It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And many understand the wisdom of that sentiment. We tend to see beauty in those similar to ourselves, and only begin to see beauty in those unlike ourselves when we mature. Yet beauty is a quality we recognize without realizing it. We are engineered to recognize beauty (often as symmetry of design) as perfection. We often pair the word “flawless” with beauty, as a way to describe it. If something is faultless or flawless, we more likely recognize it as beautiful. We also recognize order as beauty. A house free from clutter with well-trimmed landscape would be considered beautiful. Well-brushed hair and manicured nails are beautiful.
Even small children do not have to be taught beauty, for they automatically recognize it. Our eyes recognize symmetry, perfection, and order without having to be taught what they are. This is part of our source code, for God is the ultimate Perfection, Order, and Designer of all things. Truly beautiful subjects remind us of awe and wonder. Yet God refuses to let others take credit for His work.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exo 20:4-6)
If it is built within us to recognize beauty, then we are also designed to react to beauty. We react with awe and wonder. And we react with adoration. When we look at the night sky, we are amazed at its vastness, in awe of the power it took to create it, and we just gaze at it, adoring such mighty handiwork. When we see a spectacular piece of art, we are in awe of the skill of the artist and adore the artwork. It is a short step from awe and adoration to worship.
God not only recognizes our propensity to be in awe and adore beauty, but warns us off of worship when our adoration calls away from Himself to someone or something else.
Aspiring to beauty sometimes comes at great personal cost, and can lead to anorexia, bulimia, and even suicide. We have our own personal ideal. I recall in the Matrix some years ago when Neo first enters the computer world (after having escaped it), Morpheus tells him that what he sees of himself is his “residual self-image”. It is how he sees himself. I know exactly what he is talking about, because the guy I see in the mirror every morning isn’t the guy I see myself as (and that’s probably a mental issue right there). But each of us has a “residual self-image” or an ideal self-image that we feel is the way we ought to look. This sometimes leads to making ourselves the idol, an unrealistic obsession with the way we look and how we feel, which is definitely a mental illness called narcissism. And yet even this “illness” can be rectified with a proper understanding of who we are before God.
Anyone can make an idol of anything, including themselves. It is an idol when it takes our focus off of God. Idols of our own making make few demands of us. Our favorite musicians or movie stars, atheletes or even preachers may only ask for time, some cash, or a donation. That’s far easier that re-ordering your life after the perfection of a perfect God.
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48) or “since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1Pe 1:16)
God makes demands on us. He is not content to let us wallow in our imperfection. He calls us to Himself, through His son Christ Jesus. Jesus is the one who renews us and washes us to be pure and holy.
that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:26-27)
Christ wants to make us beautiful in His sight, not just to make us beautiful, but to cleanse us from sin:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jn 1:9)
God is just as interested in our beauty as we are, to restore us to the beauty we had before the Fall in the garden, when we had a perfect relationship with Him. God love us so much that he molds us, like clay, into vessels worthy of His use. He molds us, refines us, perfects us through trial and sometimes through suffering, until we are beautiful vessels, so shiny He can see His face in us.
We may recognize beauty in others and in things, but God sees our beauty when He sees Himself in us.
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1Pe 3:3-4)
This is why no image, no graven image can ever be formed before God. All of them are meagre and stupid before the holiness and beauty of the Almighty God. No idol, no Greek statue, no modern Olympian, no self-made man can even hope to be compared with the awesomeness that is God.
Are you beautiful to God?