“There’s my beautiful mermaid!” Those were the words spoken by my husband the other morning as he approached me while I waited by our car in the parking lot of the Y. Let me set a few things straight: I had just swum my morning laps and was standing in the sun while I waited for him to finish up his workout. Don’t picture a cute little Arielle or a Daryl Hanna in Splash. Think old driftwood. And yet, he says, “beautiful mermaid.”

Guys, lest you think this is going to be a blog about husbands speaking kindly to their wives, relax. You’ve heard that message before. I’m pretty sure you don’t need to hear it again. And women, lest you think this is a blog about women “painting the barn” for their husbands, you can really relax too. You’ll never get that from me. My supposition is that you are already way too aware of how you look.

No. This is a blog about Jesus and the Church.

You see, my dear husband of 40 years, Phil, looks at me with love. (Don’t ask me why, but he does. He always has.) So, I can be standing in a parking lot with wet stringy hair, bulges where there are supposed to be inward curves, wearing an old beach cover-up… no makeup… smelling like chlorine, and yet he sees a beautiful mermaid. Why? Because he loves me. And that… simply… is my point.

When Jesus looks at the Church he doesn’t see all her spots and wrinkles. He doesn’t see any such thing. He sees her as filled with splendor and glorious (Ephesians 5:27). He sees her as holy and without blemish.

Wait… what?

When I look at the Church and the mess she’s in, “splendor,” “glory,” “holy,” and “pure” aren’t words that come to my mind. I see weakness and sniping and jealousy and ambition and downright wickedness. I see a church that is filled with uncharitable judgments and weak compromised leaders and apathetic part-timers throwing rocks from the sidelines. I smell chlorine. But he doesn’t. He’s smiling at her.

Why? Because he looks at her—at us all—as covered in his own righteousness. He sees us as beautifully clothed, washed, radiant. How could that be? It can be because he loved us enough to die in shame, filth, and dishonor; forever bearing our ugliness away into a God-forsaken exile so that he might clothe us with his beauty.

Here’s how he speaks to the Church… to you: “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Solomon 4:7). Think of that: If you’re in the Church, the “you” there is you. When he sees you he sees “no flaw in you.” John the Revelator heard this about you… about us:

“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” (Revelation 21:9-11)

No flaw… having the glory of God… radiance like a rare jewel. You. Me. Really? Yes.

A day is coming when we will hear those words and we will look down at our clothes, our collective lives, and expect to see ratty chlorine-stained tee-shirts and old flip-flops. But we won’t. We’ll look down and see ourselves the way he sees us: holy, beautiful, righteous, clean. Glorious. Radiant. Beloved.

For now, we live in the time when we walk by faith and not by sight. We have to ask for faith to believe that he loves us as we are because he sees us as we really are. And even on the days when all we can see is ugliness and failure, we can rejoice knowing that’s not what he sees. What does God say when he sees you? “Hello, Beautiful Bride.” Go figure.