I’m not sure I can do Sarah Clarkson’s new book justice. Not only is it impossible to summarize its rich, resounding themes in one blog post, but This Beautiful Truth also came to me at a time when I was “a thundercloud of a soul” (as Sarah describes herself at one point in her own life). That’s partly why I delayed this review a couple of weeks ago: I realized that some of my ideas about it were colored by the fact that I wasn’t in the best headspace this summer when I first read it. I needed to have some serious conversations with myself before I tried to write about such a complex, challenging book.
So I’ve spent the last two weeks studying it more closely. My brain and heart are much clearer and far lighter than they were when I first read it, so it’s been good to sit quietly with its message, weigh it against Scripture, and decide what I really think about it. As a result, I’m finally able to give This Beautiful Truth a proper review.
In many ways, this is actually two books packed into one. In Part One, Sarah Clarkson tells the story of how God’s goodness, truth, and beauty invaded her life. Part Two is her theological defense of the daily, yearly, and lifelong impacts of beauty, and why it’s so necessary if we’re to live a truly abundant, sacramental life. Both sections are beautifully written. Sarah’s prose is poetic and powerful, and she boldly proclaims the importance of celebration, imagination, story, and love in the life of individual Christians as well as the Church as a whole.
Part One, however, was the part I wrestled with the most–not necessarily because I disagreed with Sarah, but because I was walking through much of what she was describing.
Sarah’s story is heavily influenced by her teenage diagnosis with OCD. For much of her life, she’s wrestled with dark, terrifying thought patterns so overwhelming, they’ve often left her paralyzed with fear. I’ve never suffered mental illness myself, but I have seen it up close and personal, and it’s given me a deeper sympathy for those who bear this cross. Nevertheless, I still found myself relating, in ways I never expected, to Sarah’s feelings of isolation, weariness, and anger. I’ve felt the same things for much of 2021–and when This Beautiful Truth revealed that to me, I was mad about it.
For my new readers who may not know, I should mention here that I suffered a major physical injury back in February: I slipped on our ice-covered driveway and shattered my right elbow. I’ve regained far more mobility and strength than the doctors and therapists ever expected, and I’m so grateful for that! But it was a life-altering injury, and the emotional/spiritual fallout has been as hard as the physical recovery.
So when Sarah described raw moments of wild sobbing and screaming at God on a Colorado mountain, I found myself crying bitterly over the pages. When she talked about how “grief suspends things you could count on…and the whole of you waits to see what parts of you will crash, and what will fall to the ground still whole”–I felt that.
Yet even as I wept, I was on the defensive. For a long time, I didn’t know why. But the truth was that I was “afraid to admit the depth of [my] brokenness…to sit in the wild presence of sorrow, allowing it to whisper to [me] of a Savior who mourned the death of his friend and wept on the night he was sent to death himself.” These are words that Sarah wrote about herself–and when I finally accepted that I was in that same exact place, something hard and frightened inside of me began to relax. I was able to take my sorrows to the Lord one morning in a torrent of hot, broken, honest tears…and I’ve slowly but surely found peace and comfort on the other side.
So how did This Beautiful Truth help me work through all this pain and these tangled fears? It helped me (and continues to help me) by reminding me of what I knew was true long before my accident. As Sarah writes:
The Christian gospel is not of an abstract salvation known by doctrine alone, but the coming of divine beauty itself into our “injured flesh”…the realm of time and space where the bent world groans for healing.
Doctrine is important, no doubt about that, but it is not the whole of Christianity. Ours is a faith rooted also in the immensity of God’s perfect, lavish love for each individual soul who trusts in Him. And thank goodness His love isn’t dependent on us being strong in our faith 100% of the time! This Beautiful Truth reminded me that the act of wrestling with Him is a righteous one. It isn’t a mark of sin or failure, but a sign of true, intimate relationship with a God who listens, sees, and understands. And the reason He understands is because He knows for Himself both the pain and the joy of being human!
A God who dies for love may be a startling theological assertion, but perhaps even more astounding is the concept of a God who wraps himself in the flesh and blood…of human embodiment, and by inhabiting it, reveals the beauty for which it was created. Christ didn’t come just to settle some cosmic score with death; he also came to show us, in his own flesh, what humanity was intended to be and what it will again become by his grace.
So, you see, it all goes back to the Incarnation, that theological and historical fact that radically changed my life back in 2019 when I realized, with the force of a lightning bolt, that “when Jesus became human, he made the stuff of earth sacred again.”
For what evil intended as the end of trust and the death of hope, God made the space of his richest coming. He fills the void of our darkness with the living Word of his radiant self, speaking a world of beauty so rich and gorgeous into our hearts that we may stand in wonder and know ourselves unendingly blessed.
This is a book I’ll definitely return to. Like Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way and Lysa TerKeurst’s Uninvited, it came to me when I needed it most. I’m sure I’ll continue to ruminate and wrestle with it over the years. It challenged me in ways I never thought it would–but it also gave me the much-needed freedom to be honest with the Lord, to cry when I needed to cry…and then to wipe my tears, take a deep breath, and hold fast to two very important things:
One, He is good.
And Two, He is with us.
Immanuel, Immanuel. Hail, the Incarnate Deity. Taste and see that He is very, very good.