Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rejecting the "Hot Babe" Deception - Part 2 (Concluding the "Hot Babe" Series)

In the "Hot Babe" series[1] thus far, I have looked at Christian authors' points of view regarding physical beauty and physical attraction, as well as biblical history's treatment of the subject. In this final post in the series, I will discuss what the bible teaches us about beauty and physical attraction.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" - ancient Greek axiom
The age old adage above hits on much of what we know about the human condition and what I have discussed thus far in this series. We are visual creatures, and in particular, visual in the sexual sense. We make judgments and selections based on what we see, even in seeking a mate. Those judgments are subjective. Although this visual selection process has roots in our nature, it is also influenced by our experience in that we build models of "beauty" based heavily on cultural inputs. These models serve as our benchmarks in the judging process.

The saying also contains some good news, although it is subtly suggested. We, as the beholder, have a say in how we interpret what our eyes behold. I would suggest, that we also have control over when we exercise the beholding. The fact is that we need not be completely subject to either our nature or our culture. We can act independently of both, or more appropriately, we can choose when to manifest both in our lives. It is with this realization in hand that we can find profound instruction in the bible. God made us this way, and did so for a very good reason. But because of the fall, God's good design is under attack. We have been manipulated and deceived about our sexuality and our biology so that what God designed exclusively for the purpose of oneness and relationship building in marriage has been unleashed far and wide outside of that sacred covenant.

In short, I suggest that God intended our visual biology, at least as far as its sexual manifestation, to only be exercised within the marriage relationship. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, but we are only to behold one person with an eye toward beauty, that person being our spouse. When doing so, our entire model for what we see as sexually beautiful should be based on that person and that person alone. Moreover, it should adapt over time (through constant "beholding") so that we are continually reassessing what is "sexy" to be in synch with the changes that time and even tragedy bring to our spouse's physical body. This is a radical idea, and I can already hear the cries of ridicule and scorn that I even entertain it, yet I will now show that such a paradigm is exactly what the bible teaches.

The Complete Biblical Teaching on Physical Beauty and Attraction

Proverbs 31
v 30 - "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." (NIV)

I will progress through this review from dating to marriage. The fundamental passage for single men in search of "the perfect woman" is Proverbs 31. The 19 verses preceding verse 30 outline the attributes of a praiseworthy woman by illustrating those attributes at work in marriage. I have seen lists of these attributes ranging from the low 20's to (not coincidentally) 31 in number. The key is that none of the praiseworthy attributes of a woman have anything to do with her outside looks. But the passage doesn't leave us wondering, because it contrasts in verse 30 those praiseworthy female attributes with what is decidedly not praiseworthy, namely charm (flirting) and physical beauty. The biblical teaching could not be any clearer: when looking for a mate, look to the inside and, quite literally, ignore the outside because it is misleading.

Proverbs 5 and 6
Pro 5:1-8 - "My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not. Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house" (NIV)

Pro 6:20, 23-25 - "My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching...For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life, keeping you from the immoral woman, from the smooth tongue of the wayward wife. Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes" (NIV)

So, does marriage save one from being misled by "charm" and "beauty"? Certainly not! These two passages show that even within marriage, "greener pastures" syndrome can easily ensnare you. So how do we prevent our ruin? The next two passages show the proper approach to beauty within marriage.

Note - although the beauty of the woman in question is not mentioned, Proverbs 7 carries instruction for unmarried men which parallels these sections very closely. It does mention that the enchantress is "dressed like a prostitute", which may suggest less than modest clothing which accentuates her physical form. The lesson is simple: single men in search of a bride should not think they are immune from the entrapments of physical beauty and sultry charm.

Job 31
v 1 - "I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?" (NKJV)

Job is speaking from the perspective of the married man. Knowing the natural tendency to seek greener pastures, he covenants (makes a deal) with his eyes that he simply will not look at anyone (sexually) but his wife. Two things need clarification here. The look Job speaks of is not lascivious, but it is sexual. Simply put, it is a look, even fleeting, that triggers the natural sexual response all men have when looking on the female form. Note this response may not be felt as physical arousal. Some men use that as an excuse, but the reality is that we all know when a look is sexual and when it isn't, all physical feelings aside. As best he can, Job will avert his eyes if he fears a woman's beauty will trigger a sexual response. Only when he can look upon a woman with the purest of intentions and reactions will he allow his eyes that access.

The second clarification deals with Job's focus on "young" women. The reason for this is that is where men are most tempted. But it may not be so for every man and so the general admonition needs to be kept in focus - it is the kind of look being dealt with here, not the age group that the object of the look falls into.

One might think that Job was privy to current research when this was written. Recent studies have shown that men build up models in their minds regarding the female form, in particular, hip to waist ratio. Two separate studies were conducted with basically the same methodology and both concluded this. The interesting thing was that the preferred hip to ratio differed based on the study group's culture. The important finding: the preferable hip to waist ratio was the ratio that was most prevalent amongst marriage age females in the general population of that culture. In other words, men of all ages build their sexual preference models based on what most young women in their culture look like. Apparently, Job was onto something when he focused on young women in his covenant.

