Saturday, September 30, 2006

the christian's response to beauty

Dani and Nix, in the previous post, raised some interesting objections to my explanation of why I wear make-up (lol ... which if you look at my pics, isn't very much at all).

As an artist and visual-oriented person, I'm interested in what my readers' thoughts are on aesthetics.

What IS beauty?

What ought the Christian's response be to physical beauty?

What does Scripture have to say on the subject?


papabear said...

Hrm, somewhat timely with the premiere of the U.S. version of Yo soy Betty, la fea tonight...

I wrote something brief on the question a while ago here:

ckhnat said...

lol! i just watched the premier episode online.

Ugly Betty


Jim the 3rd said...

Symmetry is helpful, if not essential.

Anonymous said...

Hi Christine,

I don't think there's anything wrong with a woman looking her best, as beauty is a gift from God (I'm thinking Song of Songs). Beuaty is also in the eye of the beholder - every man (and woman) will find different things aesthetially pleasing.

However, I agree with Nixter and Dani that a woman shouldn't wear make-up to primarily "represent" her husband/boyfriend.

Firstly, I think that when people look at me, they see initially "soph", not "sam's fiance" - (at least I hope they do!).

Secondly, I think the bible teaches that inner beauty is to be valued over the outer appearance, in both men and women.

There is a lot of pressure for women to be beautiful these days, and some of it is preached in the guise of "look your best to serve your husband" - to the extent of losing weight (I've heard one female preacher say "no one wants a fat wife!"), getting plastic surgery or using every technique under the sun to look younger. I feel this is really dangerous. Although there is nothing wrong with getting fancied up to make him feel special - I do this for Sam often on our dates - this can be easily peverted to hinder, not help, people in their godliness.

I also think Christians have double standards sometimes when it comes to these issues. Not many would argue that it's not okay for women to wear make-up to look her best, but what about pole dancing classes? Stripper routines designed to shape your body to look its best What about doing these things for your husband? I once had a discussion with people over this and the outrage was clear. However, we forget that once upon a time, make-up and knee high boots had its origins in "unwholesomeness". Just a side point I thought about...

I think if you want to wear make up and look great, then wear it. And if mike likes it, well, even better:) Just as long as your inner beauty is what matters most.

ckhnat said...

I disagree, J. T.

I think our little friend "D" is gorgeous ... and her face is NOT symmetrical. It's the part of the appeal.

CraigS said...

Stripper routines designed to shape your body to look its best...

How is that aerobics class going, Soph?

ckhnat said...

i'm all for it, Soph.

Anonymous said...

Douglas Wilson in his little book "Her Hand in Marriage" helpfully notes that the prophets refer to makeup and jewellery when describing God's election of Israel (e.g. Ezek 16:6-14).

He helpfully mentions that therefore makeup & jewellery can't be bad, though this idea must be balanced with 1 Peter 3 and the rest.

Dani said...

Not sure whether to post this here, in the previous post or in the comments on my own blog! Too many discussions going on! But here will do :)

From your comments in your previous post- Indeed, GandG. You said it better than I could. If Christians walked around as slobs (i.e. unhygenic and tattered clothing), would the world look on Christ in a favorable light.

I think that is a straw man argument really. The default alternative to being beautiful is not the practice of being a slob. I don’t think any Christian would endorse the view that it is OK to be a slob in that sense of the word. If we want to be the light of the world we need to be approachable, and complete dishevelment, unhygenic practices and unkemptness doesn’t assist in that (nor does it provide a good witness to how Christians treat the body God has blessed them with).

However, this was not your original point. The comparison you were making was between you trying to make yourself attractive from your non-makeup state to your made-up state. It wasn’t a comparison between you with your makeup on and you as a disheveled slob (surely you wouldn’t say that your non-makeup picture represents the latter!). In other words your post affirmed that by appearing as beautiful as possible others would have a better opinion of you, and thus of your boyfriend. I just don’t see how that gels with what Scripture tells us is important in witnessing as a Christian, and a christian woman in particular.

Nor do I really see any scriptural basis for the claim that our external appearance reflects internal qualities of godliness. I can’t even imagine a situation where I have seen a well-groomed woman (friend or stranger) and thought ‘Gee, there goes a godly woman’ based on how attractive she was looking. It might show me that she takes care of herself, or that she likes to look as attractive as possible- but it doesn’t say anything to me about her godliness. In fact, going from her appearance, I could make as many assumptions about her being ungodly as godly. Likewise I would hope that should I see a disheveled woman I wouldn’t automatically leap to the conclusion that she just doesn’t care about herself, nor that her dishevelment must speak to an ungodliness in her character.

Christ himself was described as having ‘no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him’ (Is 53:2). His internal qualities were, according to Scripture, not reflected by his external appearance. We don’t even get a hint of his physical description in the Bible. I just don’t know where in the Bible we read affirmation that a woman’s (or for that matter a man’s) beauty ‘can shed light on her inner heart while simultaneously complementing the man she is in relationship with’. In fact in 1 Peter 3 a wife is specifically exhorted not to make her adorning external, but to win over her unbelieving husband with her godly and pure conduct. It's not her outward appearance which reveals her gentle and quiet spirit- it's the way she relates to her husband in love, through action.

