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Isaiah 61:3. Beauty for ashes. It’s not just a cliché. God never speaks in clichés. Cynical hearts may twist His pure words into a sneer of hypocrisy, but never think that God is the author of contempt. Isaiah 61:3 is a promise to rebuild what was broken.

Creation is filled with examples in nature that demonstrate spiritual truths like  God’s promise of “beauty for ashes.” Volcanic lakes provide some of the most striking photographic images that man can produce. Regardless of how these beautiful lakes came to exist, they have all experienced a “tragedy.” Crater lakes are the result of the volcano blowing a hole into the earth, destroying everything. The initial aftermath is similar to a barren moonscape. Caldera lakes form when a volcano collapses into itself. Dingy rock and dusty ash coat the inside of the bowl.

Don’t tragedies happen to us in similar ways? We’re minding our own business and something beyond our control smashes into our lives destroying everything. A fatal accident, a murder, a betrayal, a terminal illness. We subsist in an empty crater. Our eyes behold no beauty. We choke on dusty debris.

Or perhaps we get depressed, a chemical imbalance causes us to spiral downward into a black hole of self-loathing. We collapse into ourselves shutting out the rest of the world. We struggle to climb over obstacles, only to see we must climb higher. Forward progress is stymied.

How can life ever be beautiful again?

Volcanic lakes give us a clue. Rain and subterranean springs fill the blasted-out crater with pure, filtered water while evaporation and underground rivers prevent stagnation. The wind drops seeds into blackened earth, fertile from trauma. What had been a broken, ruined landscape becomes a breathtaking panorama. The placid surface of the lake, surrounded by lush greenery and reflecting a startling blue, draws visitors from all over the globe.

Over time, if we allow Him to, God will provide living water to our parched souls. He’ll drop seeds of the Word into the ravaged remnants of our lives. Using the ashy remains of tragedy, God tends to the fragile shoots poking out of soil no longer clogged with weeds from our previous existence. He continues to pour a river of life into the crater until a crystal clear lake has been created, and He teaches us how to pass on to others that vital stream so we can share in His creation.

People begin to ask questions, wanting to know what makes our lives so peaceful and joyful, and we will point to the Savior and tell them, “He brings beauty out of ashes.”

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