(Feminine) Beauty & Ugly Christ
WE EXPERIENCE BEAUTY IN a variety of ways: through song, paintings, sunsets, people, etc. And, though we need to think about beauty generally, it is worth saying a word about human beauty first as it seems to be the most influential in our society.
Now, between the two genders, God seems to have given considerably more beauty to the feminine than the masculine. This is not a clear and hard rule and, even among women, degrees of beauty vary. It seems to be a gift distributed rather indiscriminately and, some might think, with a good amount of unfairness.
Feminine beauty, as part of the image of God, is both spiritual and bodily. It is drawn from God’s very light. His divine image exists in both men and women, but there is uniqueness in how it is manifest in women. This why Paul writes that ‘the woman is the glory of man’. Women adorn humanity, both spiritually and bodily, in a way that us men do not. Men need women. It is not good for men to be alone. The glorious image of God that you can reflect to us and is not something we men can produce amongst ourselves and to each other. In your femininity, you reflect the image of God in a way that brings nourishment and strength to the souls of men.
Your physical beauty is as unique as your spiritual beauty. Yes, we men can be attractive or handsome in our own right―and we’re rather pleased with ourselves when you find us to be so. But this is different than the woman’s beauty. Ladies, your beauty as a woman is a unique gift from God. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is to be celebrated and given thanks over. People are to see you as a testament to the truth that the Creator of the Universe and His ways are beautiful. Like a beautiful voice or painting, the beauty you carry can move a soul in and of itself, yet leave one hungry for the ultimate beauty that God will bestow upon his children.
This why Paul, when writing to Timothy, says that women should ‘adorn’ themselves. They should celebrate their feminine beauty as a gift from God. But that they are to do so ‘modestly’. In context, Paul is speaking of women of a certain socio-economic level adorning themselves by means of gold and pearls while worshipping next to women of a lower class who could never afford such things. This was the type of modesty Paul was speaking of: a modesty that celebrates beauty while being aware of its potential divisive impact, due to human fallenness, among those with whom we worship.
Of course, this could apply to men as well. A man who is especially rich would be unwise to wear tailored Armani suits if most of those he worships with are unemployed or poor. But Paul saw in his day that this would be an issue that was more likely to arise among women than among men and not a lot has changed since his day.
Jesus the Ugly
The problem of beauty, and not just with the feminine variety, is that sin has come into the world and now those channels through which divine glory is supposed to be refracted are now tainted by sin. Much of what we encounter as beautiful in this life is a mix of true beauty with human corruption. Beauty by its very nature can deceive. The fruit Eve ate was attractive in appearance yet brought death. Beauty can manipulate―it can promise to bestow itself upon a recipient in return for favours in unrighteous ways. When beauty is divorced from the true and the good, it is no longer true beauty.
Not only is the object or person who reflects beauty affected by sin, but those of us on the beholding end are twisted by it as well. We can see beauty but, instead of giving thanks for it, we envy it. Or, we could worship and idolise the object reflecting that beauty, failing to acknowledge that God is the ultimate source of it. Eventually, the light of beauty we behold in such person or object will lessen.
Christ came to wholly redeem us―including our experience of beauty. How?
Christ dwelt in beauty indescribable. Sinless seraphim and angels had to cover their eyes to keep from being overwhelmed by His beauty. And what did he do with all that beauty?
He gave it away. All of it. He took on the flesh of an unattractive man and died one of the ugliest of deaths. Isaiah said that ‘He had no form or majesty that we should gaze upon him, nor appearance that we should desire him…And we hid, as it were, our faces from him’.
Why did he renounce all this beauty? So that you and I can have ultimate beauty. He exchanged his beauty for our ugliness. Jesus, who is beauty itself, became ugly by embracing us so that we who are made ugly by our sin might become beautiful to God. That’s why we look to Christ the rejected, the beaten, and the bruised for our salvation―not to Christ the glamourous or handsome model seen in far too many artworks by misguided believers. The Cross is a wrecking ball, shattering all the conceptions this world has about beauty.
When we see this ugliness that Christ assumes on our behalf, it begins to set us free. The love which motivated such an act becomes for us the beautiful and precious thing in God’s Universe. We become liberated from our prideful desire to become more beautiful than others. We become enabled to enjoy and celebrate created beauty without being enslaved by it.
We also have the hope that, aside from the love at work behind the Cross, the greatest of beauties are yet to come. The new and second Creation that is coming through Christ will far eclipse the first. The new Heavens and the new Earth will contain a beauty that our imaginations cannot now come close to fathoming. All the of this world’s beauties that are buried with Christ will be resurrected on that day in far greater glory―and the most breathtaking ones are yet to come.