A definition of the adjective form of “collateral” means that two things are situated side by side. They are parallel. Our mind thinks first of the term collateral damage, meaning damage inflicted upon an unintentional target. However, we rarely place it together to form the oxymoron of collateral beauty. For me, this is the beauty we refuse to see in certain circumstances. It is clear in Paul’s letter to the Romans that no one is righteous. Our souls are plagued by the disease of unbelief as our hearts root in what we can see. This misplaced establishment manifests in our hearts cry of collateral damage as Christians. The cry of refusing to trust undividedly in the hope of affliction, but instead viewing ourselves in endless pity as the unintentional target of trial. The regenerate heart is called to rejoicing and contentment amidst suffering. The regenerate heart is set apart to view the circumstance as what it truly is- collateral beauty. In the valley, earthly benefits are not visible. However, the most indescribable example is set before us. The incarnate son of God was tortured, hung on a cross, bearing every sin that God’s children would ever commit. The death brought upon him, meant eternal life for his children. The most important historical event juxtaposes life and death. The parallel is in itself- collateral beauty.
This leads to the probing question of how do you personally view God? In a world of skeptics and distractions, our understanding is damaged in our own human nature. It is so easy to hold close to our false idealizations no matter how often we are assured through scripture. It is so easy to believe a human entitlement for a grace and mercy that we selfishly want. A grace and mercy that appear in forms of selfish gain, accomplishment, performance and even a life free from pain and suffering. However, every minute of our lives is held firm within the grip of a steadfast grace and mercy transcending understanding. Our depraved hearts count this as nothing as our eyes are rooted in what we can see visibly, instead of the unseen. The seen holds an idealized image of God. An image that could not be more false, yet this is the image we love and depend on. No matter how certain we are of our surrendered lives to Christ, we do not love him for who is his, but who we want him to be.
As a result, our selfish desires go unmet and rightfully so. Deeply think about what those are in your circumstances. For me currently, its persecution for my faith. It is constant, daily failure in areas in which I feel that I deserve to be succeeding in. My heart’s cry for human affirmation is so deep in entanglement, that I cannot find the root no matter how long I spend tearing them all up painfully from the ground. The crippling anxious cry of my soul is so debilitating, for it is rooted and established in who I want God to be for me. Very little do we consider who the word of God says he is. As we are confronted with who we truly are, we must see God for who he is. The definition of just, love, grace, mercy, father, steadfast, gentle, patient, kind, good, and even these words cannot describe him because they were created by the human mind.
Yet every minute of our suffering because of fallen man is producing eternal glory. Every millisecond of our life is being carefully orchestrated and designed for our good according to the riches of his mercy that he has promised unto us. We are never the unintended target for pain and suffering as Christians. In fact, as justified, sanctified and called children of the living God, we have the assurance that our lives will be full of suffering as Christ suffered on our behalf. This suffering is nothing but beauty. Our suffering is the tangible proof of our solidarity with Christ and his active work in our lives to make us more like him. Joy and pain are juxtaposed. Growth and brokenness go hand in hand. Unbearable grief parallels unshakable confidence. This is collateral beauty.
Not one of Jesus’s apostles clearly understood this like Paul. In his second letter to the church in Corinth he says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” -2 Corinthians 4: 7-10. Paul’s reasoning is seen earlier in this letter in chapter 1 verses 5-7: “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s suffering, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”
The purpose of our affliction is to cause us to rely on God and not on ourselves. For our own merit can earn us nothing. The juxtaposition of chapter 4 is evidence in its embodiment of the unshakable hope given to us under trial. Paul knew better than anyone that he was not an unintended target of pain, but that each and every moment of his life served in growth towards Christlikeness, along with the advancement of the gospel. Paul’s life portrays the ultimate goal of mankind. Man’s chief end is to know God, glorify him and then enjoy him forever. On this side of eternity, we cannot expect an idealized grace and mercy of life empty of such suffering. For we are in exile, awaiting the day in which we can go home. The comfort of our assurance of salvation that is present in our suffering is collateral beauty. The endurance and steadfastness produced, the fruition of adherence, the evidence of growth is beauty resulting from affliction. This is the very unseen that our hearts must wholly and unabashedly root in. It is the unseen that produces collateral beauty. Resistance to the knowledge of God, the ignorance to his promises, the goal of self-fish gain does indeed appear to be collateral damage, and it will lead to your destruction.
We need to be faced with the truth of ourselves: I am nothing. I am infinite brokenness and the filthiest of rags. Yet, I continue to long for a deepened love of who He is. A deeper understanding of who I am with a deeper willingness to live in accordance with Him. I long for my love for Christ to be a love for who He is and not what I portray in my feeble mind. I desire for His energy to be my only energy, that I would honor Him in thought, word and deed. I pray that these things would not be plagued with resentment and unbelief, but would be of kindness, gentleness and patience. I pray that I would more deeply understand and be more sensitive to His provision. I pray that this deeper understanding would foster an even more serious love for who God is- just, merciful, gracious, loving, all-encompassing and more than my human words can even begin to describe. I pray my desire for Christlikeness would strengthen and my willingness to become more and more broken would grow. That I may rejoice in every circumstance on the narrow path to Christlikeness. I pray my bitterness and resentment to be transformed into rejoicing and love for the discipline of God in the pursuit of my heart. I long to be a child of God who craves nothing else but to become like Christ in each and every day. I pray to be a child that desires this so strongly, that I can rejoice and love walking through trial and affliction with confidence of the fruit that He is bearing. I want His energy in this area of my life to grow in eternal weight each day. I long to grow to a place where I rejoice when my weakness is put on display. I long for my life to be a picture of collateral beauty.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” -Romans 8:28-30