I have recently been introduced to a new organization that has chosen beauty along with truth and goodness as one of its core values. I think this is splendid. Beauty has never been an important value in evangelical Christianity, at least as long as I’ve been around. It’s been there and has influenced various aspects of the Christian life, but not necessarily as a stated, intentional goal. I remember in the 1970s, Edith Schaeffer came out with a book, Hidden Art, in which she talked about the value of surrounding ourselves with beauty. It was sort of an art-in-everyday-life book. But beyond that, I know of no one who has done a lot of thinking about beauty from a Christian standpoint. We need to start.
In the 20th century, Christians built a reputation for being drab, dull and behind the times. In the first half of the century, the majority of Christian women didn’t wear makeup or fancy clothes. For a woman to accentuate her beauty was sinful. Some of this probably came from a Victorian view of sex, but also from a misinterpretation of Peter’s admonition to women: “Your adornment must not be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:2-4). He does not say women should not fix their hair, wear jewelry and dresses, but that they should not rely only on their external beauty, but also cultivate the inner beauty of their heart and spirit. The critical word “merely” was missed in translation.
But beauty is not just in how we present ourselves or what we surround ourselves with; it’s how we look at what we see, or, as they say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This is certainly the way it is with God. God looks at us and sees beauty, not because we are unusually attractive, but because His love gives us value. He sees the beauty in us that we don’t see. He makes us beautiful to Himself. In fact, He is in the process of making us into His bride without spot or blemish. Learning to love ourselves comes from believing that God loves us like this — that we are desirable to Him. Knowing that we are desirable to God makes us desirable to others. And knowing that God sees beauty in everyone makes us able to see that beauty too, should we choose to. It is the way His grace toward us can be turned outward towards others.
God sees beauty in what He is remaking.
Jump in the mess of human lives undressed
And sin unconfessed… and see beauty.
Look at the sea of misfits and misery
And cry ’til you bleed… and see beauty.
That’s what God does!
That’s what God does!
That’s what God does! Why can’t we?
– The rock group, Skypark