Monday, February 16, 2009

Rejecting the "Hot Babe" Deception - Part 1 (Concluding the "Hot Babe" Series)

In the prior three posts[1] in the "Hot Babe" series, I have discussed the viewpoints and arguments of certain authors supporting, at least in general, the idea that Eve, and subsequently the female gender, are beautiful by design, and that male sexual attraction to that design is also God designed, blessed, and even mandated. Since those authors rarely, if ever, relied on scripture to back up their claims, I presented some logical counter arguments to their conclusions. But that doesn't mean that scripture has nothing to say about beauty and attraction. In the final two posts, I will give a comprehensive review of the related scriptures and propose a counter conclusion based on that review: namely that God takes a very dim view of our inclination to look at and judge people based on their outward appearance, at least in all but one specific context.

Before I go further, there is an important distinction that needs to be made. Some of the claims of the authors cited in prior posts are demonstrably correct and fairly undisputed. Men are visual, and visually, the female form pleases us. We certainly are attracted to women because of how they look. I do not deny these realities and to the extent that they are governed by hormones and brain function they seem to me to be clearly natural. But the question we need to ask ourselves is: "is all that is natural, godly?" More to the point, which "nature" is being expressed when we act on these urges and instincts: our fleshly nature or our spirit led nature. In Romans 7 and 8[2] Paul describes for us a struggle that goes on in each and every person between the competing forces of our flesh and our spirit. In a fallen world, even when we are dealing with our "design", we must ask ourselves if the current manifestation of that design is what God intended, or if, conversely, our common enemy has corrupted our interpretation and application of God's good design. It is in that spirit, and with those questions at the forefront, that I will proceed to determine what God intended in our design and where we may be deceived.

Another distinction needs to be made before proceeding and that is the difference between biblical history and biblical teaching. Although biblical history is often instructive, it is primarily so because it illustrates man in the flesh acting ungodly. Biblical teaching via the Old Testament Proverbs, Psalms, prophets, and poetic books, and the New Testament, instruct us directly regarding what God expects us to do and not to do. Nowhere is this distinction more obvious than in the bible's treatment of physical attraction.

One more note lest the reader misunderstand the kind of beauty and attraction I am talking about. The authors cited before make it clear, especially when discussing Eve and the place that physical attractiveness, and the attraction to it, hold in relationship building, that the discussion at its core is sexual. Nobody pretends that men are attracted to women's looks in the same way they appreciate the beauty of a bounding deer or a perfectly thrown curve ball. It is crucial that the reader understand that all of this talk about beauty has a sexual basis, and that when we talk about a woman being attractive or beautiful what is actually meant is that she is sexy; that she triggers in a man a sexual response even if it doesn't reach the threshold of physical arousal. (The same, of course, can be said of sexual attraction regardless of the genders of both the attractor and the attractee.)

Having said all that, let us look into God's Word.

The historical account in the bible is full of beautiful women. Many of the great patriarchs and heroes of the bible take on beautiful women as their wives. One might be tempted to say that such godly men are acting with God's blessing and manifesting God's good design in partnering with these attractive women. But a closer look reveals a disturbing trend. Every time a woman's beauty is highlighted in the biblical historical record, sinful behaviors abound and are directly associated with the focus on that beauty. A quick review:

  • The first mention of female beauty in the bible occurs in one of the bible's most troubling and mysterious passages. In Genesis 6:1-2 we read - "the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose." This leads to the existence of half angelic, half human offspring which in turn contributes to the debauched human condition which results in the flood.
  • The Patriarchs were especially ill behaved in regards to their beautiful wives. Abraham prostituted order to save himself[3]. Isaac repeated his father's sin with Rebekah[4]. Jacob defied culture and parental authority by insisting on the beautiful Rachel over the ugly Leah, causing not only enmity with his father-in-law but friction between the two sisters[5].
  • Great heroes of the bible were not exempt either. Samson's ill advised, impulsive marriage to a girl solely because she caught his eye had tragic consequences[6]. His marriage to Delilah turned out even worse[7]. And who can forget David and Bathsheba[8]. Abigail's beauty also seems to play into David's polygamous marriage to her[9]. Even more treacherous acts occurred in the house of David because of the obsession with beauty, as highlighted by the rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon[10].
  • Even supposed love stories are really examples of ungodly behavior and situations salvaged by God. Esther is misused by Mordechi in a way that very much mirrors Abraham's sinful misuse of Sarah. The fact that love blossomed in the end is more attributed to God's grace (and Esther's heart) than it is to any overreaching godly plan[11].
  • Lest one think this is a one way phenomenon (male looking on female), let's not forget the trouble that Joseph's good looks brought him via Potiphar's wife[12].
The pattern is absolutely clear: whenever physical (i.e. sexual) beauty is mentioned in biblical history, sinful behavior ensues. But, what about biblical teaching? The message there is absolutely clear as well: how we "see" and relate to each other should be governed by what is on the inside of a person, not their outsides.

