Beauty has a Cosmic Meaning
Psalm 45 is a song celebrating the marriage of a Hebrew king to a foreign princess. But it’s also a messianic prophecy pointing to the relationship between Christ the King and His Church-Bride. The Psalmist notes that the king “desires her beauty,” and that the princess, in turn, makes herself beautiful—“all-glorious”—for him.
Scripture uses this imagery to illustrate how we are to make ourselves beautiful for our King. The Lord wants us to clothe ourselves in fine, spotless garments of righteousness—in holy character and holy deeds (Rev. 19:7-8). He wants us to be beautiful, and through Jesus, we are! The great story of the gospel is that God gives us the opportunity to clothe ourselves in the beauty of Christ. He provides the beauty, and we don’t need to work or strive to measure up, nor do we need fear that we will fail to meet the standard.
So what does all this have to do with our discussion about female appearance? It has a great deal to do with it. We live—as C.S. Lewis coined it—in the “shadow lands.” The earthly, physical realities of our lives are but shadows—copies—of true and heavenly realities (e.g. Heb. 8:5; 9:24-25). The physical and temporal exist to point us to the spiritual and eternal. And nowhere is this more the case than in the relationship between male and female.
Human sexuality is a parable—a testimony to the character of God and to His spectacular plan of redemption through Jesus. This spiritual truth is so magnificent that God chose to put it on display permanently. Everywhere. Men were created to reflect the strength, love, and self-sacrifice of Christ. Women were created to reflect the grace and beauty of the Bride He redeemed.
I believe that men are “wired” to be attracted to beauty in women because our Heavenly Bridegroom desires the beauty of His Bride. And I believe that deep down, every woman wants to feel beautiful and desired. This is the way that God has created us as male and female—and the illustration points to something far bigger than ourselves.
Beauty is More Than a Passing Pleasure
Many scorn beauty as “a passing pleasure.” They think that the illusive, fragile, fading, temporary, and wrinkle-and-stretch-mark-prone nature of female beauty indicates that men (and women) should just “get over it” and focus on more important things.
Beauty is indeed a passing pleasure. But I think there’s a deeper meaning here that we dare not trivialize. The symbolic importance of beauty/beautification is not unlike the symbolic importance of marriage. Woman’s beauty, and all the broken, distorted ideas about it, will not so much pass, as give way—in the end—to that to which beauty points. There will be no marriage in heaven because the shadow will give way to the reality. Likewise, the illusive, fading, temporary beauty of women will one day give way to the breathtaking, spectacular, eternal beauty of the Bride of Christ.
The gospel doesn’t negate man’s desire to enjoy beauty and woman’s desire to be beautiful, but it does shift the focus of our attention beyond the symbol to that to which it points. When we consider the jaw-dropping picture painted by Scripture, it would seem that our Lord finds our desire for beauty not too strong, but too weak. We get all wrapped up with the earthly and the superficial and temporal, while the supernatural and eternal is offered us. Like an ignorant tourist who spreads out his towel under the picture of the umbrella on the sign, because he does not know that the sign points to the beach. We are far too easily pleased. (Again, a favorite C. S. Lewis thought)
Followers of Christ know that the symbol is not even fractionally as important as the reality. But they understand that it is not totally unimportant either.
So girls, let’s give the guys a break. Let’s stop condemning them for feeling attracted to beauty and wanting us to make a reasonable and sustained effort in that department. And guys...give us a break. Please understand how very personal and painful this issue can be for women. It’s very difficult to stay engaged in fighting a battle we know we are destined to lose. The beauty of our youth will inevitably fade. And most of us don’t have a hope of even remotely resembling the airbrushed model on the cover of the magazine.
And let’s always remember that the whole issue of female beauty is merely a signpost. It’s reminder to all of us—male and female—that the King desires our beauty, and that we ought to carefully attend to our character, and to making ourselves spiritually beautiful for that great destination wedding on the other shore.
In my opinion, the answer to the conundrum surrounding the discussion about female beauty is not to diminish or deny its importance, but to exalt and embrace the all-surpassing beauty to which it points.