Italy is such a beautiful country and the Italian people are so interesting. During my week in the northern part of Italy I learned something unique about the Italian culture called: “La bella figura”. Literally it reads, “the beautiful figure”. I discovered that this concept is an essential philosophy that shapes the lives of many Italians, yet is a difficult concept for outsiders to comprehend. Bella figura has to do with presentation…how one looks, how one handles oneself, how one makes the best possible impression in all things. Bella figura has to do with visual beauty, clothing, good manners, and even making a good presentation with hosting a meal. The idea of making a good show seems to be hardwired into the Italian people.
There is nothing wrong in attempting to make an external good presentation. However those of us who a citizens of Christ’s Kingdom need to go beyond a good show. We are called to be beautiful on the inside. The harshest criticism from our Lord was leveled at the Pharisees. They always made a good show on the outside. They appeared to everyone as being very righteous and having it all together. Jesus addressed these religious leaders in Matt. 23:27,28: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness”. We need to work on having a pure and clean heart on the inside. The scriptures teach us that while man looks on the outward appearance the Lord looks at the heart.
The descendants of the Pharisees are still among us. They are the externalists who always major on appearing righteous to everyone around them. They are only concerned about making a good show while neglecting the weightier matters of the law like love, purity, compassion, kindness, and encouragement. “Bella figura”…making a good show might be part of the Italian culture. But having a transformed pure heart is essential to the Jesus culture.
I had the privilege of visiting one of our missionaries in northern Italy. What a thrill it was seeing what God is doing in the beautiful community of Avigliana, Italy. I enjoyed preaching and teaching in the church and getting to know the sweet Italian people who have been reached by the gospel of Christ. While I was there I also wanted to spend some time seeing the beauty of the scenery surrounding this town. However during my visit there were several fires on the mountains surrounding this valley town. The fires were set intentionally by arsonists and due to high winds planes could not safely reach the areas. The fires created a haze of smoke that settled over the valleys and distorted the majestic view of the Alps.
Sin is like fire on the mountains. It can burn and cause great damage to our personal lives. While the wicked one sets the blaze going we feed it with the dry wood of our own choices. One of the consequences of our sin is that it creates a smoke that fogs our view of the beauty of our God and His majestic purpose for our lives. God tells us in His Word in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope”. God’s person is so glorious, His Word is so righteous, and His plans for our lives are so marvelous. It is so sad that many walk around in the hazy fog of sin and are not able to see such beauty.
When I returned home from my trip to Italy my missionary friend called and told me that the fires are out. The planes were able to get to and extinguish those mountain blazes. Now the sky is clear and the view of those majestic Alps has been restored. How about you? Are you willing to deal with the fires of sin in your own life? God stands ready to pour out upon you His grace and forgiveness. When that happens the sky will clear and your vision of God’s beauty and His glorious plans for your life will be restored.
The eyes of man are in a constant search for beauty. We visit various museums where artists display their work. We gaze into the magnificent hues of a sunset. We admire the features of beautiful people, the orderliness of magnificent architecture, and the breathtaking beauty displayed in nature all around us. We will travel long distances and pay lots of money just to fill our need to be surrounded by beauty.
This craving for beauty I believe is placed in us by our wonderful Creator. God is the God of beauty. When He finished His week of creation in Genesis 1:31 we read: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day”. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us: ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time...” Perfection, order, and beauty described God’s original creation. When man sinned in Genesis 3 evil, disorder and ugliness came into the world. Yet even after the fall there is still this craving for beauty that God has placed within the heart of man.
Will our craving ever be realized? I believe that it can. When we receive the forgiveness of our sins through the person of God’s Son Jesus Christ we are declared perfectly righteous before God. Our sins are washed away and our hearts are made clean and beautiful in Christ. Of all of the beauty in God’s creation, the beauty of a transformed soul is God’s masterpiece.
We may never get to see the Grand Canyon, or visit the Smithsonian, or even watch the Northern Lights. However, there is one craving for beauty that one day will be fulfilled for God’s children. Isaiah 33:17 reassures us: “Your eyes will see the King in His beauty…” This describes that wonderful experience when we finally depart from this life and get to see the loveliness of the One who saved us. Our craving for beauty will finally be satisfied when we look upon the person of our King, Jesus Christ.
Pastor Stultz has been writing this weekly devotional for many years. In 2009, he published a compilation of devotionals in book form, also called Moments of Meditation