By Debra Evans

If someone asked you what the Bible says about beauty, what would you say?

What I grew up thinking the Bible says doesn’t match what it really says. Even though I was raised in a Christian home, I was nonetheless taught that appearance was of paramount importance. The clothes I wore, the accessories I picked, and the way my hair looked were all expected to be just so.

I don’t know exactly where or when this emphasis began. I know it wasn’t with my grandmother. She was a woman who spent little time on her appearance. I don’t remember Grandma wearing much makeup, if any, and her clothes were typically plain for women of that era. Her beauty advice mostly consisted of telling me to sit up straight and not to eat too many potatoes.

As if to defy this domestic dullness, my mother took up beauty’s cause with a vengeance: She modeled clothes at a local dress shop. She subtly conveyed the message to my sisters and me that how you look is an important part of who you are.

It wasn’t only my mother who convinced me that appearance counts. Most of the women I knew worried about the way they looked, too. My godmother, Janie, went to the beauty parlor regularly to have her blonde hair bleached; neighbors talked about who weighed what; and ladies at church constantly compared themselves to one another.

I remember only one woman from those years who did otherwise-my Girl Scout leader, Mrs. Swart. From her I learned that hiking, helping others, building campfires and singing folksongs could be more fun than spending hours curling my hair or fixing my face.

These days, in an age of obsession with appearance, things haven’t gotten any better. What began as a trickle of beauty ideals and expectations in my mother’s day became a veritable torrent in the ’60s and ’70s. It continues to sweep over us like a gigantic tidal wave. Few can resist its grip entirely.

As Grandma’s generation passes away, the ones following display an ever-increasing preoccupation with beauty. Kids today take it for granted that they need to look a certain way, wear the right clothes and have their hair permed-all before they’re 8 years old.

Somehow, somewhere, between our grandmothers’ generation and our own, we exchanged simplicity for sophistication. For most of us, it’s only the size of our wallets that keeps us from investing even more money in looking better.

Insight From The Scriptures

The Bible-not our culture, families, peer groups or even churches- gives us the truth we need to fight the temptation to concentrate on outward appearances. Only Jesus can set us free from worrying about the way we look and make us who He would have us be through the work of the Holy Spirit. God’s love-not our husband’s, father’s, mother’s, sisters’, brothers’ or friends’- helps us accept ourselves the way He’s made us: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:16).

While beauty is evident everywhere in God’s glorious creation, the Bible warns against beauty as a snare. I’m aware of the paradox here. Scripture clearly dismisses physical beauty as fleeting while offering the rapturous celebration of married love in the Song of Songs: “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!” (1:15).

Perhaps part of the reason for this paradox is that physical beauty and spiritual beauty are not the same thing, though in many people’s minds they are linked. But no matter what we think the Bible says about physical beauty, it never instructs women (or men, for that matter) to desire it, nor does it necessarily depict beauty as a blessing for those who have it.

As with other unique qualities God gives, beauty is shown in the Bible to be a physical attribute He occasionally uses to further His purposes-as in the case of Esther, for example. But beauty definitely is not something the Bible instructs us to wish for, ask for, strive for or believe in. That’s an idea our culture has picked up from other sources.

In Scripture, physical beauty is never used as a metaphor for goodness or counted as any kind of moral virtue. In spite of the fairy tales that abound in our culture, beauty has no magical power to make bad people good.

In many stories, beauty is portrayed as a form of spiritual power-coming from a source other than knowing, serving and surrendering to the lordship of Jesus Christ. In fact, the original meaning of the word glamour described the enchantment used by witches-such as Morgana in the tales of King Arthur when they wanted to appear to be someone else.

Most fairy tales depict a “good witch” solution, not Christian salvation, as the cure for curses. Yet, according to the Bible, it took the horror of our Lord’s crucifixion to turn bad people into good ones-not a blessed beauty’s benevolence. As Christians, we know from Scripture that Jesus alone is truly good. Spiritual power is not ours to wield as we wish.

Over and over again, physical beauty is shown in Scripture to be a skin-deep quality distinctly separate from the condition of one’s heart. In contrast to physical beauty and adorned beauty, the Bible shows us a beauty of holiness that belongs to the Lord. Words used in the Bible to demonstrate the beauty of God’s holiness are “radiance,” “glory” and “splendor.” One day, when we see Jesus face to face, we’ll see for ourselves the beauty of His holiness.

For now, we must settle for tiny glimpses of this delightful beauty in Christians. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). Believers carry this spark of God’s great beauty, no matter what they may “look” like.

Beauty Beyond Belief

One striking fact stands out in the Scriptures: The majority of biblical women aren’t described as “beautiful.”

We aren’t told, for example, what Ruth looked like, though many of us picture her as being pretty. Or how Jesus mother Mary appeared. In fact, the New Testament contains no reference to women’s physical attractiveness at all. But we often picture Mary of Bethany, Priscilla, Joanna or even Elizabeth as attractive.

The omission of beauty as a measure of a woman’s worth in the New Testament, I believe, is not an oversight. By telling us about the women’s inner qualities, personal relationships and love for the Lord rather than stressing her appearance, we have an uniquely Christian perspective upon which to build our identity as women-one that doesn’t measure our worth by the beauty of our faces, the shape of our bodies, the style of our hair, the brand of our cosmetics or the fit of our clothing.

If we believe what the Bible says, physical beauty is a non-issue for Christians. So why do we pay homage to it? How many people who claim that “it’s what’s inside that counts” truly believe it! Here, in the New Testament’s only discourse on beauty, we are reminded of the truth:

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

This is it! A kind of beauty that lasts forever, one that won’t fade with the passing of seasons but grows ever brighter with the passage of time-a reflection of Christ’s own lordship within us. A beauty hidden inside our hearts, fashioned within us by God. A kind of beauty that can’t be physically put on, made up, covered over or taken off, but is 100 percent real. A kind of beauty the Bible declares “of great worth in God’s sight.”

What would happen if we lived as though we took this truth seriously? If we gave up our worries and anxieties and fears about the way we look-and based our ideals and expectations on God’s opinion of beauty instead of on our culture’s?

It’s a fact: No matter how hard we try, we can never make ourselves beautiful where it counts the most. Only Jesus can. Often the things we use for outward “beauty” actually pull us away from what Christ’s beauty is all about: the fruit of His Spirit in our spirits, reaching the world for the glory of God’s kingdom and changing every aspect of our hearts and minds and lives.

(The above information was published by FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, October 1993)

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