Physical Beauty: Dangerous Passion or Divine Pursuit?
Today, physical beauty is an all-consuming passion. For some, the drive to appear beautiful becomes an obsession leading to sin. Observing this alarming trend, the Church has downplayed physical beauty, labeling it a worldly pursuit. In movies, books, and fashion, Christians have come to equate beautiful with worldly. Although contemporary Christian culture rejects beauty as a superficial distraction from spiritual matters, the Church should regard beauty as an essential element of Christian virtue because beauty reflects the glory of the Creator, inspires men to worship the Lord, and guides them in a right understanding of the nature of God.
Modern churches are designed to be practical as opposed to beautiful. Many congregations have moved away from the ornate tradition of more orthodox churches, constructing their sanctuaries without regard to style or appearance. John Wesley’s philosophy of a Christian’s use of money agrees with that of modern churches. He exhorts Christians not to “waste any part of so precious a talent, merely in gratifying the desire of the eye by superfluous or expensive apparel, or by needless ornaments” (Wesley, “The Use of Money” 245). By purchasing only what is necessary rather than ornamental, one saves money for what is important and has the ability to further God’s work through financial gifts. Contemporary churches, built with the intent of providing a meeting place for the congregation without concern for embellishments and empty adornment, appear to fully meet Wesley’s standards of the proper use of money.
Not only is physical beauty an impractical use of resources, it is also considered a distraction from spiritual matters. Within church buildings as well as Christian media, beauty is looked down upon as a worldly pursuit that will deter Christians from following the Lord wholeheartedly. When considering the typical Christian movie, the basic plot-line follows someone who is homely or plain through various trials until their true inner beauty finally shows through, while the beautiful or attractive characters turn out to be evil and manipulative. Christians have developed a distrust of beauty and regarded it as a worldly evil. Once again Wesley reminds men that when they “lay out money to please [their] eye, [they] give so much for an increase of curiosity, for a stronger attachment to these pleasures which perish in the using” (Wesley 246). Beauty is not only unnecessary in pursuing God, but it can distract from Him by causing men to become too attached to worldly, perishable items. Superficial beauties are considered to detract from the true worship of God rather than enhance it.
Contrary to this belief, the Church ought to embrace beauty as a quality of true virtue. Beauty is not merely a physical attribute, but also a spiritual one. In The Nature of True Virtue, Jonathan Edwards eloquently argues that true virtue consists in beauty. Virtue is “the beauty of those qualities and acts of the mind that are of a moral nature” (Edwards, “The Nature of True Virtue” 244). These spiritual attributes or virtues are considered praiseworthy on account of their beauty. Beauty is not only an outward quality, but one which characterizes the inner qualities which the Church so prizes.
Furthermore, beauty stems from one of the greatest virtues, love. The essence of love “is the thing wherein true moral or spiritual beauty primarily consists” (Edwards 250). True spiritual beauty is that which stems from a virtuous love of benevolence. Far from rejecting beauty as superficial, Edwards considers it not only an exalted virtue, but the root from which all virtues stem. As beauty is the root of virtue, it ought to be an essential part of Christianity.
Because beauty reflects the glory of God, it is a crucial means of proclaiming Him to the world. The Psalms are filled with vivid descriptions of nature displaying God’s glory. The psalmist proclaims that “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the works of His hands” (NASB, Psalm 19:1). From the beauty seen in nature, man can learn of God’s glory. The glory seen in majestic mountains, in roaring ocean waves, in the overarching dome of deep blue skies studded with diamond stars, is a mirror projecting an image of the even greater glory of the Creator. Hence beauty can be instrumental in revealing God to others. Since the beginning, His creation “has been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that [men] are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Beauty reveals God’s glory to men, so that they have no excuse for not trusting in Him. By implementing beauty into their buildings, the Church would be able to point even more clearly to the Creator.
Furthermore, beauty is a powerful tool to inspire awe and reverence towards God. The beauty in magnificent churches-high arched domes frescoed with Biblical scenes, towering pillars overlaid with gold, stunning stained glass windows-inspires awe in men which leads them to worship God, the Lord of beauty.
For as God is infinitely the greatest being, so he is allowed to be infinitely the most beautiful and excellent: and all the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fullness of brightness and glory. (Edwards 252)
God’s beauty is so far superior to any man-made beauty, that all other beauties merely reflect back to God His own majesty. Thus beauty found in churches, by reflecting God’s own beauty, will lead men to contemplate the most beautiful one of all.
Finally, beauty is crucial in aiding men to further understand the nature of God. Through observing natural beauties, one can better understand God’s spiritual beauties. As God is supreme ruler over all, and mankind is dependent upon Him, “there is the resemblance of a decent trust, dependence, and acknowledgement in the planets continually moving round the sun, receiving his influences... an image of majesty, power, glory and beneficence in the sun in the midst of all” (Edwards, “Beauty of the World” 14). The sun’s glory and brilliance mirror the majesty of its Creator. Also, the softer beauties of flower and tree reflect “every grace and beautiful disposition of mind, of an inferior towards a superior cause, preserver, benevolent benefactor, and a fountain of happiness” (Edwards 14-15). Beauty can reveal some character of God, pointing men towards a deeper understanding of His nature.
As beauty reflects God’s glory, stirs men to worship Him, and reveals His nature, beauty should be an essential part of Christian virtue and worship, regardless of the fact that modern Christians have abandoned beauty to the world. First, beauty is crucial because it reflects God’s glory. Furthermore, beautiful objects inspire worship of God in men’s hearts. Finally, through contemplating the beautiful, one can come to understand God’s character more clearly. Beauty is not merely a physical attribute, but also a spiritual quality which is essential to true virtue; therefore the Church should be willing to reclaim beautiful things for Christianity and re-incorporate beauty into worship. Though modern churches sacrifice beauty for the sake of utility, the Church ought to strive to beautify their buildings, not for their glory, but to further God’s glory.
Enjoy! And please, leave comments with any critiques or further questions you may have :)