Saturday, 24 October 2015

On Beauty (Part Two)

I imagine that it is possible that somewhere, perhaps in the America's Next Top Model house, there might be someone who is perfectly content with their appearance. I doubt it, but I will allow for the possibility. But I think the Bible has things to say about beauty to that person. And I imagine that reading this post there are a whole range of people, from those who are aware of their attractiveness, to those who feel they are categorically and unequivocally ugly.

I decided then, as I was starting to collate what I thought the Bible might have to say on this, what it might have to say whatever our level of physical attractiveness. However attractive we are, we will probably be less attractive at some point in the future. However attractive we are, we are probably aware that that can fluctuate based on a whole range of factors.

So, below are some thoughts on what the Bible seems to me to say about our physical body- whoever we are, whatever state our body is in.

Whatever our level of attractiveness, our physical body is passing away. 
The most explicit thing the Bible says about beauty, is that it is fleeting. (Proverbs 31). 

And it is- not only in the eye of the holder (how quickly minds are changed!), but we are also physically perishing. We are "wasting away". The fight to hold on to physical beauty is, ultimately, futile. We can't put our hope in our body, for anything- it's unreliable. What's recommended instead is fearing the Lord- who is steadfast, eternal, and unchanging.

Whatever our level of attractiveness, our physical body does not justify us. 
The Bible acknowledges that some people are more physically attractive than others. For example, there were "no women so beautiful as Job's daughters" who he is given at the end of the book. Rachel is more beautiful than Leah. Abram recognises that Sarai will get particular attention in Egypt because she is "a woman beautiful in appearance."

Of course- to most women, these statements feel horribly exclusive. We may not make it into the "beautiful" bracket. And if we do, we may not make it in to the "model beautiful" bracket. And if we do, we may not make it in to the "supermodel beautiful" bracket. And if we do, even then, we probably don't make it in to the "beautiful enough" bracket.

But, however attractive we are, as discussed in the last post- our attractiveness cannot be our justification. If we want to be made right with God, we cannot just project an image of beauty- there is no spiritual foundation, spiritual concealer, spiritual plastic surgery.

"No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account." Hebrews 4: 13

All have fallen short of the acceptable standard- all must depend on Jesus for their justification. All ugly hearts must take refuge under the shadow of his beautiful- by God's standards- wings.

Whatever our level of attractiveness, our physical body does not condemn us. 
Have you ever stood in front of the mirror and felt condemned? Or looked at a photo and felt a sense of shame, or despair? I know I have! We are bombarded with messages- explicit and not- that if you don't fit a certain definition of beauty then you are condemned to a loveless, unhappy life. Generally speaking, films show us attractive people falling in love. Even the "ugly" girls find their redemption when some heroic man sweeps in, happens to see past the overalls and glasses, and vindicates the girls beauty. So it is unsurprising that when we feel physically unattractive, we feel condemned.

However, the gospel makes clear that "there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Maybe we feel condemned by God for knitting us together in our mother's womb so we look one way and not another. I remember reacting to David's "I am fearfully and wonderfully made," of Psalm 139 thinking- "that's easy for you to say, Dave- you've got beautiful eyes and a handsome face! (1 Samuel 16:12) ". Or maybe we feel condemned by ourselves- we feel that our appearance condemns our own weakness, incompetence, greed...

But the promise of Romans 8:1 is that believers are under NO condemnation.

Jesus was condemned in our place. Jesus took shame in our place. So whatever else it may be, our physical appearance is not a condemnation. Even if aspects of our physical appearance are self inflicted- God does not condemn. In all things, including our appearance- God is working for our good.

"Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? God is the one who justifies!"

If the God of creation doesn't condemn us, then we are not condemned- and I think this means that when the mirror condemns us, or society, or ourselves- we need to refer ourselves back to this absolutely central promise.

Whatever our level of attractiveness, our physical body is for honour, not punishment. 
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price." 1 Corinthians 6

Firstly, Jesus died to redeem our bodies. This means, that his body was put on the line, punished, brutalised, destroyed, given over to shame and condemned in your place. We do not need to add any punishment to our bodies. Our bodies do not condemn us. Our bodies belong to Jesus.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is within our physical bodies. The argument in 1 Corinthians 6 is about the physicality of our beings and saying that we need to treat our bodies with an awareness that it's the Spirit's temple. This means we honour our bodies, recognising that the Lord of glory dwells there.

Whatever our level of attractiveness, it can never exclude us from the good news of great joy...

Thousands of years ago, the angel came to some stinky shepherds on a hillside. Society had excluded them. They were poor, they were at the bottom of the culture's ranking order, and they certainly weren't attractive. But the angel said to them: "I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people." The world will tell us our physical appearance will entitle us to, or exclude us from happiness. But the gospel includes us. We are included. The joy of the Saviour- the joy of Christ the Lord, is for all the people. All. The. People.

Jesus came to bring freedom- and sometimes our physical appearance can make us feel trapped. There can be a perceived message that if we were more beautiful we would be more happy, more secure. But Christ himself is our security- and he sets us free. So, in a world encouraging us to get entangled in all manners of slavish behaviours that will make us a little more "beautiful"- we need to be deliberate in not submitting to a yoke of slavery. Beauty is a cruel master that always requires more! Jesus is a kinder, more reliable, faithful master.

We are no longer slaves, we have been set free. This means, apart from anything else- we can stop looking in the mirror! We were made to look to others- and to Jesus, and there is great healing in self-forgetfulness.

Whatever our level of attractiveness, our physical bodies will be made new. 
Though outwardly, from the day of our birth, we are wasting away, inwardly, through the gospel, we are being renewed. This means that we don't need to obsess over beauty because the Bible makes it clear we'll never keep hold of it anyway- and we can relax, because we do have a physical future that will be awesome: "What is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." 1 Corinthians 15: 44

However we feel about our bodies right now, we're going to be given resurrection bodies that are characterised by imperishability, glory and power. Jesus is in the process of making this happen: He will make everything beautiful in its time.

Words that wound, words that heal, words that last
As a postscript, I know for me, many of my feelings of condemnation come from careless words spoken to me- some of them many, many years ago- that have lodged themselves in my mind and have had an enormous influence on how I've thought about myself. And I think it's okay to recognise the power of these words. But, the Bible says so many more glorious things about me. And the words of unkind teenage boys, the media, our own harsh minds, for example, will pass away, but-  "The word of the LORD remains forever." 1 Peter 1:25

May God give us grace to believe what's true!

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