It’s not that Christians don’t talk about it. We do, from time to time. For sure, though, I never knew about the true outward appearance of Jesus when I was a non-Christian. As disciples of Christ, we just don’t actually engage the thought enough to go deeper in our understanding and wisdom. Jesus wasn’t attractive. The only verse in the bible about His physical form, before His death and resurrection, is found in Isaiah 53:2. It says, “He had no majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”
When I was an atheist, I never read that representation in the Bible and no one ever mentioned it to me. But then, with the exception of some out of context verses every now and then, I was not an ardent student of doctrine. And too, during most any time that I did spend reading the Word, I was intent on finding ways to destroy Christians in arguments.
Instead of serious study, I depended upon other non-believers to tell me about the writings and I mainly listened to those who spoke of the absurdity of scripture. Shortly after my conversion, roughly three years ago, I read Isaiah and I was incredibly jolted. Western art and movies had always depicted Jesus as some version of a blue-eyed, sandy brown haired guy with striking good looks. Coming of age, as I did, in the 1970’s, Jesus was, in point of fact, a dreamboat.
It should be intellectually credible, then, for Christians to relax their own pursuit for outward beauty or the judgment of others based on their external presence. That fact alone, that Jesus was rather ordinary looking at best, should reasonably be able to catapult us into not obsessing about our own loveliness. And you may have reached that understanding. But maybe not.
When you look at a group photo and you are in that group photo, who is the first person you seek? I asked a group of honest friends that question and the answer was…they looked at themselves first. When they glance at a photo, they admitted, if they look good then the photo is deemed good or the opposite for a bad shot of themselves.
Women especially are somewhat trapped in a culture of high beauty expectations. I probably don’t need to convince most of this ongoing struggle. We all see the obvious signs in our media and stamped all over billboards and advertisements. For me, I know this to be true. At 55, my eyes are baggier, my body is looser and my deep facial lines are deeper. And, even though I have the working knowledge of how out of spiritual sync it is to focus on the external, I am not oblivious to these changes occurring in my appearance, though I am growing more in wisdom daily as I meditate on the Word. In fact, believe me; I don’t know that I could survive the aging process without tail spinning into melancholy if I were a non-believer.
My fig leaves; my make-up, my blown hair and by well kempt nails haven’t disappeared just because I now realize that these smokescreens are indeed aiding me in my ongoing desire to hide behind them. Since the fall of man, we all cover-up with appearances, in varying degrees. We fear that without the house, the career, the car, the great kids, whatever it is, we would be exposed and we’d rather not be bare, just like Adam and just like Eve did not want exposure. Thus, my eyeliner eases my anxiety a bit.
While my desire to enhance my spiritual beauty grows, I haven’t entirely lost my need to embellish certain manifestations I’ve created, albeit the necessity of that requirement upon myself is dissipating. The relief that comes with this journey is like removing tiny stones from my eyes, slowly but assuredly.
I didn’t necessarily see it when I was in the vortex of the culture which somehow defines our beauty but when I look back on it, oh my, it was insane. I didn’t realize how wired I was to respond to the standard. And honestly, no one really knows why we view beauty the way we view beauty. Sociologists have their explanations, as do the evolutionists, the psychologists and even the beauty queens and ugly ducklings alike. I don’t claim to know why certain symmetrical features appeal to us and others don’t.
I do know this. It’s nothing new. Simply revisit the Book of Esther in the Bible if you hesitate to believe that this has been a thing for a very long time. Queen Vashti was deposed because she didn’t obey her husband, King Xerxes. Her unwillingness to come out and parade her beauty to her husband’s group of drunken male guests was her downfall. The King found worth for himself in the extreme beauty of his wife and hence, for his pride’s sake, ordered her to present herself to the crowd. When she was dethroned, something of an international beauty pageant was held to find a new queen.
And yet, Jesus, in all of His glory, was not good-looking. We know that the visible form was not a factor of any consideration to God. When He chose David to be king He said, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” On the other hand, He was indeed cognizant of beauty. As it turns out, Satan was a beauty. In Ezekial 28:17, God speaks to Satan, “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth. I made a spectacle of you before kings.” In 2 Corinthians 11: 14 – 15, we read, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”
As agents of the Lord we are simply in the world—physically present—but not of it. (John 17:14-15). As believers, we should be set apart from the world. This can be a demanding mission when we have become so accustomed to evaluating the worth of others and inflicting ourselves with doubts about our value based on only superficially determined factors. We strive to understand that being in the world, but not of it, is necessary if we are to be a light to those who are in spiritual obscurity. We are to live in such a way that non-believers view our approach as something transcended. The truth is, we are so inclined to think like the world, we fail often. With intention, though, we can change incrementally and eventually, gain the great freedom that comes with looking for the beauty of our hearts.
Lastly, I don’t want to suggest that Christians become militant about all of this. Read the Book of Acts and you’ll discover that for the exemplar teacher, the Apostle Paul, when it came to matters he considered non-essential, he didn’t make a loud bang about the situation. That’s why having Timothy circumcised or he himself going through the purification rituals was not problematic. Though he did not believe either was any matter for salvation, he complied out of respect for the custom of others. If I attend a formal wedding, I’m not going to skip the mascara and I won’t show up in torn jeans. I’m not constantly attempting to make a statement about God’s view on the unimportance of physical beauty. If I did show up like that, my friend would need to endure a certain amount of embarrassment on my behalf. For me, it’s a non-essential issue. Therefore, I will come in proper attire, recognizing fully that my beauty and the beauty of others comes from within.