Sometimes I Don’t Like Being Beautiful

In arguments it’s important to consider the other side right? To put yourself in other people’s shoes? Well I decided to look for a firsthand account of the downside of being beautiful. I mean I continually point out the benefits of being beautiful, but what about the disadvantages?

In a blog post titled “Beautiful People – What is it like, day-to-day, to be remarkably attractive?” some talented photographers give us a rare look at the cons of being beautiful. This is the quote that stuck out to me the most:

“So much of my personal value has been placed on what I look like. It’s sad. Looks don’t last. So as I age, will I lose my value?” -Nicole

I think that Nicole has a great point. People who don’t have looks to fall back on automatically turn to other things – writing, art, sports, music, volunteer work, academics, etc. – in order to find something that they’re “good at” so to speak.

But, for Nicole, she’s “good at” looks. She seems wise so hopefully she’s good at other things too. But, sometimes attractive people can get trapped into just being a pretty doll to look at and admire.

Perhaps when she was just 5 years old people came up to her mom saying, “Nicole is so beautiful already. The boys will be fighting over her when she’s older.” Then she was 10 years old, and the boys were already starting to favor her above the rest of her friends. Then she was 15 years old, and she effortlessly took the title of “most popular girl” of her grade. Everyone – male and female – wanted to be her friend because of something she was born with, something she didn’t even have to work for.

Attractive people like Nicole are put on a pedestal without them even having to win a track race, earn the highest GPA, or land the lead role in the musical. They automatically get this same honor that others have to work for. So then maybe attractive people  don’t feel the need to work for something else – to do well in school, or to be nice to others – because everyone already seems to like them. They were born being “good at” something – something that seems to be very important to everyone no matter their age or cultural background. So why would they need to work at other things?

But then at age 40 your outer shell begins to peel off and what will be revealed underneath? An even more beautiful inside? Or a completely hideous inside? If you haven’t been working on your character that will be a horrific time for you. You will feel worthless because all of your value was placed in your now disintegrating outside.

Really, you should never put your value in anything that you are “good at” because anything can be taken away from you.

Looks? You get attacked by a chimp on a trip overseas and it mauls your face. 

Intelligence? You get in a car wreck and suffer severe brain damage. 

Singing? You get surgery and the surgeons mess up your vocal chords. 

Family? You lose your husband, children, and parents in a sudden tsunami. 

So what is it that you value the most? Is it a talent? A person? A position? A material possession? A future dream scenario? Picture this thing or person or scenario. Now picture yourself waking up tomorrow and realizing that it is gone. Completely gone. What do you do?

Did you even picture something? Is this too hypothetical for you? Maybe you’re thinking “My life has been normal – even boring – for 20 years. I am 99.9% sure I am not going to wake up to a tragedy tomorrow or any time in the near future.”

This is the “it will never happen to me” mentality or the “just world phenomenon” from social psychology.

Can I pause to brag for a moment? Okay thanks, I’ll be quick. Here it is: I don’t think I’m a victim of this mentality. I have many examples, but I will just mention one.

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I do not swim in the ocean past my ankles unless the ocean is perfectly clear. I’m not a beach snob, I’m just aware that I have just as much a chance of being eaten by a shark as the next person.

My friends and family sometimes get frustrated with me because of this. They all say the same things: you are more likely to get struck by lightning, only a few hundred people get attacked each year out of the millions and millions of people who swim in the ocean, what are the chances that it will happen to you?

Well, all I’ll say is that I have read “List of fatal, unprovoked shark attacks in the United States” on Wikipedia and it is freaking terrifying. Do you think anyone on that list thought, “There’s a good chance a shark will eat me today.” No, they all probably thought, “What are the chances that I will be the 1 in 11.5 million to get attacked by a shark?”

I mean look at that picture! That is not normal! If you see that coming toward you in the water, you are toast.

You have to realize that you are not immune. There is not an invisible shield around you protecting you from a shark attack, from a rapist, from a kidnapper, from a fatal car accident, from a damaging surgery, from a life-changing injury, or from being catapulted into infamy tomorrow for one mistake you make that goes public.

Now this is obviously very scary and depressing if your value is found in things, people, reputations, or future plans. But there is another option: place your value in God – the only being who can never suddenly be taken away from you. Ever.

After Jesus Christ died on the cross he stayed on earth for 40 days to prove that he had risen from the dead. He revealed Himself at least 12 different times – once to 500 people. But, before he ascended into heaven Jesus told the people who were with Him, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). That was the last thing He said to mankind before He physically left – that He would always be there for them when they asked for His help.

Do bad things still happen to Christians? Oh yes. I struggle with this sometimes. Why do “God’s children,” whom He supposedly protects, suffer from the same things that unbelievers suffer from? Where was that in the Bible?

