WHAT IS BEAUTY
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Every woman wants to be beautiful, and that is why the beauty business is a seven billion dollar a year industry, and the largest advertiser in America. American women actually worship beauty. They will do almost anything to attain it, including fasting if it is necessary. They will try anything, and the result is sometimes tragic. In his book, Love In America, David Cohn writes, "These martyrs to physical beauty are buried or hustled to hospitals while millions of their sisters, quite undaunted, continue their fanatically persistent search for the perfect figure, grimly making their way through tasteless diets, gymnasiums, dancing classes, and plastics surgeon's offices with a fatalistic tenacity unmatched except by lemmings marching to destruction."
Why do women have this drive to be beautiful? The answer is very simple-men. A woman's deepest desire is to be attractive to men, and her greatest fear is to lack that attraction. This leads to all kinds of vanity. A woman came to a pastor and confessed she had a problem with the sin of pride. She said, "Sometimes I sit before my mirror for hours admiring my beauty." The pastor responded, "That is not the sin of pride. Your problem is an over active imagination."
Many women imagine they are beautiful because they try all the gimmicks, and use all the products that promise beauty. Arlene Dahl has taken a more logical approach. She wrote a book titled, Always Ask A Man. She spent years asking men what they felt made a woman beautiful. She says that by listening to men you can learn what qualities every Adam looks for in his Eve. She learned that the ideals of men vary, but she writes, "But without exception-every man put one quality above all others in describing his ideal. That one essential attribute which all men seek and admire in a woman is femininity." She then quotes a host of famous men on the subject, and shows
that they all agree. Yul Brynner summed it all up, "Simply femininity is the most important thing about a woman, and it is a quality a great many women are in jeopardy of losing. Women are being emancipated out of their femininity in this modern age."
It is not just modern men who feel this way about feminine beauty. We can go back to Washington, the father of our country, and discover the same feelings. We so often see George Washington in cold stone, or metal statues, that we seldom think of him as a man with warm affections, and a love of beauty. From his youth he struggled with his passions for pretty girls, and he wrote a poem about it.
O ye gods, why should my poor resistless heart
Stand to oppose thy might and power,
At last surrender to Cupid's feathered dart,
And now lays bleeding every hour.
He fell in love several times, but his proposals for marriage were refused. We have other poems he wrote to his sweethearts. When he fell in love with a widow, Martha Custis, he finally found one who would marry him, and they had a great love, and a great life together. So passionate was their love that before she died Martha Washington destroyed all his letters to her, for she felt such love deserved to be kept secret.
The Song of Solomon, however, records for us the universal experience of love, and the universal love of beauty. The Shepherd lover of this great song feels toward his shepherd maiden just like men have always felt about the women they love. Throughout the song he praises her feminine charms, and expresses delight in every aspect of her beauty. He makes it clear that beauty does include the physical, for he describes how he adores her eyes, hair, teeth, lips, cheeks, neck, and breasts. All of these are described in the first few verses of chapter 4.
Beauty is not only in the eyes of the beholder, but is an objective reality visible to all. Someone said the average man can tell all he knows in 2 hours, and after that, he begins to talk about women. Men do not claim to understand women, but they do understand beauty. A man does not need to know anything about flowers to appreciate and enjoy them. So also, ignorance cannot rob men of the one thing they do know about women, and that is their beauty.
Abraham loved Sarah, and she was beautiful to him, but he knew other men could see her beauty as well, and so when he went to Egypt he said to her in Gen. 12:11, "I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, this is his wife, then they will kill me, but they will let you live." He persuaded her to say she was his sister. The text goes on to say the Egyptians thought Sarah was so beautiful, so they told Pharaoh, and he took her into his harem. She was spared, however, and God saw to it she was returned to Abraham undefiled. Beauty, we see here, was objective, and could be the cause of a great deal of trouble in the life of a woman, or in the life of a man who marries her.
Confucius was at least partially right when he said, "She who is born beautiful is born with sorrow for many a man." Uriah got himself murdered because he married the beautiful Bathsheba. I remember an old Abbott and Costello film in which Lou Costello was determined to marry a homely girl. He said, "If I marry a pretty girl she may run away." Abbott thinks that is stupid logic and says, "But a homely girl may run away too." "I know," said Costello, "But if a homely girl runs away, who cares?"
Beauty can be a problem, but it can also be a blessing. In Esther 2:7 we read of her, "The maiden was beautiful and lovely." In her case, many lives were saved because of her beauty. The Jews would have suffered a great slaughter had it not been for the kings love for this beautiful woman. The Jews celebrate to this day a yearly feast in remembrance of their deliverance because of a beautiful woman. The Jews have always had a very positive attitude toward the beauty of women. Ibn Ezra said, "Rather little with beauty than much without it." Ben Siriach said, "The beauty of a woman maketh bright the countenance," and, "As the lamp shining on the holy candlestick, so is the beauty of a face on a stately figure."
