Beauty can be a stereotyped subject. It is often a topic featured at women’s retreats. It’s included in the content of devotionals for teen girls and addressed in magazines. But the truth of beauty, or the lack of truth, comes to bear on everyone’s daily lives, men and women. So, men, don’t fall asleep on me—this is for you too! To understand why we are where we are when it comes to beauty, we must start with the first sin: the taking of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The Fall from Beauty
The bite of the fruit in Genesis 3 began with seeing. Seeing that it was desirable and then proceeding to take of it. This process that led to the original sin became a cyclical movement marked in the decaying of beauty. Looking to Adam and Eve, we can begin to understand more fully the predicament we find ourselves in.
The taking of the fruit became the first time that the physical and spiritual were dichotomized. The physical enticement of the fruit was surveyed away and apart from the spiritual implications of consuming it—the fruit, then, became objectified. It was an object of desire meant to be consumed, no longer a physical substance pointing to a spiritual reality.
We live in a time where, much like the fruit, beauty is objectified. If someone or something is seen as desirable (beautiful), the response is to consume it. We see this in social media, we see this in the epidemic of pornography, and we see this in the way dating and marriage are often pursued. The physical attractiveness of someone is observed away and apart from the reality of their spiritual being.
The problem is not, truly, then the seeing and consumption of beauty. There is a reason the Word says to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)—seeing paired with consumption. The problem is that our measure of beauty is broken, and therefore, just as Adam and Eve, we consume that which was not meant for us.
Let’s bring this a little closer to home. Single or married men and women, have you ever been in a situation where your attraction to someone, and even your choice to go out with them, was first determined by their level of physical beauty? You may have already had a friend who sharpens you and points you to Christ, yet they weren’t seen as an “option” because you weren’t attracted to them physically.
This does not only apply to romantic relationships, though. It is also a reality that we often seek out friendships with the people that meet our standard of beauty. And yet Christ came to restore and redefine our measure of beauty.
The Restoration of Beauty
Christ, fully God and fully man, displays for us what it means to live holistically, especially concerning beauty. First, in Scripture we see that as Jesus approaches people, He never fails to address their physical and spiritual reality. Where man saw only the outward appearance, He looked at the heart. Secondly, we are reminded that Christ is beauty. Though He was not “attractive” on the outside He was the literal embodiment of beauty itself.
When we become members of Christ’s body, we participate comprehensively in His being. That is to say, we participate in His beauty. That means as we become more like Christ, our definition of beauty must also become more like His. Not ignoring the physical, but also never isolating physical beauty from the spiritual. There is a beauty that everyone holds because they are image-bearers of God. But our measure of beauty should be that of someone’s attractiveness increasing to us as their likeness to Christ increases.
Beauty, then, becomes rightly consumed. Not an objectification devoured to satisfy the desire of our eyes; but a participation, a communion—a seeing of Christ who is beauty and then a consuming of His blood and body. We are invited to participate in the life of Christ who considered it beautiful to be spread, beaten and deformed, naked on a tree for the sins of those who had betrayed Him.
Beauty that is self-giving and life-giving is the true beauty that we are to participate in. And the truth of this beauty calls us to no longer seek first to take in, but, like Christ, to be self-giving. It calls us to no longer seek to be surrounded by a beauty that salves only the physically longing, but one that acuminates the spiritual condition.
Christ came to restore our measure of beauty and to redefine the beauty that we seek. Participating in a holistic beauty that does not alienate the physical from the spiritual is what we are called to. To consume, not a beauty that objectifies, but a beauty that is self-giving and life-giving.
This reality we have been commissioned to is a radical beauty. And this beauty, defined by Christ, is what calls others to freedom—freedom from striving to meet a physical standard, freedom to understand the beautification process is truly a sanctification process. And ultimately, freedom to rightly pursue beauty, growing evermore attracted to the likeness of Christ in others.