Beautiful People Do Not Just Happen
By Scott Sauls
Beautiful people

Now in my 50s, I am less whole than the optics of my life suggests. I have good health, a loving wife, two beautiful daughters, a church that loves us, great friends, and fulfilling work. But behind the curtain, there also exists a sometimes scared, self-doubting man with a lot of weakness. In the past year, COVID happened, plaque was discovered in my arteries, my mother died, my mentor got cancer, and my counselor uncovered some childhood trauma that I have never dealt with.

These and other aches have reminded me afresh that this world, as it is now, is not our final home. No matter how hard we try to make it so, it refuses to be our paradise. We cannot make heaven happen for ourselves because heaven can only be given and received. When we accept this truth, the renewal of our hearts is made more possible. Being startled by pain redirects our focus to essential things worth preserving and nurturing: relationship with family and friends, rhythms and practices leading to health, humble service toward our work, our churches, and our neighbors, and above all, anchoring our roots in the character, promises, and future of God.

Sometimes the deepest, truest faith feels more like defeat than it does victory.

Mercy reveals itself through regret, hurt, and distress.

I am not alone in realizing this.

Many of the world’s greatest souls became their best selves not in spite of, but because of, their own distress. Cowper wrote hopeful hymns and Van Gogh brushed epic paintings while contemplating suicide. Spurgeon preached some of his best sermons while depressed. Lincoln, Churchill, and King battled melancholy. Princess Diana suffered from an eating disorder at the peak of her impact. Beethoven went deaf. C.S. Lewis buried his wife after a short, cancer-ridden marriage. Frankl, Wiesel, and ten Boom survived the Holocaust. John Perkins endured jail, beatings, and death threats from white supremacists. Tim Keller got terminal cancer.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously noted that “the most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss … beautiful people do not just happen.” 

Beautiful people. The ones we admire. The ones who change the world for good. The ones we like and want to be like. These people do not “just happen.”

This axiom, that beautiful people do not just happen, also demands our attention in Scripture. Job lost 10 children, his wife’s affection, his livelihood, and his reputation in a single day. Moses stuttered. Jacob limped. Sarah was infertile. Tamar and Bathsheba were assaulted. David was betrayed by his son. Hosea’s wife fell into prostitution. Ruth was widowed in her youth. Mordecai was oppressed and belittled. Jeremiah battled depression, as did Elijah. Gideon doubted God, as did Thomas. Mary and Joseph sought asylum from a reign of terror. Mary and Martha buried their brother. John Mark was rejected by Paul. Peter hated himself.

And Jesus wept.

Every book of the Bible — excluding Ecclesiastes (written by a rich, empty man), Proverbs (possibly the same man), and Song of Songs — was authored by someone who was enslaved, seeking asylum, in prison, facing persecution, or under another form of distress.

Beautiful people do not just happen. Sometimes the deepest, truest faith feels more like defeat than it does victory. 

Scott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of several books, including “Jesus Outside the Lines” and “A Gentle Answer.

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