Pastoral Perspectives

Beautiful because God loves us

According to a recent article in Straits Times (“The science of beauty”, Jan 2), it seems that science has found that what people generally consider as beautiful and attractive has very much to do with symmetry.

Whether they are faces or objects, research has shown that the symmetry is tied to this unique mathematical relationship of 1 is to 1.168, a golden ratio also known as Phi or the Fibonacci number. The closer the proportions of a face or an object get to this ratio, the higher its perceived beauty.

So for example, one of the reasons why Lisa of Kpop girl group Blackpink and Myanmar model-actor Paing Takhon are ranked as world’s Most Beautiful Face and Most Handsome Face respectively is because when one horizontally divided their faces into three parts, from the hairline to the eyebrows, the brow to the base of the nose and the base of the nose to the chin, one would find that their facial features are closely proportional to this ratio of 1:1.168.

I suppose if being aesthetically pleasing can be reduced to something that we put a number to, it is not surprising that many would readily fork out significant sums of money to undergo procedures such as injections of fillers to achieve the golden ratio for their nose and chin or requesting Botox to slim down a square face. After all, what is a little nip and tuck if it can help us to look good in front of others and to feel better about ourselves?

But perhaps this is precisely where the challenge lies. Whether we are young or old, male or female, many unwittingly buy into the world’s ideals about beauty. Even as Christians, we sometimes fail to discern that social media, fashion magazines and entertainment industry often only focus on what is skin-deep and flaunt beauty standards that are beyond most of us. After all, when was the last time any of those images were unfiltered or any of those supermodels featured on the cover page because they were known for being kind or modest?

The irony today is that while there is much talk about authenticity and being “true to yourself”, we are also living in a time where we are being inundated with all kinds of manufactured beauty. As one writer puts it, there seems to be a “cultural shift towards elevating beauty’s importance together with increasing pressure to conform to ascending beauty standards.”

Inevitably, this can have an impact on what we think of ourselves and take a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. When we are conditioned to believe that we need to fit in or gain the approval of others based on our outward appearances, we are likely to feel insecure about ourselves as it never seems to be enough.

To be sure, no one is saying that Christians should not bother about outward appearances or to value external beauty. After all, God who made us also gave us the ability to distinguish between what is beautiful and ugly and to desire to display beauty. It would not glorify God if the carpets in our sanctuary looked grubby or if worship leaders appeared on Sundays with unkempt hair.

When Apostle Peter instructed the women, “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” (1 Peter 3:3-4), we need to understand that Peter was not against fanciful accessories or designer clothes in and of themselves. Instead he was teaching the believers to guard against letting their adorning be merely external. As a wise pastor, he was mindful that there is a very real temptation that people are prone to wanting to be noticed and known for external beauty.

Thus Peter instructs them that they are to care more about what God values and not be preoccupied with outward things that are of lesser importance. As God’s people, we must learn to see things from God’s perspective. Indeed, it would be foolish of us to be putting in all this effort for what will not last at the expense of neglecting what matters much more.

Just as God reminded prophet Samuel that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7), we need to know that there is nothing God values more than godly character. True beauty, the kind of beauty that God looks for and deems as precious is not showcased through outward appearances but through godly character traits such as gentleness. On the other hand, even if we do measure up to that magic ratio of 1:1.168, God can easily see through our aesthetically pleasing appearances that mask an ugly heart.

In contrast to Satan whose heart was filled with pride because of his God-given beauty (Ezekiel 28:17) and now disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) after being cast out by God, Jesus willingly emptied himself of his divine beauty and splendour and came as someone whom Isaiah described as one “who has no form or majesty that we should look at him, no beauty that we should desire him… one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3).

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Jesus Christ did so in order to identify with those of us who are spiritually sick, sinners marred by the ugliness of our sins and the sins of others and in such desperate need of redemption and transformation.

Indeed, thanks be to God that we do not need to be beautiful first before God notices us and for him to love us. Instead, God loves us because he made us and we belong to him. By God’s grace, slowly but surely we would truly be beautiful because He loved us. Until then, may God enable us with our perishable bodies here on earth tell of a better story of unfading beauty, one than no skillful surgeons can ever offer.

Rev Edwin Wong

January 9, 2022