We could go on stressing the importance the Old Testament gives to beauty in a woman, but to relate it all to our passage in the Song of Songs, we need to see that beauty is not limited to the feminine. Males can also be beautiful. In I Sam. 16:12 we read of David, "Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome." His son Absolom was even more so, for we read in II Sam. 14:25, "Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his beauty as Absolom; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him."
Beauty is a two way street and covers both male and female. This is what we see in the 15th and 16th verses of this first chapter. In verse 15 the Shepherd says to the Shulamite girl, "Behold you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful." The repetition is a method of expressing superlative and surpassing beauty. In verse16, most commentators agree, we have her response, and she returns the compliment, behold, you are beautiful my beloved." Leigh Hunt said, "The beautiful attracts the beautiful." Here are two beautiful people trying to out do each other in expressing their adoration. This is the kind of mutual love and admiration we see between the lovers in this greatest of songs. Beauty is one of the themes that runs all through this song, because beauty and love go together, and that is why beauty, like love, is a great power.
Beauty can motivate both men and women to live lives of loyalty and sacrifice. When Paul wrote to the Philippians he said in 4:8, "Whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Paul probably did not have lovely looking people in mind, but the fact is, the power of positive thinking is aided by the beauty of people. Power can be used for good or evil, and so the devil himself uses the power of beauty, for he can be an angel of light. The world is full of beautiful lights and beautiful places to lure people into the ugliness of sin. Evil cannot succeed on its own. It must make use of something good to get anywhere, and that is why beauty is one of its primary resources.
Nevertheless, it is God who is the author of beauty, and it is a great power for good. Joanna Bailie wrote,
To make the cunning artless, tame the rude,
Subdue the haughty, shake the undaunted soul;
Yea, put a bridal in the lion's mouth,
And lead him forth as a domestic cur,
These are the triumphs of all-powerful Beauty!
Micheal Angelo said of his love, that her beauty led him up from low desires and made him want to strive for heaven's best. He said, "How good, how beautiful must be the God that made so good a thing as thee." History is full of great men of God whose greatness, in part, was due to their love of one they felt was beautiful. Johnathan Edwards, the giant intellect, had some awful burdens to bear. Without his wife Sarah it is doubtful he could have survived his trials. He was so captivated by her beauty that he wrote to her
concerning a speedy wedding, "Patience is commonly esteemed a virtue, but in this case I may also regard it as a vice."
The beauty he saw was physical, but love does deepen the beauty of lovers so that it is far more than a mere matter of the skin. That beauty is only skin deep is a skin deep saying. External beauty is for attraction, but it is internal beauty that will bind two people together even when age or circumstances rob them of the external. Lasting beauty is inner beauty, and that is why Peter urged Christian women not to labor for surface beauty, but to beautify the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit. Sir Hunt wrote,
What is beauty? Not a show
of shapely limbs and features. No.
These are but flowers
That have their dated hours
To breathe their momentary sweets, then go.
Tis the stainless soul within
That outshines the fairest skin.
The French say, "Beauty without virtue is a flower without perfume." Capito said, "Beauty alone may please, not captivate; If lacking grace, tis but a hookless bait." We must recognize that the real power of beauty depends upon its depth. If it does not go into the very heart of the person, then however enchanting the external beauty, it will not have a lasting effect. This is not just a Christian teaching, but has been recognized by all wise men. The ancient Greek poet Euripides said, "More precious in a woman is a virtuous heart than a face of beauty." Not only is the virtuous heart a vital element,
but intelligence is also an important part of a truly beautiful person. The surface specialist forgets this aspect of beauty. Margaret Fishbeck wrote, "Women are wacky. Women are vain. They'd rather be pretty than have a good brain."
If the internal aspects of beauty are neglected, and only the externals are emphasized, beauty becomes a negative thing, and a source of vanity. That is why Prov. 31:30 says,"Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." The beauty that has the power to please God is the beauty of mind and soul. It is still true, however, that external beauty is a great value and power. The Shepherd lover says to the Shulamite girl that her eyes are doves. He repeats this again later. He is deeply
moved by the beauty of her eyes. In love poetry the eyes are a key focus of attention.Heine wrote,
Two sapphires those dear eyes of thine,
Soft as the skies above thee;
Thrice happy is the man to whom
Those dear eyes say: I love thee.
The reference here to eyes like a dove refers to their gentleness and purity. The dove has meek and gentle eyes. They are very feminine, and not like the fierce eyes of the hawk or vulture. The dove is symbolic of the Holy Spirit because of its affectionate nature and fidelity of its mate. The spirit of a woman is reflected in her eyes. Byron wrote,
She walks in beauty like the night
of cloudless climes and starry skies;
and all that's best of dark and bright
meet in her aspect and her eyes.