Since the emphasis by authors such as John Eldredge and Joshua Harris in their defense of pursuing physical beauty is on the male's efforts in finding a spouse, it makes sense to begin with the quintessential bible passage on that topic. I refer, of course, to Proverbs 31 and the "perfect" wife. It is curious that these authors don't also turn to this passage, but close reading shows why they might avoid it - it totally defeats their argument. In Proverbs 31 verses 10 through 29 we are given a list of over 20 attributes which are found in "an excellent wife" that give her "worth...far above jewels". Not once in that list is her outward appearance ever mentioned. But the author of the proverb doesn't leave it to chance that we may think the list is incomplete and that beauty still is a valid consideration in finding a mate. Verse 31 sums up the advice with this well known and crucial warning: "Charm [flirtatiousness] is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" (NIV). This is no trivial matter, for as much as one's heart is deserving of praise, one's physical looks are undeserving of it. We are not instructed even to make appearance a secondary consideration, but instead to disregard it all together. What a stark contrast to the advice given by so many Christian authors. No wonder they never mentioned Proverbs 31. But does the bible stop here? Certainly not!

In the New Testament, Peter echoes Proverbs 31 by instructing women that their true beauty lies within: "rather let it [your "attractiveness"] be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (1 Peter 3:4). And several other proverbs go on to give clues why we should not place our focus on physical beauty - namely, because it is a deception which lures us into sin. Proverbs 6:24-25 gives this plain advice: "To keep you from the evil woman, From the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Do not desire her beauty in your heart, Nor let her capture you with her eyelids [another reference to flirtatiousness]". Proverbs 7 gives a more detailed illustration of how a woman can temp a man to stray, primarily using "exterior" enticements. Proverbs 5 hits on the theme again of the seductress using her "feminine wiles", i.e. her looks and charms, to lead a man into sin.

Now, none of this suggests that beautiful women are inherently evil and man-killers. The warnings are for the men, not the women. The intent is to snap men out of their fascination with the outside looks and flirtatious behaviors of women and to conversely direct their attention to what matters, a woman's heart and soul. The reality is that some women are quite striking. But to obsess over that feature in a woman, and to ignore her true value as a fellow human endowed with God's image, is a recipe for disaster.

There are further admonitions for married men found in the bible's teachings. Our contemporary authors tend to shy away from applying their approvals to married men, yet their very argument is applicable to all men. That is how men (and many women) take it, at least. Phrases such as "It is ok to look but not touch", or "that is just the way men are", are constantly thrown out to excuse married men's roving eyes. How many women have accepted with little resistance and even less concern their husband's private stacks of porn and lascivious behaviors? How many others actually invite porn into thier bedrooms under the delusion it will enhance their marriage or at least fulfill some need their husband has that they are incapable of meeting? All of this is due to the deception that since a man's attraction to the female form is "natural", such allowances are justified by and pleasing to God. Does the bible support such nonsense? Certainly not!

Jesus' famous application of the 7th commandment to the visual and mental realms should suffice to condemn any sexual looking or thinking that does not involve one's wife (which yields either adultery or fornication depending on marital status)[13]. Unfortunately, many people take a very narrow view of the type of thoughts necessary, saying that only actual thoughts of sex with another real person constitute the "lust" Jesus references. But one has to wonder if Jesus had Job in mind at the time He issues His decree. In Job 31[14], we find a striking parallel to Jesus' argument as Job, a " of complete integrity"[15], makes a similar application to his own vision and thoughts.

At this point, and at the sake of being redundant, I need to remind the reader that looking at someone's form for purposes of attraction is inherently sexual, and strikingly so for men. As Jesus and Job discuss these issues, they are dealing with sexual immorality at it's very core, inside our brains. Although such looks and thoughts may not trigger physical arousal in our sexual members, they unavoidably trigger mental arousal in the sexual processing centers of our brain and chemical arousal in the hormonal and neurotransmission systems of our bodies. Now on to Job...

