The God Who Gives Us Beauty

Come Follow Me: September 26–October 2 ~ Isaiah 50–57

This lesson plan is written for you to use in a class or at home. If you use it at home, I suggest just taking various segments a day at a time and discussing them as a family or on your own in your journal (my family usually does a segment a night over the dinner table). Don’t try to do the full lesson at once – it’s meant to be taken in smaller chunks. If you use it for a class at church, I suggest just choosing a segment or two to focus on during the lesson.

Photo by Sean Oulashin on Unsplash

Introduction

In 2007 I was a visiting student at BYU-Hawaii. Early one Sunday morning I went to the nearly empty beach with my journal and sat down to write. I looked out at the beauty of the waves and the clouds and the sounds and the smells. And in that moment, I knew God loves me. Nothing remarkable happened. No piercing voice, no ginormous self-discovery. I just felt that God loves me. 

In that moment, I started thinking about what I’d been taught about the Plan of Salvation with the diagrams in Sunday School on the chalk board and realized that it would have all worked just fine with an ugly earth. But God chose to make the earth beautiful because of love. 

[If teaching a class, perhaps you have felt similarly when surrounded by God’s creations and could share a similar story of feeling his love in nature] 

I’ve recently been reading Terryl and Fiona Givens’s book The God Who Weeps and they reiterate this idea that came to me all those years ago much more eloquently. They say:

Darwin was sure that even those spectacles of nature that overwhelm us by their beauty, from the peacock’s tail to the fragrance of an English rose, serve not man’s purpose but their own, which is survival and reproducibility … In other words, maple leaves in autumn do not suddenly transform into stained glass pendants , illuminated by a setting sun, in order to satisfy a human longing for beauty. Their scarlet, ochre, and golden colors emerge as chlorophyll production shuts down, in preparation for sacrificing the leaves that are vulnerable to winter cold, and ensuring the survival of the tree. But the tree survives, while our vision is ravished. The peacock’s display attracts a hen, and it nourishes the human eye. The flower’s fragrance entices a pollinator, but it also intoxicates the gardener. In that “while,” in that “and,” in that “but it also,” we find the giftedness of life.

Therein lies the most telling sign of a vast superabundance. Nature’s purposes and God’s purposes are not in competition but work in tandem. If the first works by blind necessity, the second works by generosity. And in recognizing that giftedness, we turn from appreciation to gratitude, from admiration for the world’s efficiency and order, to love of its beauty and grandeur.

Segment 1: Isaiah 50

Twice in this chapter the words “The Lord God will help me” are repeated. The God who loves us, who created this beautiful world for us, will help us personally. 

Sister Maurine Jensen Proctor said in a BYU Women’s Conference: 

The Lord offers us his solutions to all our questions, and he tells us, “I am more intelligent than they all” (Abraham 3:19). There is not a problem we can pose to him or a challenge so perplexing that he does not already have the answer. How can some of that light be shed into our own minds?

The scriptures reveal a pattern for receiving enlightenment—and it is not one we usually talk about: Serious reflection precedes revelation.

Questions for discussion or for your personal journal: 

  1. When have you felt God helping you? Has this ever been unexpected? Has it required serious reflection?
  2. Is God helping you the same as personal revelation? Or are they different? How so? 
  3. What are you seeking God’s help in now? 
  4. What does God’s help in your life teach you about the love of God? 
  5. How does God’s help add beauty to your life?

Segment 2: Isaiah 52:9

9 Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.

Questions for discussion or your personal journal:

  1. Let’s take a moment to focus on singing together. In July of 2018 the Tabernacle Choir sang with the Gay Men’s Chorus (read about that here). It was one tiny moment where the church as an institution was willing to put some beliefs aside in order to unite and praise God. Let’s do that more often! How can we “sing together” with people from all walks of life more often? (and I’m not just talking about singing exactly, but any type of communing together)
  2. How does receiving God’s comfort add beauty to your life? What does it teach you about the love of God?

Segment 3: Isaiah 53:3-5

3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

It is this rejection and pain he felt that allowed him to develop empathy. As Terryl and Fiona Givens put it

“Christ’s empathy then is not some inherent attitude of the Divine. It was dearly paid for, each day of His mortal life, filled as it was with all the trauma an uncomprehending world could inflict on perfect innocence. He knew the physical rigors of hunger and thirst, and the emotional deserts of loneliness and rejection.

Questions for discussion or your journal:

  1. Christ has perfect empathy for us. Why does that matter to you on a personal level?
  2. How do His wounds, His bruises, His chastisement, and His stripes teach us about His love? How does that add beauty to your life?

Segment 4: Isaiah 54:13

13 And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.

In a blogpost on the church’s website, Sister Morgan Young wrote: 

“Consider times when people came to Jesus in great distress and He responded with words such as “Peace, be still” or “Be not afraid, only believe” (Mark 4:39; Mark 5:36). These calm responses don’t mean Jesus never felt troubled, sorrowful, or anguished—or that we won’t either. With His understanding of the plan of salvation and complete trust in His Father’s will, He was able to endure all things and overcome so He might be able to succor us in all things. As He said: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Questions for discussion or for your personal journal:

  1. How does peace fit in even when we feel troubled, sorrowful or anguished? How can Christ’s vulnerability help us feel peace? How can we feel peace through our own vulnerability?
  2. A lot of people grow up in the church and end up not feeling peace within the church walls due to the racism and sexism they experience within the church culture. But the gospel is supposed to bring peace! How can we do a better job of teaching the gospel of peace (rather than a dogma of division)? 

Segment 5: Isaiah 55:10-12

10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

This section brings the beauty of the world and the beauty of the word together in a beautiful simile. God wants us to find peace in the word just as he allows creation to bloom. Questions to discuss or ponder or write in your journal about:

  1. How does believing that God wants us to find peace impact your life? 
  2. How does it bring your life beauty? 
  3. What does it show about God’s love?

Miriam

Miriam is a professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Memphis where she studies children impacted by incarceration and children at risk of future incarceration. She lives with her husband and three daughters.

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6 Responses

  1. Megan says:

    I really love this! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Cheryl Preston says:

    Very thoughtful and certainly useful.

  3. jpv says:

    Keep up the good articles.

    So disappointed I had a whole semester on Isaiah at BYU and didn’t learn about Triteo or Deutero-Isaiah til long after.

    Not sure why it’s something to hide from. I resonate with Heather Hardy’s take that it’s in the BoM because Jesus wants in there for us. There’s plenty of temporally appropriate times it could have been inserted in it’s textual history. From Nephites to Mormon to JS.

    Also, “In 2007 I was a visiting student at BYU-Hawaii”

    How early was it though when we had church at like 2pm? 😄

    • Miriam says:

      Blast from the past – how are you doing??? It’s been so long since we’ve talked (like, since 2007?)! And yes, I was probably at the beach at like 11am that day.

      OK, I just had to Google Triteo and Deutero-Isaiah. I’d never heard of it either. Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing.

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