All Christians should have beautiful eyes. If the spirit of Christ is allowed to fill us, then the dove-like gentleness of the Holy Spirit should fill our eyes with love. As we look at the love language of this song, it is so easy to forget that though it deals with literal lovers, it also has reference to the spiritual love of Christ and His church. This means that beauty is an important aspect of the Christian life. Jesus is the author of all beauty, and He loves beauty, and especially the beauty of people who are being conformed to His image. He became ugly for a while as He went through the agony of the cross that
we might become beautiful forever.
Jesus was a beautiful person Himself. Many fail to realize this because of a misunderstanding of one passage in Isa. 53:2 which says, "He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him." Some have concluded that Jesus must have been homely, but the context makes it clear that this refers to Jesus only in His hour of rejection when He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Before the cross all the evidence points to Jesus as being one of the most handsome of men ever to live. John Gill, the great Puritan commentator, referring to the virgin birth
of Christ, "As it was free from sin, so was no doubt free from all the blemishes and defects of nature.....and in this sense, ...may He be said to be fairer than the children of Adam." No sacrifice could be offered to the Lord if it was not perfect and without blemish. Jesus was the perfect once for all sacrifice for the sins of the world, and He, therefore, had to be a perfect specimen of mankind.
The body of Jesus is the ideal toward which we all move, for we shall ultimately be like Him. When we sing, "Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me," it is true, we think of His internal beauty, but the fact is, in glory, when we are like Him, it will be a likeness also to His external beauty. Jesus was the brightness of His Father's glory, and the expressed image of His person. It is not likely Jesus had any defect in His body, or anything that would be inconsistent with the image of God. All people were drawn to Him.
Women and children, and great husky fishermen were moved by His charm and personality. He was an ideal man, and nothing in Scripture indicates otherwise. If I see a person known for their beauty who has been in an accident, and I come and tell you they look terrible, you would not conclude that that person was ugly. You would know that the accident had marred them, and made them ugly to behold. So it is with Christ on the cross. His beauty was marred by man's cruelty, but He was a beautiful person before the
cross, and a beautiful person after His resurrection.
We do not have a homely lover of our souls on the throne of majesty. One day we will see the King in His beauty and behold His glory. Even now Paul says the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is given us in the face of Jesus Christ. There is great power in the beauty of Christ to move us to acts of love, and to transform us into His likeness. The hymn says,
Jesus! I am resting, resting in the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee, and Thy beauty fills my soul;
For, by Thine transforming power Thou hast made me whole.
Whether it be a romantic or a religious love, there is no escaping the importance of beauty. Men must be attracted by beauty before they can love. If Jesus can look at us like the Shepherd looked at the Shulamite girl, and say we are beautiful, and our eyes are doves, then we are beautiful people. We are people whose life and attitude express the gentle love of the Holy Spirit. If we find the fire of love is going out, and we do not care for those for whom Christ died, then we need to get a spiritual beauty treatment, and pray,
Come Holy Spirit, heavenly dove,
With all thy quickening powers;
Kindle a flame of heavenly love
In these cold hearts of ours.
We can get by without beauty of body, but there is no substitute of beauty of soul. D. L. Moody in his book, Secret Power said, "A man may be a very successful lawyer and no love for his clients...a man may be a very successful physician and have no love for his patients...a man may be a very successful merchant and have no love for his customers.....but no man can be a co-worker with God without love.....We cannot work for God without love. It is the only tree that can produce fruit on this sin-cursed earth that is acceptable to God."
George Pinwell painted a famous picture he called, The Elixir Of Love. A charlatan is standing in the village square offering for sale a love potion which he guarantees will awaken love, and make you beautiful to your lover. Young lovers are crowded around wondering if it can be true. Older people purchased some in expectation that it will bring back the glow of love's younger days. People of all kinds are portrayed as being hungry for a taste of that which will make them beautiful. With keen spiritual insight the artist represents the charlatan standing at the foot of the village cross. Above him the arms of the cross are stretched out, symbolic of the all encompassing love of Christ who longs to make all men beautiful before God, by forgiving and cleansing from sin. None give heed, however, but go on buying that which will not satisfy.
Beauty is possible for all, but what is beauty? It is Christ likeness, and can only be attained by those who love Christ and adore Him as the Shulamite girl did her Shepherd lover. A loyal love is not only beautiful in itself, it is the key to growth in beauty. Loving people are beautiful people. Just as we have an obligation to be loving, we have an obligation to be beautiful, and being loving and beautiful means to be like Christ.