Now again I am not making a comment on the appropriateness of christian women wearing makeup, nor am I against expression through appearance (I’m a designer and so am also a visual person). However, I do have a concern about saying that making ourselves more beautiful makes us appear godly, or at least brings our godliness to the fore in some respect. It would be helpful if we were able to argue this from Scripture and not experience. Is there any Scriptural basis for the claim that ‘my outward appearance reflects what's in my heart’ specifically with respect to our relationship with God? Or any Scriptural claim that we should make ourselves as attractive as possible (and I'm not talking in comparison to slovenliness here) so we will better reflect Christ and those we love?

sophg said...

My favourite verse of Proverbs 31 goes like this:

"Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." (v30)

The bible, as far as I can tell, does not value external beauty the way our society does. The bible says true beauty is found in our relationship with God.

Especially in the context of Proverbs 31, which is the proverb about the "wife of noble character". She achieves so many things - including having beautiful linen - BUT what is esteemed most highly is her relationship with God.

ckhnat said...

I'm not disagreeing with any of you who are commenting that inward beauty is of the utmost importance in comparison to outward beauty.

Proverbs 11:22 compares a physically beautiful woman who is not discrete with a pig adorned with a gold ring in his snout. No amount of makeup or beautiful clothing can mask an unattractive heart.

My roommate in college was the posterchild of the campus. Gorgeous. Before I met her I knew her name and overheard many conversations where guys were talking about her. I too was swept away by her beauty and smile. But when we had lived together for a couple of months, that outer beauty was quickly transformed when her true heart was displayed. I was repulsed by her selfishness and her pride and her disregard for others. Her physical appearance was actually transformed by her heart's motivations.

I love being feminine. I love wearing skirts and dresses. I love experimenting with different ways of doing my hair. But should my heart not be right with God all of that is for nothing. Pure vanity!

So, you see? I agree with you.

However, as with many of my other posts that have sparked disagreement, I only brought up one side of the issue. Women are so often exhorted in the church to enhance their inner beauty. Do you really need another parrot to tell you the same? Sometimes I think the intensity with which this message is preached is rather reactionary to such issues as anorexia/bolemia, obesity, immodest dress and appearance, causing opinions to be swayed to the other extreme with equating plain/bland appearance with godliness.

Isn't that the same?

Both are trying to draw attention to themselves by their outward appearance one with enhancing it, the other by disregarding it. 2 extremes. Similar motives.

I am merely attempting to bring up a little discussed issue and commenting that indeed the condition of the heart and one's character is of primary importance, but that doesn't negate one's taking pleasure in creating/enhancing physical beauty.

God is the author of beauty in so many different forms, both physical and spiritual. He himself is beautiful. Artists, made in the image of God, get a thrill from copying the Master Artist or from creating their own beauty. A tree in the middle of a meadow is beautiful, especially as the mist of the evening rolls in. Would you tisk-tisk if someone came along to enhance that beauty by hanging a multitude of candle-lit lanterns from it's branches? "Shameful. God created that tree beautiful just how it is. Shame on you for attempting to add to it."

No, that's silly.

Beauty is good. Like Seumas commented on Dani's blog, the goodness of beauty does not make it moral.

Some churches decide against adorning their building in guilded sculpture and choose instead to maintain a humble appearance. Is the stainglass church better than the other because it is "more" beautiful? That's obsurd. But if that "plain" building houses a group of people who are spiritually dead and full of pride and hypocrisy, it is not better than a sepulchre. However, as one enters a cathedral and the regal pillars and arches draws one's eyes upward to the sparkling, coloured glass, one might find himself giving glory to God the Author of all things beautiful. The congregation may be as spiritually dead as the other, but that doesn't keep one from praising God. That beautiful woman walking down the street may be an atheist, however, one can still appreciate her beauty.

I desire to bless Michael with my appearance (sigh ... and just to be sure i'm not misunderstood ... AND a kind, gentle spirit). The other evening I dressed up, put on a strand of pearls, straightened my hair, and put on a bit of make-up. His appreciation could not be masked. And I took delight in having pleased the man I love in this way. (And for your information we also read Scripture together and prayed).

I feel odd having to justify myself in this ... or tacking on further explanation. human responsibility ... BUT also sovereignty of God. wife respecting ... BUT also husband loving. outer beauty ... BUT also inward beauty. make-up ... BUT also prayer.

I have a feeling Craig's going to tell me that I don't have to always justify myself on my blog. I suppose I need to remember that few of you actually even know me, so I'm scrambling here to be sure you know that I understand the value in a beautiful spirit. But honestly I'm a bit afraid I'm going to get a comment like, "What? You like wearing dresses?!! Are you saying trousers can't be feminine?!"


Priscilla said...

I think your comment was great, Christine. It is frustrating to be misunderstood or having your words added to or twisted.

I think you've made yourself very clear. As I was reading the comments, I started wondering what I would write. I found out that I didn't have to say a thing! You've said it!

GloryandGrace said...

"Sometimes I think the intensity with which this message is preached is rather reactionary to such issues as anorexia/bolemia, obesity, immodest dress and appearance, causing opinions to be swayed to the other extreme with equating plain/bland appearance with godliness. Isn't that the same? Both are trying to draw attention to themselves by their outward appearance one with enhancing it, the other by disregarding it. 2 extremes. Similar motives."

This is the very reason I was compelled to write a recent blog entry: