Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Physical Beauty - the "essence of God" or the shallowness of man? (Part of the "Hot Babe" series)

In the introductory post of this series, Was "Hot Babe" a Prerequisite in Eve's Design, I reviewed some of the comments and conclusions of current Christian authors regarding physical beauty, especially in terms of its impact on attraction, sexuality, and relationships. In this and the next few posts, I will deconstruct those assertions and show, scripturally, why they are not only not godly but are indeed quite fleshly.

Working backwards through the positions outlined in the first post, I will begin here by dealing with John Eldredge's near obsession with physical beauty and his claim that it is "the essence of God". The next post will cover Josh Harris' claim that physical attraction is an essential, God designed and blessed component in not only the development of martial relationships but also our mandate to "be fruitful and multiply". Finally, I will cover what God really has to say about physical beauty and sexual attraction and discuss why an emphasis on it is so dangerous.

So, is physical beauty "the essence of God" as John Eldredge asserts in Captivating? He offers up "nature" to support his argument, rightly claiming that through nature we see the glory of God. But, he boldly claims that that glory of God is manifested not in the beautiful way in which nature functions (nature's inner beauty, as it were) but in the beautiful way that nature looks (i.e. its outer beauty). Does any of this make sense? Let's examine this "logic" through the series of questions that it begs.

Can the Essence of God Be Something Physical and Temporal?
The bible tells us that God is spirit (John 4:24), that God is eternal (Revelation 1:8), and that God is unchanging (Malachi 3:6). Nature's physical reality fits none of those descriptions. God's glory may be reflected in nature but it is a dim reflection at best. Nature gives us simply a glimpse, and a very incomplete one at that, of what God is, and tells us very little about who God is. Nature could have been constructed very differently, leading to a very different "look and feel" in terms of our interaction with it but God would not have been changed one bit - His essence would be the same. To claim the "essence" of God is some variable, temporary, physical, containable, corruptible, destructible, earthbound, created thing diminishes God in almost blasphemous ways.

Is Beauty Measurable and Objective?
The obvious answer should be "no", but why that matters is important. The bible tells us that God is a God of order and reason (Job 23:13). Put simply, God is objective and unwavering. To view God as subjective is to call him opinionated, or even contradictory and hypocritical. These are not attributes of God and certainly not a reflection of His essence.

Is Nature Beautiful?
It depends on who you ask and what part of nature you are talking about. There are certainly parts of nature we humans find beautiful (with some variation between individuals). There are certainly other parts of nature we find grotesque. But it is not important how we see nature, but how God sees it. Is the peacock more beautiful than the platypus in God's eyes? Is an agate more beautiful than a lump of clay? Closer to home, is my wife more or less beautiful than John Eldredge's, let alone Eve? Is God even capable of making such subjective distinctions? Moreover, does God place value of any kind based on physical appearance? Thankfully, the answer is "no". We will further explore the scriptural support for this in the last post of this series but certainly such a conclusion is indisputable.

Is Creation "good" Primarily Because of Its Physical Appearance (Beauty) or Because of Its Interrelational Design (Function)?
Herein lies the crux of the matter. Eldredge's position hinges on the bold statement that nature (i.e. creation) is primarily beautiful, not functional. But does the creation account support this? Did God say, at the end of each creative act, "it looks good"? Or did God simply declare that each step of creation, and the creation as a whole, was good? We all know it is the latter. But let's look closer at the creation of Eve, since Eldredge ultimately ties everything back to her. Why was Eve created? Was it so that Adam would have something sexually stimulating (or even simply pretty) to look at (more on this in the next post), or was it so that Adam would have a functional counterpart to himself to help him maintain the Garden? Did God declare he was going to make a “hot babe” for Adam to drool over or a helper suitable to him and the task at hand? Again, the answer is obviously (and quite literally) the latter.

God is a God of order, logic, and objectivity. Any reference to physical appearance, and especially physical beauty, is inherently subjective and automatically invokes a valuation scale. Eldredge himself alludes to this in his argument, stating that Eve is the "crown of creation" in Wild at Heart and "the crescendo [of creation]" in Captivating, implying she is the best of the best, the most beautiful of creation. Would God say that? I certainly would hope not; I have always been under the impression that we are all, from Adam and Eve on down, created equal.