Adapted from the book Deep Unto Deep by Dana Candler
I am dark, but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
Like the tents of Kedar,
Like the curtains of Solomon. (Song of Solomon 1:5)
A Paradox of Grace
We are on a journey to wholehearted love. Our desire is to reach the fullness of love and all that God would give to the human heart according to the riches of the glory of His inheritance in us (Ephesians 1:18). Yet before we take even one step forward, Jesus speaks this foundational fact to each believer’s heart. He reveals the reality that we are unmistakably, unavoidably dark. Some of this darkness is actual sin and compromise that must be rooted out of our lives as we come into agreement with His love. And some of our darkness is but the weakness of our fallenness only to be reversed in the age to come. Yet as we see this darkness, He reveals that we are also lovely to Him even in the process of our growth and maturation in love. He possesses pleasure in us while we are moving from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7) and from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
To know that I am dark yet lovely is to understand my weakness, which is comprised of my sinfulness, my immaturity, and my natural limitations together with the revelation of my loveliness to Him. David expresses this twofold mystery in Psalm 86:1–2, “Bow down Your ear, O Lord, hear me; for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am holy” (emphasis added).
When He gazes upon me, instead of seeing only that which has fully come into maturity, He perceives the yet-maturing virtues within me. He hears my inward cries to fully belong to Him. When I stumble in my persistent weakness, His gaze pierces through my external struggle and sees, in my spirit, the internal flame of true yearning to be His. With His eyes of fire, He perceives the continual cry deep within my heart to belong fully to Him, and He calls it part of my “loveliness.” He defines me by the things that are not yet revealed as though they were. When I lie on my bed at night and long for victory in my weak areas, He esteems my longing as something precious and receives my cry.
We must accurately perceive how God thinks about us in our weakness. He’s a God of unending kindness, and His mercy is not challenged by our lack. That Jesus could be filled with love and enjoyment in someone when he or she is still stumbling and immature, seems unrighteous or unjust to our false understandings of Him. We imagine that this kind of affection is possible only when we are fully pure, holy, and mature. Yet the glorious good news of all time is that Jesus, the perfect One, set His affections on those who were fully weak and undeserving. While we were still His enemies, He died for us, and while we are yet immature, He enjoys us. This isn’t to say He enjoys sin but that He delights in the lover of God who is yet in the struggle against besetting sins.
We are far weaker than we realize and far lovelier than we realize; and yet even in our greatest weakness, God perceives in us more beauty than we can imagine. Our loveliness is not an attribute gained by our attainments. It is a gift of God. He sees us beautiful because of what He Himself has accomplished in our salvation and transformation. This divine perspective is our source of protection from the accusations of the enemy. When the accuser seeks to poison me with accusation regarding my weakness or immaturity, I respond with the truth of Jesus’ delight in me even in my weakness. When the accuser comes to deceive me into taking pride in my beauty or strength, I respond with the vivid remembrance of my weakness.
Without this combined confession, our darkness and our loveliness, we cannot continually ascend in our journey of His embrace. This paradox must live within our hearts. We never let go of this two-part revelation in this life, for its combination protects our hearts as we make our way forward in love. Our loveliness protects us from shame and condemnation, and our weakness keeps us from pride and arrogance. Both of them work together for our good. They enable us to wholeheartedly abandon ourselves in love, remaining confident before Him and continuing with boldness in our pursuit of knowing Him. In the age to come, we will marvel at how this twofold revelation anchored and centered us. As we stand in our perfected glory, our hearts will overflow with gratitude at God’s genius displayed in the way He married weakness and strength within the human heart’s ascent, out of the brokenness of a fallen world into the excellent beauty of the everlasting kingdom.
The Beauty of Our Wholehearted Pursuit
We are dark yet lovely. We are weak yet enjoyed. And this divine enjoyment over the life of a believer is not stagnant. It comes in the midst of a movement, of a godly struggle and a holy pursuit. The enjoyment of God comes as we fiercely seek to overcome those weak areas of sin and compromise in our lives through the power of His love. It is in the context of while we are yet struggling and warring against the enemies of God in our personal lives that He empowers us with the reality of His pleasure in us. His delight does not come when sin is tolerated but when righteousness is fervently sought after.
It is in the context of our wholehearted pursuit of Him that His enjoyment finds us. Even when we fail utterly and stumble miserably in this pursuit, His pleasure over us is not diminished. Yet this pleasure of God cannot be separated from our sincerity of heart. To say that He enjoys me while I tolerate sin and darkness is a severe untruth. To the one who fears Him, He will give a thousand graces and mercy unending. Yet to the one who presumes upon His grace and harbors compromise and darkness, He sets Himself as an adversary.
As we grow in the understanding of His mercy and grace, we must keep within our remembrance not only His kindness but His severity (Romans 11:22). These are the heights and depths of His Person. His kindness is unending, and His jealousy is unyielding. We gain great confidence in knowing the kindness and mercy of God in the midst of our weakness. And God wills it to be so. He created us to be without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4). Yet coupled with His tenderness and without any contradiction is His zeal for the total possession of our lives.
We have a God of severe zeal for the entire lordship of our hearts. He is not a God of fractions but of fullness. He is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14). He desires us completely and utterly. This jealousy flows harmoniously and without opposition to His mercy. In His zeal, He unyieldingly resists the one who knowingly tolerates secret sin and compromise; but in His tenderness, He gives immeasurable grace to the one who fears Him and stands sincere before Him in love.
Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:5–6)
It is the one who is in this wholehearted pursuit of Him, fleeing darkness and pursuing light, that He calls lovely. All along the journey, through all the processes of maturing, He views that one as beautiful and pleasing. He sees as man does not see and determines success by standards we have not conceived. What man calls miserable, He calls beautiful; and what man deems small, God knows as mighty. He is Himself beauty, and thus His definitions of beauty are the only ones true. What He calls lovely is indeed lovely, though all the earth may disagree.
How is the Lord changing your perspective on your weakness?
For more from Dana Candler, we recommend Deep unto Deep, which has been newly revised and updated. It’s available at the Forerunner Bookstore.