We men can't help what we find beautiful in a woman. Or can we? Learn about the purpose and promise of true beauty.
How many times have I talked to a single guy who wants to get married, only to hear him say that he knows lots of great women? He admits these women have godly characters and fantastic personalities. But he's not dating any of them. When I ask why not, the reply comes with a sigh. "I'm just not attracted to them." Pity the single Christian man with high standards and good taste. He can't help it he's single. The godly women he knows just aren't beautiful enough.
This is not just a Christian problem. Debra Dickerson, an African-American writer for Salon magazine, reflected on her sense of sadness after watching the brazenly crude and essentially misogynistic movie, The Wedding Crashers. (It came out in 2005, and I sincerely hope you haven't seen it.) Was she depressed at the way women were viewed simply as objects of lust, trophies to be won, conquests to be notched? Unfortunately not. She was depressed because, "by the end of the parade of weddings crashed and women laid, the crashers had seduced their way through every culture and every ethnicity but mine.... Why didn't they want to seduce me, too?" she asks. The answer, left painfully unspoken, was that they didn't find her ethnicity beautiful. While the judgment that black is not beautiful is patently false, that knowledge did not ease Dickerson's pain at being implicitly labeled "undesirable."
The Problem of Attraction
What do immoral wedding crashers, Debra Dickerson and single Christian men have in common here? They're all operating on the assumption that beauty is altogether in the eye of the beholder. All of us are attracted to beauty. But this assumption says that none of us can help who or what we find beautiful. It's just something that happens. We like what we like, and who's to say why? At a superficial level — the color of hair, the shape of a face — there is some truth to that old adage. One of the reasons that I married my own wife is that I found her beautiful. I didn't need friends or strangers to tell me she was beautiful. I knew she was beautiful, and I was attracted to her beauty.
But when we move beyond the accidents of appearance, to the roots of our desire and the motivation for marrying this woman rather than that one, the old adage is both false and dangerous. False, because it defines the beauty of the women around us by the distorted and inadequate measure of our own taste and desires. Dangerous, because it creates in us, as men, a passivity toward beauty. Beauty becomes a thing that the woman we're dating, or thinking about dating, either has or doesn't have. And we are the unimpeachable judge and jury. As long as she is beautiful in our eyes, we appreciate and savor and pursue that beauty. When that beauty fades, our desire slackens and our pursuit turns elsewhere. Like art critics at a gallery, our gaze is captured only until something more interesting appears. We are responders, not producers, without obligation or responsibility. After all, we can't help who we're attracted to. Or can we?
This is the logic that Debra Dickerson accepts and bemoans in her critique of The Wedding Crashers. It's also the logic that contributes to prolonged singleness and serial dating in search of the "right chemistry" and the perfect mate. Later on, this same logic leads to mid-life divorce, trophy wives and work-place affairs. Surely there must be more to beauty and attraction than what first meets the eye.
The Purpose of Beauty
Everyone knows Christianity has a lot to say about truth and holiness, but did you know it also has a lot to say about beauty and attraction? And I'm not just talking about "inner beauty." Moses, David, Jesus and Paul all talk about beauty and the power of attraction. Solomon spends an entire book celebrating the beauty and desire that exists at the heart of marriage. And in a profound sense, you could say that Jesus' entire ministry can be explained under the category of attraction to beauty.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Fundamental to the Christian concept of beauty is that beauty is not so much passively found and appreciated as it is actively created and cherished. Genesis 1 tells us that when God created the world, He created it good. That word includes the idea of beautiful. Trees, for example, were both "pleasant to the sight and good for food" (Genesis 2:9). So God's creation wasn't merely functional, it was (and in many ways still is) beautiful. Why would God build beauty into creation and give us the ability to recognize it? Perhaps so that we would be attracted to it and so care for it well as stewards. Ultimately God wanted His creation to be a reflection of His own beauty (glory); He wants us to be attracted to Him.
But there's more. Genesis 1 also tells us that God created us in His image. Among other things, that means He gave us the ability to not only appreciate His beautiful world, but to make things beautiful as well. Not just ability. Responsibility. In Genesis 2, Adam was commanded to make the Garden of Eden flourish and grow. Let that sink in for a minute. In the middle of a perfect world, Adam was responsible for the expansion of Paradise. Far from being the passive critic and consumer of God's beautiful world, he was in the business of actively growing that beauty and even creating more. He didn't have to come up with perfection. He was in charge of developing it.