Job. It was in Job. And many other places. But  mainly in Job. Job is a man who is called “blameless and upright.” He “fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:1) And you want to know what happens to him? Satan attacks him with God’s permission. Satan. . .

1) sends people to steal all of Job’s livestock and to kill the servants who were taking care of them

2) kills Job’s 7 sons and 3 daughters

3) infects Job with boils and festering sores

4) destroys Job’s home and fortune

God loved Job, yet he allowed all of that to happen to him. Want to know who else God loved? His 12 original disciples and Paul. Want to know who was martyred? 11 of those 13 men. Everyone except Judas (suicide after he betrayed Jesus) and John (died of old age on Patmos).

God loved those men, yet he allowed them to be killed by men. And it’s in the Bible. So clearly God and his disciples are not trying to cover this up. It’s in the Bible.

And this same thing that frustrates me in 2013 frustrated King Solomon in 970-931 BC.

In Ecclesiastes – one of his two books that made it in the Bible – King Solomon says, “Everything is the same for everyone. The same fate awaits the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the pure and the impure, those who sacrifice and those who don’t sacrifice. The good person is like the wrongdoer; the same holds for those who make solemn pledges and those who are afraid to swear” 

If you haven’t read Ecclesiastes, King Solomon is the wisest person who has ever lived – and also one of the richest. He decides to pursue all of the pleasures in life in order to find out the lifestyle that makes one the most happy and the most content. He had endless resources to spend on this experiment and you want to know what he found? Everything was meaningless. After all of his escapades he says that all mankind can do is “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” Everything else on earth – any pursuit – will ultimately lead to discontentment.

So what I’m trying to say is don’t put all of your energies and hope and value into anything that can be unexpectedly taken away tomorrow morning – which, incidentally, is everything except God.

Bad things will still happen to you if you have a relationship with God, but you will not be broken by them. Instead of walking down the dark paths alone, you will have God at your side, leading you by the hand, catching you when you slip.

This is getting long, but I want to provide a real-life example so this isn’t just a hypothetical idea. This morning my teacher told us this story:

“About 18 years ago when we first moved to Greenville my family and I needed dental care. I had enough money to get our teeth checked out at the dentist, but then I didn’t have enough money to pay for the dental procedures that we needed. I asked God to provide the $2,500 that we needed. I kept praying for two weeks because I knew that God could provide. Finally, I started to walk toward the dentist office across the street to see if we could work out a deal. I felt terrible that I couldn’t provide for my family in this way. But, on the way to the dentist I was convicted. God knew that we needed a dentist, and He would provide. So I turned around and went home. Now my wife was working as a housecleaner for a family in Greenville. When she came home that evening she said that the woman she was working for asked, “Do ya’ll have a dentist in town yet?” “No. Not yet.” she replied. “Well my husband is a dentist and we can provide ya’ll with free dental care.”

And so they have ever since that day.

God held my teacher’s hand through that trial. And that’s just one example. Talk to Christians who pray consistently – yes they are out there – things like this happen all the time.

Paul Washer is a scarily powerful speaker – one of the only preachers who reminds me of the power and boldness with which Paul of the Bible spoke. If you want to know about authentic Christianity don’t listen to Westboro Baptist Interviews. Read the Bible without preconceived notions and then listen to some Paul Washer sermons.

Anyway, I thought I would try to explain trials in the Christian life with just 3 Paul Washer quotes:

1. Because sanctification is progressive, you will spend the greater part of your life chasing other things. And those other things will leave you empty and that is the why of trials. ~Paul Washer

2. You mark my words, and it won’t be long … when persecution begins in this country [USA], and it strips everything from you, and most of the evangelical church goes totally apostate, and little groups are left to be berated, THEN you will see that Christ is enough.  ~Paul Washer

3. Some of the believers that have been most fruitful since the ascension of Jesus Christ were people who experienced extraordinary difficulties.   ~Paul Washer

Like a woodcrafter, God uses trials to shave away at our faults. With each new trial, an obtrusive piece of wood is shaved away, revealing a little bit more solid, beautiful design. Does that makes sense? Trials hack away at our old, sinful character traits and reveal new, beautiful character traits.

Now trials for unbelievers will 1) drive them to Christ or 2) drive them further away from Christ – their only hope – and thus further into despair (depression, suicide, alcoholism or selfishness).

Trials for true believers will 1) drive them to Christ. That is it. It may take them a few stumbles, but God never lets go of His children. Trials lead them to see that God is enough. Christians are not perfect. We doubt. We chase after other things. But then trials come and we depend on God and we realize that, were everything in my life gone tomorrow, I would still have everything because I have Christ.

