One of the topics I spend a lot of time writing, teaching and speaking about is beauty. Beauty is a central theme in women’s ministry because all women desire it. And in the face of this desire, women’s ministry fights to protect God’s standard of beauty when culture perverts it.
But having said that, what is beauty? If we are going to resist the world’s understanding of beauty in favor of God’s, we should probably know exactly what we’re talking about. Unfortunately, this is a much harder task than one might initially think. Just pause for a moment and ask yourself: How would you define beauty??
Beauty is one of those ideas on which it is tough to put a finger. We know something is beautiful when we see it, but how does one actually define beauty? After all, what one person calls beautiful, another person might find ugly. Why is beauty defined so differently by so many people and cultures?
Well I discovered the reason for this discrepancy in opinions in the very definition of the word. Wesbter’s dictionary defines beauty as follows:
1: the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit : loveliness
3: a particularly graceful, ornamental, or excellent quality
Notice in the first definition that an object is called beautiful according to the pleasure it evokes in the mind or spirit. Now that is quite a tricky definition given its extreme subjectivity! One person might find something to be beautiful because it stirs pleasurable sensations in them, but another person will not call that thing beautiful if it does not stir up the same feelings of pleasure.
So which individual is right? Who is to decide what is beautiful and what is not, if the only measure of beauty is an individual’s personal feelings of pleasure?
Well at this point I decided to turn to Scripture since Webster’s definition was running me in circles. If you search the Bible for the word “beautiful,” you will find that it appears about 75 times. Of those appearances, only two or three are references to men. The remaining 73 references are applied to objects that we more traditionally understand as being beautiful: clothing, jewels, crowns, flowers, cities, and God, but it is most frequently applied to women.
I also found a frequently used phrase, “the perfection of beauty,” which is always used to describe God. What’s more, the New Testament almost exclusively references beauty in the context of service to God. In Matt. 26:10 Jesus asks, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.” And in Romans 10:15 declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Within these contexts, beauty is directly connected to the glory of the Lord.
With all of that in mind, we have a little bit more information about beauty. We know that God is the perfection of beauty, thereby making Him the ultimate standard of beauty. We also know that women somehow possess that beauty in a unique and definitive way.
How, then, are we to define beauty? Honestly, I’m still not quite sure. It seems to be an attribute that almost defies description or definition. It captures us in a way we cannot articulate, and it transports our hearts and minds to a place that is other-worldly. When we see something beautiful, we know that we are experiencing a taste of the divine, but we may not fully understand why or how.
And perhaps that is why we cannot define it–it is beyond our limited capacity to comprehend. Not until we reach the other side of eternity will we truly grasp the glory of true beauty as God defines it. For now, we must be satisfied with mere echoes of it.
What, then, does that mean for women and their understanding of beauty in the face of culture? Two things. One–while we struggle to pinpoint the basic definition of beauty, we can know that God creates certain things to specifically reflect God’s beauty (such as flowers and sunsets) but women reflect that beauty in an especially unique way. While men can be beautiful (both David and Moses were described this way) the majority of Scripture applies the description to women.
That said, women were created to reflect this attribute of God in their very essence. It is written into our beings. We were created with it, so it is an essence that no culture can undermine. Beauty is never defined by certain physical attributes, but instead as that which best reflects God. Any definition of beauty that sets itself up against the basic beauty and divine image inherent in every single woman is a definition in conflict with the beauty of God.
Two–beauty is anything that brings glory to God. Many of the contexts in which the word “beauty” is implemented involve service to and worship of God. Whether it describes the “beautiful feet” of those who spread the Gospel, or beautiful jewels of God’s temple, they are all meant to point back to God.
As women, that is the only way we should consider “improving” our beauty–by reflecting God all the more with our lives. 1 Timothy reminds us that we should not adorn ourselves with jewels, trendy clothes, or plastic surgery. The only makeover we need is one of the soul–we should adorn ourselves with modesty, self-control, and good works.
So when it comes to being beautiful, don’t seek to change or augment those things that God gave you at birth. He created you the way He did because it was beautiful to Him. The only thing we can add to such beauty is a spirit surrendered to God. Any other definition of beauty only seeks to glorify ourselves and calls God a shabby Creator. Let us instead be women who embrace a true definition of beauty, and evidence that beauty with our lives.