beauty and decay
Malta: an island country off the southern coast of Italy, brimming with striking landscapes and historic allure. In Acts 27 and 28, the apostle Paul was shipwrecked on this island where he was then bitten by a vapor; but (spoiler alert!) he survived! Not only did Paul live, but he shared the gospel to an official named Publius, thus bringing the hope of Christ to this tiny island.
I had the privilege of joining Calvary Chapel Bible College, Italy on a short trip to Malta this past week.
On the first full day, we made our way up a flower-covered hill that looked over St. Thomas Bay, a theorized location of Paul’s shipwreck. I gazed out over the water, past the rocky cliff, with a collection of blooms clutched in my hands. A song of praise bubbled in my heart for the Creator of all I was experiencing, but I was simultaneously saddened by what I had seen elsewhere on the island.
There is a stark contrast between the beauty of the bay and the filth found inland on cobblestone streets. It seemed to me that anywhere people dwell, it was smelly, dirty, and full of decay. What a disheartening picture that paints!
Though I sometimes wish it wasn’t so, this is such a perfect illustration of the depravity of man. We take things that God designed so beautifully and, rather than preserving and enjoying, we destroy. It is in our sinful nature to disregard the blessings the Lord provides and do things how we want to. Often, in the process of doing as we please, we tamper with how things ought to be and make a mess. Sin slowly begins the decay until suddenly we realize that we are entirely surrounded by toppling buildings, graffitied walls, and filth-covered streets.
Thankfully, this is not where the gospel ends. It’s where the good news begins.
Despite our destructive tendencies, God’s grace abounds, and beauty remains.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who has called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:3-4
Did you catch that? There is escape from the corruption of this world through the knowledge of God. In this knowledge there is freedom: freedom to see the life and glory that abounds even through our depravity. And not only that, but Christ’s blood cleanses us and allows us to reinstate beauty where we’ve destroyed it. As He pursues and transforms us, we are no longer dirty, worn down, and disgusting. We become like Him.
Here’s the interesting thing about Malta. It is an extremely touristy country. People come from all over the world to experience its history and beauty for themselves. The dirt doesn’t scare them away, they come anyway: it’s easy to overlook the filth when the views beyond are so captivating.
So to the downcast believer who thinks that past sins ruin their chances of displaying the glory of God: God’s glory is much weightier than any mistake will ever be. When He breathes life into your soul, he revives the lovely things, and they blossom no matter how terrible rest of your life looked. Your witness is not tainted because of who you were. Boast in your weakness. For no matter what you’ve done in the flesh, God is bright enough to shine through any darkness. He can still use you as a vessel of light.