What does it mean to be beautiful? Is there a standard that makes one person beautiful and another person not? Is beauty something that can be attained? Or is it just something that one is? Does God's definition of beauty differ from the world's? How is it different? How does God define beautiful?
Those are just some of the questions that have been running through my head for the last couple of months. They were triggered by a Bible study on the book of Esther that I've been doing. In Esther 2 there is recorded King Xerxes' search for a new queen, and the search is based on finding beautiful women for him to choose from. As I read that chapter and began digging into the study, I found myself wondering if I would have been chosen if I had been alive in that time, and if I would have wanted to be chosen.
And then I moved on to thinking about what the standards for finding beautiful women would have been of this were to take place today. To be honest, that was a bit of a depressing train of thought as I stopped and really paid attention to what our world calls beautiful. In so many ways, that standard is something that would be impossible to meet for most people. And so there has developed a market for a seemingly endless supply of beauty products and large numbers of women having various surgeries to try to fight aging and look forever young.Now, before you think I'm against anything we might call a beauty product, there is nothing wrong with making use of those things. The problem comes in when looking beautiful becomes our focus and the driving force behind using them.
I think there is another problem with the standard of what our world tells us is beautiful. Sometimes I wonder if it is a bigger problem, but less talked about. I wonder if there are just as many women who look at what our world says is beauty and realize that they can never attain that. But for them, rather than go to great lengths to attempt to, they choose to run the other way - to get as far from that definition of beauty as possible. For whatever reason they are convinced that they can never be beautiful and so they do everything possible not to look beautiful in any way.
I also wonder if this thinking gets transferred into how we see God looking at us. We feel like we're not beautiful according to the world's standards and so we assume that we're not beautiful according to God's standards either. Not realizing how distorted this thinking is, it affects our relationship with God along with how we interact with others we see as being beautiful.
So, what does it mean to be beautiful in God's eyes? Is it an external thing? Or is it just something internal?
We've all heard 1 Samuel 16:7 about God looking at the heart, not the outward appearance many times. It's a great reminder that it's what is on the inside that matters most. But, does it really mean that the outside doesn't matter at all? Does it mean that a sort of "spiritual beauty" is all we should concerned about, rather than paying attention to a physical beauty?
The more I've thought about this, the more I have wondered about the place for physical beauty in the life of a follower of Christ. I mean, if we're not to pay attention to outward appearance - to physical beauty - why did God make beauty something we long for? We live in a world that is full of beautiful things and it is something we seek. I don't think this is something that is wrong. God created us this way, but fallen humanity has warped what God meant to be good. Song of Solomon talks much about physical beauty, but rather than holding up an impossible to reach standard it praises the beauty that is already there.
I don't find anywhere in the Bible that lays out specific guidelines for what makes someone beautiful or not. That seems to be something that is left up to us. But, I also don't see anywhere in the Bible that tells us we have to ignore beauty. The desire to be seen as beautiful - to feel beautiful - is something God created in us and we can't ignore it. We will seek for people to see us as beautiful. But, I wonder if most of the time, the best person to go to when we want to know if we are beautiful is God. His answer will be "yes" because He made us beautiful exactly the way He created us.
Yet, I know that this isn't always enough for our hurting hearts. We long to hear - we need to hear - another person tell us we are beautiful. That is true whether we have embraced all our world tells us will make us beautiful or run as far we can get from that - we long to hear another person tell us we are beautiful. Sometimes when we need to hear those words, we need to be open to them coming from a source we didn't know they would. They may not come from where we expect, but God can use someone to let us know - even when we don't expect it from them.