Published by Baker Books on June 8, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Memoir
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We live in a broken world. Amid the daily realities of sickness and isolation, disappointment and pain, it can be profoundly difficult to grasp the real goodness of God. But this is where God breaks into our darkness with beauty. In the wonder of creation, in art or film, story or song, in the kindness of his people and the good they create, God breaks into our pain in a tangible way, teaching us to trust his kindness and hope for his healing. Beauty is a voice singing into our suffering, beckoning us toward restoration.
In This Beautiful Truth, Sarah Clarkson shares her own encounters with beauty in the midst of her decade-long struggle with mental illness, depression, and doubt. In a voice both vulnerable and reflective, she paints a compelling picture of the God who reaches out to us in a real and powerful way through the "taste and see" goodness of what he has made and what he continues to create amid our darkness. "To recognize and trust God's gift in pain," she writes, "empowers us to create and love as powerful witnesses to God's healing love in a hopeless world."
If you want to renew your capacity to recognize and encounter God's beauty in your life, this hope-filled book will show you the way.
When I first learned about this book, I thought it sounded interesting, but then I learned that the specific mental illness that Sarah Clarkson struggles with is OCD. My interest immediately increased a hundredfold, because I will read anything about the mental disorder that distorted my whole life for years, and the opportunity to read about it from a Christian worldview perspective is very rare. I appreciate Clarkson’s vulnerability to share about her specific struggles with intrusive thoughts and overwhelming psychic pain, and even though this book’s title sounds fairly general, This Beautiful Truth: How God’s Goodness Breaks into Our Darkness is primarily a memoir, with content specific to Clarkson’s experiences wrestling with faith in the midst of her mental struggles and learning how God would reach out to her through the beauty of creation, human relationships, art, and writing.
I relate to many of Clarkson’s experiences and internal struggles, and even though I disagree with her on some theological points, I found this book very engaging, hopeful, and encouraging. She writes with gorgeous, creative prose, and defends the value of beauty as a way that we meet God and find greater peace in our lives. This book will appeal to fans of the author, Christians who struggle with mental illness, and people who are interested in more liturgical forms of spirituality. Clarkson writes beautifully about the sustenance she has found within Anglican traditions, and offers a unique, personal perspective into how someone can persevere long-term through mental illness while still holding on to their faith.
My main critique is that Clarkson sometimes elevates subjective experience too highly while dismissing theological writings. Over the years, she felt burned by resources that offered tidy, abstract theological answers without hope or sympathy, and I am sorry that she had this experience, but she makes sweeping overstatements in this book that surprised me. In the midst of my OCD, I also delved into learning about suffering, and I found many books and sermons tremendously helpful and encouraging. These resources offered deep sympathy for pain, a view of God’s compassion, and encouragement about the solace we can find in Jesus, who suffered in excruciating, embodied ways and truly understands. Clarkson clearly didn’t have my same experience, but I wish that her critique had been more targeted and less generalized, since she could deter readers from pursuing theological resources about suffering that could be tremendously meaningful and restorative to them.
Overall, even though I am not on the same page with the author about some things, I found this book very encouraging. I appreciate Clarkson’s honesty about her experiences, especially since intrusive thoughts are such a hard topic to open up about, and I admire her beautiful writing style and meaningful insights about knowing God through beauty and experiencing His presence in the small and large glories of everyday life. Even though I would recommend This Beautiful Truth with some caveats, it can be a great blessing to other Christians who struggle with mental disorders, depression, and grief, or who simply want to better understand the role of beauty and the arts in our spirituality.