Hidden-in-Plain-View Lesson from a Motmot:
God’s Beauty Outshines Human Ugliness
by James J. S. Johnson
The turquoise-browed motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) is an amazingly beautiful bird that few will see in the wild. That kingfisher-like bird is a living testimony of God’s beauty and care. Yet what a contrast that bird is to some of the ugliness sinful mankind has soiled this weary world with. Consider the following as an illustration of this bittersweet contrast.
Consider the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. At the top of the Temple of Kukulcan in Chichen Itza, human sacrifices took place. A stone knife was used to slice open the victim’s chest cavity, the heart was pulled out, held up as a sacrifice to the sun god while it was still beating, the head was severed, and the body tumbled down the stairs. Once the bloody bodies reached the bottom of the stairs, they were often eaten. Is it any wonder that the Mayas had problems with plagues, dying of diseases by the thousands? (Providentially, God used Spanish conquistadors, such as Hernando Cortez, to abolish this genocidal holocaust.)
Also, there is a sinkhole located north of the Mayan Temple of Kukulcan, which is called the Sacred Cenote, or “Well of Sacrifice,” where they would toss people in to die by drowning in the murky water, and then the spectators would drink the water. Some of the walls, not far from the temple and the cenote, exhibit rows upon rows (comparable to courses of bricks laid by bricklayers) of skull carvings (called “tzompantli”). The facial shape and expression of each skull carving is different—not just one generic skull model. Perhaps the sculptors were probably looking at different skulls when they carved them. Hundreds, even thousands of humans were sacrificed by the Mayas of the Yucatan and their neighbors. Similar holocausts were committed by the Aztecs of Central Mexico, where human sacrifices were processed in the Nahuatl language.
Fallen humanity, if unrestrained by the gospel and redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a very ugly and cruel thing to see. Instead of seeing God’s traits of kindness, goodness, intelligence, the exact opposite is seen. In this Chichen Itza is no different than many other cultures, including the humanistic (human-preoccupied) cultures of our modern world. Humans have ignored God’s prior judgments and will continue to do so. God provides a witness; He provides an opportunity of deliverance through His grace, but many reject it.
But there is a brighter side to all of this: God never leaves Himself without a witness (or a remnant).
Ironically, Chichen Itza displays not only God’s wrath (which is displayed by how God historically gave the bloodthirsty Mayas over to their own sinfulness), but also, if you look carefully, there is an avian exhibit of God’s love of beauty, even there: the turquoise-browed motmot which inhabits this region of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Specifically, if you walk northward from Kukulcan’s temple to the cenote (sacrifice sink-hole), there is a forest edge on the west side of the pathway, just before you arrive at the cenote, and in the large tree there (at that forest edge), creation scientists (Dr. Jan Mercer and this author) have observed turquoise-browed motmots perched in plain sight of those who walk by. Here you can see two “pipe-cleaner” extensions of the tail, both with a colorful “brush” or “fan” on the end of those long tail feathers. What a beautiful bird!—a witness of God’s beauty in a place that was loaded with cruelty.
Unlike the colorful racquet-tailed turquoise-browed motmot, the Mayan handiwork at Chichen Itza was mostly a glorification of vile death, wretched idolatry, and ugly cruelty. Tragically, for many generations, there, God’s truth was rejected, and idolatry prevailed. The result is they “changed the truth of God into a lie” (Romans 1:25). What does God do with those who reject His Creatorship, according to Romans chapter one? God punishes them with a “reprobate mind” (Romans 1:28), something like spiritual insanity. The “reprobate mind” judgment does not wait until the next life; it is imposed in this earthly life! One of the severest punishments that God ever imposes, unto those who reject the witness of His Creatorship and His glory, is that He gives people over to their love-of-the-lie wickedness. (Romans 1:24).
Interestingly, the verb (in Romans 1:24) is an aorist verb, meaning the action is viewed as an event, as if it happened in a moment. It doesn’t mean it literally happened in just a split second, but it means it is being viewed as one action or one unit. There was a specific time when someone had rejected so much God-provided truth, inexcusably, that God said, “That’s it. I’m giving you over.” It’s a scary thing when God pulls back His restraints and mankind is allowed to just live out the selfish ugliness that is in the human heart.
When we reflect upon the season of Christmas, which we should do (suspending our distractions long enough to recall the Reason for this season), we should appreciate that God sent Christ to save a race of helplessly wretched sinners, Adam’s fallen race, — us — from the ugliness of self-proud and self-deluded ungodliness. Yes, we all desperately need a Savior, Jesus Christ the righteous. It is our Lord Jesus Christ – the Reason for the (CHRISTmas) season — Who is the author and finisher of everything that is truly beautiful in our lives. God loves beauty, but our ungodliness is ugly. So only God can (and does, if we avail ourselves to Him) salvage and remediate us from ugliness, both here and hereafter. What a generous and gracious Kinsman-Redeemer Jesus is!
So even at Chichen Itza, a monument to human ugliness, we have the turquoise-browed motmot! —a wonderful witness of God’s shining beauty and love of life. ><> JJSJ
(Adapted from James J. S. Johnson, “Turquoise-browed Motmot at Chichen Itza: Contrasting God’s Beauty with Mayan Ugliness”, Norfolk Heritage Review, June 1999; © AD1999 James J. S. Johnson)
Other articles by James J. S. Johnson
Motmot Family – Momotidae – Motmots