The Ninth Plague: Darkness
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived. Then Pharaoh summoned Moses, and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Only your flocks and your herds shall remain behind. Even your children may go with you.” But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings to sacrifice to the Lord our God. Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must choose some of them for the worship of the Lord our God, and we will not know what to use to worship the Lord until we arrive there.” But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go. Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” Moses said, “Just as you say! I will never see your face again.”
As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”
Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,
“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”
Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,
“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
Did you know there is such thing as the study of divine beauty? There is a field called Theological Aesthetics. There have been many famous church leaders all the way back to the second century A.D. who have written and taught on the subject, particularly the question of how we represent God. It became a huge subject during the Reformation and caused major divisions between different branches of the Church. Now, some 500 years later, we have begun to have honest discussions about our perspectives and have placed this field in its rightful place among the studies of God.
This study has an enormously subversive impact on worship planning and design. How? Consider that the subject of beauty involves more than just the eyes. It involves the ears. Does it matter to you whether music played for worship services sound beautiful? Do the smells of a church matter? Do the physical feeling of the experience draw you closer to God? Aesthetics matter. Indeed many of the points of division in worship, and often in church in general (ex. Arguments over the color of the carpet) come down to theological aesthetics.
If you had unlimited financial resources, and the approval of your church leaders, what would you change about your church? How long would your list of changes be? That is one way you begin to answer the question of what do you believe about the beauty of God.
One of the most important aspects of divine beauty is that we have to have access to sensing it. The most beautiful painting of Jesus does very little good locked away in a dark closet. The most beautiful hymn can be drowned out by the blare of car horns in a traffic jam. The Egyptians and the Hebrew people in the day of Moses found out that even the glory of the sunrise and sunset could be taken away and covered under the ugly shroud of darkness. That, in one sense, is the true understanding of ugliness. Ugliness is that which covers up or otherwise prevents the divulging of beauty. It is in the unveiling that beauty is witnessed.
Those who intentionally cover up God’s beauty therefore find themselves at odds with God’s purpose. Our reasons for covering up beauty may vary slightly, but they almost always come down to jealousy and selfishness, for we most often attempt to hide the beauty of others, not ourselves. So the opposite of beauty may not be ugliness… it may be jealousy. One gives. The other takes.
Where do you experience the Beauty of God?
Where have you experienced ugliness, covering up God’s beauty?
Do your personal experiences of God’s beauty prevent others from experiencing God with you?