Also in this chapter, Job mentions "lurking by my neighbor's door". This is the exact opposite of what Proverbs 5 recommends if you have "made a covenant with your eyes", namely, stay far away "from your neighbor's door" as you can. This idiom refers to "stealing glances" at, and engaging in (supposedly) harmless flirtations with, someone not your wife.

Proverbs 5 - Part 2
v 16-21 - "Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths." (NIV)

The previous passages tell us what not to do, but now we get some serious instruction on what we must do to not only avoid adulterous behavior but to ensure the blessing of sexual fulfillment within marriage. This passage expresses the full depth of our key adage for this post: "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Not only are we to "only have eyes for" our wife, but we are to build our model of beauty based on what we see with those eyes regardless of what it actually looks like. This is necessary throughout marriage because "beauty is fleeting". Only when we ignore what the culture tells us and guard against models of beauty based on women other than our wife, will we be able to resist the temptations that truly exist in every "doorway" we encounter. We must teach ourselves to use our god designed biological attraction mechanisms in the way that God intended them to be used - solely within the marriage bed.

Song of Songs
It is fitting that I end with the book of the bible that mentions physical beauty more than any other - Song of Songs. There are two major interpretations of this book as romantic (some would say "erotic") poetry, and I will show how each supports the main thesis of this post.

(Note - If you believe that Song of Songs is an allegory of Christ and the church, you need not read on as there is then no sexuality within the book.)

The traditional interpretation of Song of Songs is that it is a tale of two lovers: King Solomon and the Shulamite woman. Throughout the narrative, they praise each other's beauty, going into great detail at times about various body parts. Some may feel that this is license for young men to indeed use beauty as a criterion when finding a bride. But to do so misses the point. The entire time they are praising each other they are married. Song of Songs is not about a courtship, and it certainly is not about "hooking up". It is a wonderful portrayal of intimacy and what fuels it within marriage. In a sense, it is an eight chapter discourse on Proverbs 5:19.

There is a second interpretation of Song of Songs, called the "shepherd theory" or "shepherd hypothesis" (A great detailing of this interpretation can be found here). In this interpretation, the book actually describes a love triangle. Solomon is the villain in this version, stealing the Shulamite away from the chaste relationship she has with the shepherd boy she loves and trying to seduce her into his bed. In this view, all of the praise of her body is just "a line" to get her to fall for the King. But she stays steadfast in her love for the shepherd and is eventually reunited with him leading to their wedding.

Not only do I think this interpretation makes more sense from the text itself, but it illuminates the biblical teaching in a profound way. It shows how we have been corrupted into thinking that beauty is the most important attribute in a mate. Solomon, shallow and vain, both falls for and perpetuates the lie in his seductive praises. But the Shulamite does not buy it, for in addition to her beauty, which indeed will fade, she possesses those attributes like the Proverbs 31 woman that are truly praiseworthy. It is these non-physical attributes that have drawn her true love to her and have endeared him to her. Song of Songs, taken in this context, is a wonderful beacon of light pointing us away from the worldly view of courtship and marriage exemplified by the shenanigans in Esther, and back to the pure, godly form found in the garden.

What I have related above is a complete review of the verses in biblical teaching that deal with physical, sexual attraction. I could add a couple of prophetic, allegorical passages from Psalms and Ezekiel 16, but we would not see a break in the pattern. And what pattern is that? The biblical teaching is absolutely consistent: whenever a passage speaks negatively of beauty and an eye toward it, the vision in question is extra-marital; whenever a passage speaks positively of the same, the vision is exclusively marital. In my mind God could not be any clearer. Yes, we are designed to be visual. Yes, we are designed to be sexual. Yes, our visual nature feeds our sexual nature. But, the only appropriate, godly manifestation of that natural process is within marriage. Any other expressions are representations of our fallen, sinful flesh.

So, what do we do about this problem? Does God expect perfection? Well, yes and no. God expects perfection and knows perfection is beyond our grasp. The next best thing to perfection is intention. We need to strive for the godly goal. Here are a number of things that people can do to help return to a godly expression of our biological realities:

1. Refuse to "lurk outside your neighbor's door". Don't watch that movie or TV show that you know has sexual situations and nudity. Don't go to the beach or the pool without a plan for avoiding the buffet of flesh being presented. Don't hang out with people who like to "dress like a prostitute" and engage in sexually stimulating conversation and behavior.

2. Don't be part of the problem. If you have been the one "playing the harlot" in the past, stop. Not only will you find a better class of people from the opposite sex that are interested in you, you will be behaving in the way God says is praiseworthy.

3. If you are married, male or female, stop believing the lie. It is not alright to "look but not touch", let alone the more ambiguous "look but not lust". It takes time, but you need to purge your mind of the baggage you carry regarding what is beautiful. Once done, you need to start building a model of beauty from the ground up based only on what you see laying next to you when you wake up in the morning. Not only is this the godly way to create oneness in marriage, it is the best way to build and maintain intimacy for the long haul.

1. The "Hot Babe" series:

1 comment:

  1. And on top of everything you said, happily married blind men everywhere are clapping. I'm going to check out the shepherd boy theory...