Beauty More than Skin Deep
We desire to be beautiful, but if we are healthy we want something more than skin deep. We want something beyond the façade. We want a beauty that will last and not fade. We don’t want a beautiful car that breaks down, a beautiful house built poorly, or a spouse who is beautiful on the surface, but ugly on the inside. We intuitively all desire a beauty on the interior which matches the beauty we see on the exterior. We admire characters who exhibit this synergy and are inspired by art which elevates such ideas.
Creative work with Internal and External Beauty
The story of Beauty and the Beast is a great lesson in external beauty vs internal beauty. It is a lesson in a yearning for both kinds of beauty to coexist, and an honest portrayal of the frustrations that arise when they do not. From Gaston, who is handsome on the outside, but ugly on the inside, to the beast, who is ugly on the outside but is transformed to be loving on the inside. The main character of course, is Belle (whose name is French for beautiful), and she is the one character who is beautiful on the outside and the inside. Throughout the story we see the tragedy of focusing only on surface beauty and come to admire the beauty of Belle that exists from the surface of her skin to the fabric of her soul.
Though our culture is convinced beauty is relative, they instinctively know it is not. They long for a beauty that exists on the surface, but also runs deep and lasts forever. They aspire to become like Belle, and long for a society filled with men and women who live more like Belle. They know, innately, beauty points us to what is good, true, and lovely.
Beauty Beyond the Surface as Witness
J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis spoke of the power of beauty and imagination. Where arguments will only beckon resistance, art and mystery invite others into a story. If we can foster that desire for beauty, and help people discern between interior and exterior beauty we will sow seeds of grace that point to heaven.
As C.S. Lewis painted a picture, showing the power of beauty to point to God. He believed that beauty here on earth, whether internal or external was a,
“scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.
All beauty here on earth points our hearts toward heaven. To present beauty in a proper light is to present people with a foretaste of heaven and to draw them to consider The Beautiful One, God himself.
Spiritual Concerns: Beauty and Vanity
When this topic comes up, inevitably, people in Christian circles will refer to Proverbs 31:
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised”
– Proverbs 31:30
What the writer of Proverbs is really saying is, “many people are beautiful on the outside, but what really matters is if they become the person God designed them to be – loving, forgiving, gracious, humble, and a defender of truth, one who opposes injustice, and one who takes care of the widows and orphans.” Proverbs 31:30 is really a clear delineation between the exterior body appearing lovely and beautiful, and the interior soul living beautifully. It is not a denigration of cosmetics, spas, and the desire to appear handsome or beautiful. It is reminding us where the real priority lies. God cares about our bodies and enjoys seeing us create cosmetics, fashion and jewelry. But he cares immeasurably more about the health and beauty of our souls.
If we are honest, we all fall short. We all wear masks, cover up our shame, and pretend we are more beautiful on the inside. No one wants to experience the shame of having their mistakes and sins exposed. And yet, we all long to have a more beautiful heart, beautiful soul, and a mind that pursues what is true, good, and right. If someone does not desire these things, it is not because they are healthy, but rather because they are unhealthy, and have been traumatized or lost some basic human sensitivity to others. The self-help section of the bookstore is massive because we all, universally, want to actually get better on the inside.
Defining Internal Beauty
The internal beauty is not something radically different from the exterior/ physical beauty. Many of the same principles apply. Just like a beautiful flower which has proportion, symmetry, balance, and other factors. Your soul is more lovely and attractive when it has balance and proportion. For example, your soul is more beautiful when you work hard to make a good living, but you are not obsessed with money. That disproportionate pursuit is like a disfigurement of the heart.
Or, consider food. Your soul is more beautiful if you love good food, but are not a glutton, but even if you don’t eat too much you are also not a food snob over your intelligentsia level of foodie acumen. And when it come to that external beauty, you care about your hygiene and looking good without becoming paranoid or obsessed about it. This idea was most notably proposed through Aristotle’s philosophy, but it mirrors much of the bible. We need balance and to avoid extremes.
Key Difference in Christianity
One key difference in Christianity is that our overarching goal is not to live avoiding extremes, but to live for God. The reason we do all this is not simply self-improvement (although if you follow God’s principles that will happen), but to find joy and health as you bring glory to the one who designed you.
When we encounter people with a lovely, beautiful interior we recognize it. We describe these people as having a beautiful personality. Someone who is not selfish and arrogant, but also not passive or caught up in self-loathing. These people actively care about others, demonstrating love for their neighbor. They are gracious towards others, while maintaining healthy boundaries in their own life. Their rhythms do not lead to overwhelm, nor laziness.
They are the people that take time to enjoy and savor life, to have meaningful conversations, and take time to reflect. They might even have a journal of their daily reflection. Their inner health enables them to create healthy and lovely relationships.
In essence, this beautiful interior is what the authors of all the self-help books are attempting to help us become. Whether they would call it this or not, it is their aim. We long for that elusive ideal of proportion and balance, healthy boundaries, and healthy passions.
Connecting Internal and External Beauty
The warning in Proverbs 31 is that surface beauty can be misleading or even deceitful. We have all met people who appear to be beautiful or handsome on the surface, but who are selfish, and ugly on the inside. All too often we see the disconnect, and stop there. But I want us to take a moment and see the direct connection between inner beauty and surface beauty. This connection is important because in the Judeo-Christian worldview we believe they both existed together in the garden of Eden and they will one day again exist together wonderfully in the New Jerusalem. That is the picture we all yearn to see in the hear and now.
Romantic Comedies always do well at the movie theaters because of this longing to find a relationship that is beautiful below the surface. They often contrast men or women who are beautiful on the outside against the ones who are loving and beautiful on the inside. Without fail, the desire is always to find a spouse with both. This is what the audience longs for. It is like a magnetic force for something our souls is drawn to.
Beyond the mere romantic relationships, we long for communities made up of such people who are loving on the inside and not merely beautiful on the outside. We will always have TV shows that paint a picture of a loving community because we all crave it. We crave to live among people who love us as we are, and who will encourage us to become more beautiful on the inside and out.
The presence of a person with an internal beauty is a kind of blessing. It may be at a dinner table, a walk in the park, or a large gathering. They give us a pleasure that can reach our heart and soul. This is the picture we all long for. We all need time with friends who understand us and can lovingly encourage us to become a healthy, better, more internally beautiful person.
The beauty found in those kinds of relationships gives you the same pleasure you find in seeing a beautiful landscape, a work of art, or watching lovers walk hand in hand. Beauty feeds the soul, whether it is something external or internal. Our hearts are fed not only by stopping to smell the lilies, but also taking time to savor relationships. They are gifts of God we can take time to enjoy or take for granted, but they are right there in front of us if we will take the time to enjoy them.
Celebrating The Beautiful
If our goal is to honor God in all we do, then part of that goal must be to celebrate both the positive nature of physical beauty, but also the significance of internal beauty. One points to the other, and they both point to the beautiful character of God. He is the only one who is without blemish (holy), who is always loving, true, and good. He shines with beauty like the morning sun and his justice and mercy shine upon our hearts with that same grandeur.
As creatives, our characters and stories should represent the challenges to become beautiful. We should be honest of the frustrations we experience in this area, but we cannot succumb to the philosophy of this age which says beauty is subjective, relative and meaningless. To give up that one point is to give up an essential part of the gospel.
So celebrate beauty because our longing for beauty is really a longing for God, for heaven, and for our souls to be sanctified and our bodies to be glorified.
Copyright © 2020 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.