedience to the glory of His Father and illimitable love for men.”
Nothing outranks the beauty that comes from the ashes of shame when one is healed from lifelong hurts by the suffering of Jesus (Isa. 53:5), forgiven by His sacrifice (Luke 23:34), and saved by His grace (Eph. 2:8). Broken, despairing, lonely, and desperate men and women need to hear this good news, and I have the privilege of teaching some of the next generation’s great preachers to share it.
Amazing grace, how sweet and beautiful!
Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. This article was published March 11, 2010.