That is a very quick overview of a complex topic, but I really don’t fancy overcomplicating matters. If you aren’t a Christian, I mean even if you have never heard of the Bible, then I would say read Ecclesiastes. I promise you that anyone would find this an interesting and worthwhile read. It’s only 12 chapters and you can read the whole thing online. Shouldn’t take you more than half an hour if you’re a fast reader. Then I would say listen to some Paul Washer sermons because he doesn’t sugarcoat the Gospel. He just lays it out there and you can take it or leave it.

You can take God or you can leave Him. It’s up to you.

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Beautiful People in the Bible [part 2]

Pink-rose-random-30495507-1024-768 Yesterday I listed seven of the most famous beautiful people from the Bible. That’s actually an incomplete list. This list – which mentions 22 people – is the most extensive list that I could find. So really, I only listed about a third of the people who were attractive enough to merit an entire verse in the Bible stating that they were attractive.

Sometimes this can be frustrating for me. I see the list of Bible verses talking about the importance of inner beauty, but then I see this list and suddenly I’m wondering if there’s a correlation between beauty and accomplishing great things for God.

The most frustrating passage for me is in 1 Samuel 16. Saul has disobeyed God, and so God sends the prophet Samuel out to anoint the replacement King of Israel. God says,”I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king” (1b).

So Samuel goes to the household of Jesse and invites them to a sacrifice honoring God. They agree to come, and when Jesse’s son Eliab arrives Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (6b).

But God says, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

So Jesse calls in the rest of his sons, but God does not choose any of them either. Finally, Jesse calls in his youngest son David.

At this point in the story I’m thinking, “Oh my goodness David is going to be so small, weak and unattractive. But he will  be full of kindness and wisdom. So it will be a classic underdog rags-to-riches tale.” Nope. Samuel says that he was “glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features” (12).

What?

This is not where I saw the story going. I mean I’m happy for David and all, but it almost seems contradictory at first. Didn’t God say that he didn’t care about outward appearance? Then why did he choose David – who is described as healthy, fine, and handsome – to be King.

Did God chose him for his appearance? No, not at all. Throughout King David’s reign we see that God must have examined his heart because David was the best King Israel ever had. How else could God have known that David would be kind, just, honest, compassionate, and faithful? Besides, if God had chosen the next king simply based off of appearance then I’m sure there were other attractive men in the land that would have been up for the task. But God doesn’t work that way. He shines a spotlight into the hidden corners of our hearts to find the right people to do His work.

Perhaps you’ve been feeling useless in the Kingdom of God lately. Check your heart. Don’t check the outer covering of the heart, the part that you show to the world. All of us can pass that test. Easy peasy. We’re all kind, cheerful, honest and faithful when others are watching- or at least most of the time.

But I mean check the corners of your heart. Check what you say about people behind their backs. Check what’s going on in your mind at night when you’re falling asleep. You know your mind – that place where no one else can keep you accountable but yourself. God still sees in there too. Check what you’re looking at on the internet. And so on. You know where you struggle. Check yourself there. Better to put the problem out in the open and deal with it than to let it fester and grow like mold.

Look at Saul. We can trace his downfall back to the first germ of jealousy that he allowed to sprout in his heart. Steadily, over time, Saul watered that little germ by letting his mind obsess over his jealousy of David. These thoughts later came out in his violent actions against David. Apparently the contents of our hearts and minds translate into later actions.

Now Saul could have squashed the germ right after it first landed in his heart. But he didn’t. He disregarded God’s warnings and let it spread throughout his heart, and soon he had a moldy heart, and was no longer any use to God.

So God had to find a new King. He searched through the hearts of all the men in the land and found David. This young man was honest, kind, humble, and, most importantly, faithful to Him. So God sent Samuel to anoint David as the next King of Israel.

Notice the selection process. Did God narrow it down to five candidates and then say, “Okay now each of you has ten minutes to present your positions on the following policies.” No. Did he say, “Okay now I’m going to give you this Meyers-Briggs test to see if your personality will fit in well with the rest of the team.” No. He didn’t need to. All God looked at was the heart because the heart is the microscope into our entire being.

When God sees that you have a good heart, He doesn’t need to check up on anything else – how you treat other people, whether or not you pray or read your Bible, how often you tithe, what you do in your spare time, what others think of you, etc. Because a good heart means you’re doing it right. It’s like, rather than looking at each and every test score that you make over your entire high school career, colleges mainly look at your SAT score because this is usually a good indication of your overall academic achievement. Thankfully, God’s “Heart Aptitude Test” – hey HAT! I like that – is a lot more accurate.

