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The concept of beauty has always been intriguing to me. How can we define something so abstract, so subjective, something altogether ethereal and intangible? We try to place qualifiers on it, from art to nature to homes, and sadly, mankind. We try to deem others as model-esque and others average and others, well, as other.

I myself have been called other-than, hurtful words flung at me by a careless individual who thought they could get a good laugh.

It baffles me how we determine beauty and yet we really had nothing to do with it. If we truly believe God created everything, then how can we decide what He made was good and other things He made not-so-good? We are, after all, simply dust. And there is nothing glorious about that.

Or is there? Can there be?

God took the part of creation that we think the least of, the thing we try to rid our homes of and wash off at the end of the day, and made us, made His image from it. And without Him, we are just dust. That is, until He breathes His life into us, until he transforms us into something altogether other than dust.

Isaiah 61:3 gives us the promise that God will give us beauty for ashes. We have heard at funerals the saying, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Often, dust and ash are interchangeable in some translations of the Bible. We are formed from the dust and return as ash.

But God promises more than dust, a transformation to beauty. Beauty in the form of eternal life, a transforming of this earthly body to a spiritual one through His Son, Jesus Christ, a transforming to a body which never decays.

Beauty, a promise to work good for those who love Him.

In Isaiah 61:3, beauty and ash are written with the same 3 Hebrew characters: פְּאֵ֜ר (Pa’ar, beauty) and  אֵ֗פֶר (Epher, Ashes). Three letters, re-arranged to bring about two different meanings. God transforms us with what we already have. Our pasts, our presents, our choices and involuntary happenings, He takes those and gives us beauty. He takes our dust-made flesh and breathes His Spirit upon us. He takes our ugly sin and gives us robes white as snow. He takes our broken and shattered hearts and mends them back together. Some of the most captivating stories we love regard transformations into beauty, weak to strong. Our sadness turns to joy when we allow God to take our ash and transform it. Like the ugly duckling or the phoenix rising, we are transformed by God’s redeeming power.

Epher and pa’ar. Dust, lowliness, grief, humiliation, shame, all turned to beauty, wholeness, restoration. Often beauty is synonymous with God’s glory; we are redeemed to God’s glory through Jesus Who is prophesied about in this verse.

As easy as it is to re-arrange those letters God can re-arrange our hearts, minds, and lives. In the midst of it we may not see the good, may be sitting in our ashes and watching our world burn down around us, but we must hold on just a little longer. The God of beauty and reformation is coming. He will take the dust He loves-us- and crown us with beauty. And there, in Him, we will be made new.

My beauty and your beauty are not due to how we look or our homes or our clothes or our jobs. Our beauty is the reflection of the essence of Beauty, of the Glorious One Who made all things, of the beauty of the cross (once the most cruel and ugly of all things) turned to a symbol of love and the beauty of Jesus’ resurrection and the gift of life forever with the One Who deemed dust beautiful, Who declared it good, and Who is the highest standard of beauty and glory. When we live in Him and for Him, then we are transformed.

There is no greater hope.

Epher to pa’ar.