Beauty and the Beast Within

George Floyd’s murder and the SpaceX launch—what they say about each of us.

The juxtaposition was stunning.  On one side of my television’s split screen were the breathtaking images of the SpaceX Crew’s Dragon capsule speeding 16,000 miles per hour toward a space station rendezvous.  On the other were disturbing images of protests turned violent.  Some images were more exhilarating than a Star Wars movie; the others as depressing as Apocalypse Now.  Some showed God’s beauty and genius that are woven into our DNA;  others unmasked the beast lurking within. Surely, we are  mixed bag of contradictions.

The Beast Unmasked

     On Memorial Day, the world witnessed a public lynching without a rope.  For more than eight minutes, a Minneapolis police officer put his full weight on a knee pressed down on George Floyd’s neck while the 46-year-old moaned and pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”  For some eight minutes, the African-American slowly asphyxiated, while officers taunted him and bystanders begged for mercy.  As the video of this heinous murder when viral, the nation was outraged.  What could be more terrifying and egregious to Americans than watching local police act like the Gestapo? 

     George Floyd was not without his own demons, and his tortured death does not make  him a martyr or saint.  But this gentle giant of a man had turned his life around.  In 2015 he experienced a spiritual renewal, and became a vital part of two church plants—one in Houston’s inner city and another in Minneapolis.   He was arrested on suspicion of trying to pass a $20 counterfeit bill.  This Christian man, bearing the precious image of God, didn’t deserve having his life of promise snuffed out by such a beastly crime.  Police officers, bearing that same likeness of our Creator, should not have descended into such beastliness.   

     And, yet, his death caused America to do serious soul searching.  For the first time, many white Americans got an inkling of the injustice that too many African-Americans face on a daily basis.  Even the most conservative people protested on social media, podcasts, blogs, and Facebook posts.  Overnight, George Floyd’s heinous death seemed to unify people on all sides of our polarized divides.  An explosion of anger against social injustice caused people to take to the streets.  Such protests also reflect the image of a God who says, “Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise.” [Psalm 12:5]

     But, as I said, humans are a mixed bag of contradictions.  It didn’t take long for the beauty to be overshadowed by the beast.  Protests turned to riots.  Businesses were looted, buildings burned to the ground, a police station was set ablaze, and officers attacked. Many of those destroyed businesses belonged to African-American owners. Almost as horrific as watching George Floyd’s torturous death were the images of a New York policeman engulfed in flames from a Molotov Cocktail thrown by a rioter.  In another instance, protesters cheered a New York City bus driver who refused to help a badly-wounded police officer.  In a supreme irony, state and city governments, who refused to allow more than a handful of parishioners to gather in churches, allowed thousands [many without masks] to march in protest—further enhancing the potential of a coronavirus spike.  Somehow, the Beast within too often rises up to ruin what the Beauty has begun.

And, yet, there is hope in the Beauty

     While we watched the horror unfold, we also watched our astronauts travel toward the stars.  What is the genesis of genius that can create a masterpiece of design that hurtles through space like a giant I-Phone?   Or the ingenuity and dexterity of NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, to guide a 200,000-pound capsule, traveling at 17,000 miles an hour toward a seven-story structure orbiting at a speed of 16,000 miles per hour 220 miles above the earth—and then to dock with only three inches of room for error? 

     When we are tempted to become cynical and disillusioned by the Beast within, we should also take time to focus on the Beauty.  When we see the images of beastliness, we must look to the stars.  Orbiting out there are signs of hope.  Gaze in wonder at the pictures of earth that are beamed back to us from out there.  We inhabit a planet unlike any in our solar system—worthy of far greater care than we have given it.  

Use today’s events for personal reflection and gospel sharing

     There is a time to say, “Enough is enough!”  Our Founding Fathers encouraged and protected our right to protest injustice.  When you see the protests taking place across America, remember that there were protests in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia against British injustice.  Some that took place in 1776 even got violent.  Rage against wrongdoing is the character of the Creator woven into our DNA.  

     However, there is also a time to watch, listen, and reflect.  When we are too busy pointing fingers at the “guilty,” the beast within can turn into the lynch mob.  The truth is:  we are all the Beauty and the Beast.  We have been created from the dust.  Because of that, we love too much the things of this earth, fight too hard to grab as much of it as we can, and compromise everything to hold on to it.   Like the beasts of the earth, we too often crawl through the dust from which we came, concerned only with our own pleasure, peace, and security.  Even as Christians, we can join in a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” that ignores the sufferings of so many—only to wake up for a brief moment when a video of George Floyd’s murder sparks an outrage that has been asleep far too long.  

     But we are also made of the breath of God.  The story of our creation says that God breathed into the pile of dust and Adam became a living spiritual being.  He made humankind just a bit lower than the angels.  But no angel ever had God’s breath within.  No angel ever walked with God.  No angel has ever beheld his Glory.  Yet, by Adam’s one sin, and our many, this God-image has been twisted.  

     The Beauty is also a Beast—a truth that has been more than proven this past week.    The best of people are capable of the worst of things.  The worst of folks do the best of things.  There is beauty in the most wretched of humans, and beastliness in saints.  Parents and grandparents need to teach our children these biblical facts of life. 

     But we also need to listen to those whom we write off as beasts.  You may not like “Black Lives Matter,” but you should listen to their rage.  There are good reasons for it.  Listen to the voices of angry young white men and women.  Remember, Boomers, when you tried to change the world during the 60s.  Many of you longed for your parents and grandparents to listen to your rage against injustice, but they too often dismissed you as radicals.  Don’t make the same mistake that your parents made!

     Most of all, remember the gospel in times like this.  It is even captured in the Walt Disney movie, “The Beauty and the Beast.”  There was a time when we were the sons and daughters of the King—royal Princes and Princesses.  But the Wicked One cast a spell on us, and sin twisted us into beasts.  Yet there was a beauty within.  So, the Only True Beauty came to our world, and shared our despair.  He lived in our broken world, even when our beastly rage treated him with cruelty and nailed him to a cross. But, like Beauty in Disney’s story, he kissed us with his grace.  Supernaturally, we were transformed from Beasts to Princes and Princesses.

     Finally, we need to remember that vestiges of the Beast remain within us, rising up when we least expect it.  The Beauty will never be totally free until Jesus returns to make all things new.  There is that wonderful moment in Disney’s film when all that is twisted in the prince’s dark kingdom, became beautiful again—free of thorns, thistles, bitterness, despair, and beastliness.  So, it is that a better and more beautiful world is coming—a paradise where there are no injustices, racism, tribal divisions, tears, or death.  This gives us hope in a world where things seem so hopeless.   

    So, dear parents and grandparents, use these moments in time to teach the next generations the truths of Scripture that transcend and speak to our present troubles. As Rahm Emmanuel famously said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” May we be like that ancient Jewish tribe of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what to do.” [1 Chronicles 12:32] 

 Dr. Bob Petterson
Legacy Imperative