What makes something beautiful?
Have you ever thought about what we mean when we say that something is beautiful? Are you a beautiful person? What makes an artist’s painting beautiful? Why is something beautiful to one person and not to another?
If you were asked to define the word, what would you say? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Is beauty something that is subjective to the individual? Is there such a thing as objective beauty?
I read one dictionary definition that described beauty as “a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially sight.” If I apply that definition I will identify beauty with my senses, especially what I see and feel. And it’s true that we frequently use the word to speak of a woman whose appearance is strikingly lovely, whose form is well shaped. Or we take pictures of a breathtaking sunset that has radiant, eye-catching colors and exclaim, “It’s beautiful!” We might even shout after a basketball player may a spectacular basket, “Wow! That was a beauty!”
But wait a minute! What about the person whose outward form is so perfectly formed, but whose speech is course. Or, the person cyclopedic knowledgeable, but is egotistical and always scorning others for their ignorance. Or the person who is an amazing athlete, but who is deceitful, cheating on his spouse? Are these individuals beautiful?
I’m thinking of a whole spectrum of individuals that are often praised according to outward appearance. The athlete who draws thousands of fans to watch him or her perform with grace, rhythm, and endurance. A sensational actor who wins an Oscar at the Academy Awards. An electrifying speaker who fills an arena with followers eager to hear what he has to say. A gifted musician with number one songs on the music charts. Are they necessarily beautiful. What is your criteria for deciding? What do you look for? What do you listen for?
As a follower of Jesus Christ, and as one who is committed to the truth of the Bible I am challenged to look at beauty through a different lens — my Lord’s eyes. The Bible distinguishes between our outward form — our flesh — and our inner eternal reality — the spirit. For example, in Galatians 5:16 the apostle Paul counsels, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (ESV). Peter says it this way, when describing devout women. “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” (I Peter 3:3, 4 NLT)
Right now, I’m thinking of beauty in this second way. In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians he says, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Phil. 48 NLT). This is the source of true beauty.
My guess is that as you read this you are uncomfortably aware of your body’s battle to remain attractive. Too many pounds. Sagging skin. Weakening muscles. Graying hair. Or what about mental power and storage? As my father-in-law, Will, aged he fell victim to Alzheimer’s disease. Bit by bit the disease began to strip away his capacity to think clearly, to remember, to hold a thoughtful conversation. But I will always remember him as a beautiful man who was loving, cheerful, kind and was committed to honor the Lord. The true beauty of Wilfred Townsend can never be destroyed.
It is inevitable that outward beauty will fade and decay. A losing battle; outward beauty forsakes us. (Google a beautiful actress who was at her peak twenty years ago and find a picture of her now!).
Here’s the good news for followers of Jesus Christ. We can become more and more beautiful day by day as we allow the Holy Spirit to form inner beauty that penetrates through a failing body.
After my sister, Jane, went to be with the Lord her son called us and said, “We’ve lost out beautiful mom.” Yes, Jane was a beautiful person. You would not have recognized it if you judged her outward appearance. But for as long as I have known my beloved sister, she had a radiant smile. She was cheerful to those around her. She had a kind, serving spirit. Her love for her Savior, Jesus Christ was obvious to all. She left a legacy for all of us that will warm our hearts whenever we think of her.
Here is Peter’s counsel to you an me: “Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in.” I Peter 3:4 (The Message).