Job 31:1 states - "I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?" (NKJV). The NIV unfortunately introduces the concept of lust into their translation, solidifying the connection with Jesus but incorrectly narrowing the context of Job's visual covenant. The Hebrew word translated "look upon", or "gaze" and "think upon" in other translations, contains no implication of lustfulness. It is an innocuous word meaning simply to discern or look at with discernment. A modern translation with our own cultural idioms actually conveys the idea quite well - "I made a deal with my eyes, why then should I check out a hot babe?" Job goes on later to talk about "lurking at his neighbor's door", an idiom from his time which refers to taking secretive glances and engaging in sly flirtations with a woman who is not one's wife. Going (presumably) far beyond Jesus, Job calls such subtle and non-physically arousing behavior as "wickedness" and claims a fitting, although probably not godly, punishment for even an inquisitive glance at another woman would be for his wife to chase after and bed another man of her choice. But are Job and Jesus worlds apart, or do we just assume so because of the difference in Greek and Hebrew word choices. Job in essence calls a casual discerning look "lustful". Jesus certainly knew His Job. When Jesus speaks of looking with lust, is it not quite possible that he had Job's level of look in mind and we have simply diluted His words over time. After all, "lust" is not really the correct translation of the Greek. What Jesus really said was that if you look upon a woman other than your wife with any kind of desire, such desire is inherently inappropriate and therefore constitutes "lust" in English. Jesus never mentions anything about having mental sex with the woman.

OK - so, maybe it isn't such a godly thing to exercise and entertain our natural, sexual attraction for the form of the opposite sex when we are looking for marriage candidates, and it certainly doesn't seem to be a good idea to "check out" other people once you are married. So, if it is acknowledged that God designed these mechanisms, what are they good for, when should they be manifested, and why did He seem to set us up for failure? The bible has the answer for these questions as well, and they all revolve around "the marriage bed". I will explore that in the final post of the "Hot Babe" series.

1. The "Hot Babe" series: 2. In particular, see Romans 7:23.
3. Genesis 12:10-20; 20:2-18.
4. Genesis 26:6-11
5. Genesis 29:14-30:34
6. Judges 14:1-15:6
7. Judges 16:4-21. Although the bible doesn't say Delilah was beautiful, it is almost universally assumed because of Samson's selfish and shallow character when it came to women.
8. 2 Samuel 11
9. 1 Samuel 25. There seems little point in the mention of Abigail's beauty in verse 3 except as a pretext for David's attraction to her. It seems David was rather fond of marrying every pretty girl he came across, in direct violation of God's law against regal polygamy. Of course, David's sinful pattern was later amplified to ridiculous levels by his son Solomon (1 Kings 11:3).
10. 2 Samuel 13:1-15
11. Esther 2:1-20. Many people focus on the fact that Xerxes fell in love with Esther and that she was a beloved queen and therefore determine that this is a God ordained love story. The reality is that God is never once mentioned in the book of Esther. The book has far more to do with Mordecai's plotting on behalf of the Jews and himself and his use of Esther as an insider in the King's Court to accomplish his agenda. Although I believe it is fair to say that God intervened in the whole mess to assure the preservation of his people, there is no evidence that Mordecai was operating under some divine plan.
12. Genesis 39:1-20
13. Matthew 5:28. One should not, of course, make the mistake of assuming that Jesus' preaching here is limited to adultery. Jesus' main point is that any mental violation of the any of the commandments is as damning as a physical violation. As such, this teaching is applicable to stealing, murder, idolatry, etc. The teaching naturally extends outside of the marital realm. If such a look or thought is adulterous for a married man, it is naturally fornicative for an unmarried man. Gender is not the issue here either. Certainly, women can be just as guilty.
14. It is ironic that Job's defense of his sexual purity and marital integrity takes place in the same chapter number as the perfect wife of Proverbs 31. If a view to a woman's heart and a disregard for her beauty, at least pre-maritally, is the goal of a man seeking a wife, and if Job takes a covenant within marriage to perpetuate this view of the women outside his marriage, one might almost hold Job up as a model of the Proverbs 31 man; or at least the kind of man who abides by the Proverbs 31:30 admonition. So maybe the chapter numbering is not quite as coincidental as it may seem.
15. Job 1:1. Although Job should be considered a book about a historical figure, and there is no reason to doubt the factual reality of the events described, it is not a book that intends to chronical the history of either the human race or the Jewish people. In actuality, it is meant to be an instructive book and is therefore rightly categorized in the general teaching category of books (specifically, the poetic books) rather than the histories.

1 comment:

  1. This is an amazing post. It is discouraging as well, as I dont know of many men that choose women, based on the Godly influence of her character. It is hard for me as a woman, especially when beauty is determined by societies standards. America has a standard, which is unrealistic for a lot.

    It is so embedded in most psyche, that Im doubtful we will ever get away from it. It is one million more times discouraging when "christian" men think, act, and choose, based on these very worldly standards aswell. God Bless.