If you’ll notice from the list of beautiful people in the Bible, some had good hearts and some had bad hearts. So outward beauty was an unreliable judge of inner beauty in biblical times too. But notice that many outwardly beautiful people were also inwardly beautiful, like Esther and Abigail. So don’t skew the data the other way either.

But really, what this means is that outer beauty has no connection to inner beauty. And thank goodness, right? The thing that God cares the most about – our inner beauty – is up to us. So how hard are you seeking after God’s own heart? How’s your HAT score?

Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Beautiful People in the Bible [Part 1]

I think that the number of people in the Bible whose beauty was so great that it was specifically noted in the Bible is intriguing. Whether you have read the Bible or not, here is a quick run down.

Note: These are all major characters in the Bible. I realize that there is much, much more to them and their stories than their appearance. However, since this blog is about image in society, I am concentrating on the verses concerning their appearance. 

1. Sarah (c. 2067 BC) – originally Sarai – was Abraham’s (one of the three patriarchs) wife and the mother of Isaac. She was so beautiful that Abraham twice pretended that she was his sister because he feared that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take her for themselves (Genesis 12:10-20 and Genesis 20).

“I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.”

Even in biblical times the more attractive people – and their relatives – were treated better. This bias had been an issue since the beginning of time. So when I say that it isn’t going away I’m not being pessimistic, I’m just being realistic. This doesn’t mean we pout over it. No, as we will see, God even uses this human weakness for his own purposes.

2. Rachel (c. 1920 BC) is the second wife of Jacob (one of the three patriarchs) and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Rachel was supposed to be the first wife of Jacob. However, she had a comely older sister named Leah who was still unmarried and her dad, Laban, tricked Jacob into marrying Leah first so that he could get her off his hands.

Genesis 29:17 says, “Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.”

The Bible says that Jacob’s “love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah” (Genesis 29:30), but we cannot say for certain that his love was greater for Rachel simply because she was prettier. In my opinion, I’m sure that her looks drew his initial interest, but her personality kept him. On the other hand, I think that Leah probably had poor self-esteem from having to live in her younger sister’s shadow. This probably led her to obsess over bearing more children for Jacob than Rachel in an attempt to make up for her lack of beauty (Genesis ch. 29-30).

3. Joseph (c. 1916 BC), as you will remember, was the 11th son of Abraham and Sarah (see above) so we know where his looks came from (hint: not Abraham). He is described as “well-built and handsome” (Genesis 39:6).

Unfortunately, the wife of Potipher (an important Egyptian official) “took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” (v. 7). Thankfully Joseph ran away, leaving her with his cloak. However, she used this cloak to create the illusion that Joseph had tried to rape her, and he was subsequently thrown into jail.

4. David (c. 1024 BC) was the second King of Israel and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

The first reference to his appearance comes when God sends the Prophet Samuel to anoint him as the next King of Israel (after Saul). 1 Samuel 16:12 says, “He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.”

The next reference comes in the famous David v. Goliath episode. Samuel says that Goliath “looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him” (1 Samuel 17:42).

5. Bathsheba (c. 993 BC) was the beautiful wife of Uriah the Hittite. Unfortunately, her beauty attracted the eyes of King David too.

He saw her bathing on the roof, invited her to his palace and slept with her (2 Samuel 11:2 – “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful”).

When Bathsheba became pregnant with his child, David panicked and attempted to cover up his sin. However, when David could not convince Uriah to sleep with his wife to try to mask his adultery, he ordered him to the front of the fighting line to ensure that he was killed. Once Uriah was killed, Bathsheba became David’s wife.

6. Daniel (c. 605 BC) was living in Judah when it was captured by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Now this King needed some advisors and he decided to choose them based on appearance and intellect. Daniel, of course, was snatched right up.

“Then the king commanded Ash′penaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, handsome and skilful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to serve in the king’s palace, and to teach them the letters and language of the Chalde′ans.” (Daniel 1:3-4)

Once, again even in the Bible we see attractive people being given preferential treatment. Can you imagine the benefits of being a personal advisor to the king as opposed to a carpenter or a field worker?

7. Esther (c. 478 BC) was so beautiful that she competed in a rudimentary type of beauty pageant. King Xerxes had ordered all of the beautiful women in the land to undergo beauty treatments for an entire year before spending one night with him. This was his chosen selection process for his new wife.

Esther won hands down (Esther 2:17 – “Xerxes liked Esther more than he did any of the other young women. None of them pleased him as much as she did, and right away he fell in love with her and crowned her queen in place of Vashti”).

Again, this verse does not say that he liked her more than the other girls because she was prettier. In fact, the Bible says that everyone liked Esther the most (v. 15-16), so I think we can actually assume that her inner beauty was even greater than her outer beauty. What a combination!

Part 2 coming tomorrow.