There's more we need to say about our experience of beauty and attraction now that we're no longer in Eden. I'll take that up in the next article, "I'm Just Not Attracted To Her, Part 2." But I want to stop here and draw two implications for us as men.
The Power of Attraction
Most all of us have experienced the powerful pull of attraction, especially when it comes to a woman we consider beautiful. There's nothing quite like it for producing immediate change in a man. Everything's up for grabs — hair style, clothes, movie preferences, jobs, friends. I've even watched men change churches and rethink their theology for the sake of a woman, though I don't recommend the latter.
We shouldn't be surprised that attraction has such power over us. God designed us that way. He didn't want us to merely know the truth and do what was right. He wanted us to love the truth; He wanted us to be powerfully attracted to the good. Ultimately, He made us to love and be attracted to the most beautiful person in the universe — Him. So He created beauty in this world, not as an end in itself for our selfish pleasure, but as a means to the end of our ultimate pleasure in Him (Psalm 16:11).
So what are you attracted to in a woman? Make a list and then prioritize it. Now do it again and be honest. How many things on your list are matters of mere preference — eye color, body type, etc., and how many are qualities that point beyond the woman to the God whose image she reflects — character, sense of humor, virtues, etc.? What are your highest priorities? There's nothing wrong with having physical and personality traits on your list of what makes a woman attractive. In fact, you need to be physically and personally attracted to the woman you marry. If you're not, marriage won't provide the kind of protection against sexual sin that Paul speaks of (1 Corinthians 7:1-9).
But if the physical or personal is entirely (or mainly) what attracts you and these are your highest priorities, then your problem is not with the women around you. Your problem is with God. The more you are in love with the beauty of Jesus Christ, the more you will be attracted to what you see of Him in the woman you're dating and the more important it will be to you. The less you love Him, the more important other things about her will become, things like her figure or style.
Attraction has a powerful pull on all of us. So be careful what you allow to become attractive to you. Cultivate your attraction to Jesus Christ in the Gospel. You may just be surprised at how some women you know seem to become more beautiful as you do.
The Promise of Beauty
Earlier I said that Jesus' entire ministry could be explained as attraction to beauty. That's because the Bible describes Jesus as a groom who came the first time to win His bride, the church, and who will come a second time to take her home to be with Him forever (see Matthew 25:1-13, John 3:29-30; Revelation 21-22).
No one in his right mind ever marries a woman he doesn't find beautiful. And it's no different with Jesus. Except for one problem. We aren't attractive. In our sin and rebellion, we are downright ugly. So what's up with Jesus?
I said earlier that Adam started off as a developer, making the beauty of Paradise flourish and grow. Adam failed, and we'll think more about what that means next time. But where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. Only this second Adam had a much more difficult job. Not expanding perfection, but cleansing the dirty, forgiving the guilty and making the ugly beautiful again. Paul tells us that like a husband, "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Think about what that means. Jesus didn't come to earth looking for a beautiful bride, going back to heaven disappointed because no one lived up to His standards. No, He worked actively creating beauty through His death on the cross and the power of the Gospel. He gave His life so that whoever repents of their sin and puts their faith in His finished work on the cross might become part of His dazzlingly beautiful bride. It's a promise He made, and it's a promise He will keep.
As Christian men we can't do what Christ did, nor do we need to. But we are called to be like Him. That means we need to stop being beauty critics and get busy creating, honoring and guarding real beauty in the women around us. How do we do that? We do it by appreciating women who resemble Christ more than a Vogue model. We do it by encouraging modesty rather than sexiness. We do it by extending grace to imperfect bodies and flawed personalities. We do it by rejecting the worldly values of beauty that lead women to starve themselves or spend a small fortune on clothes.
Whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, you are a creator of beauty in the women around you. It's just a question of what kind. Take a look at the single women in your church or circle of friends. What kind of beauty are they focused on? Is it the beauty of what Peter calls "outward adornment" or is it the beauty of Christ in the Gospel (1 Peter 3:3-5)? No doubt women have their own sinful motives in pursuing shallow forms of beauty. But the promise of beauty we make as men is heard loud and clear by our girlfriends and wives, even if we never open our mouths.
What promise of beauty are you making and who will keep it? Too many men are promising, "I'll be attracted to you if you're a size 2," and then waiting for the woman who will work hard to meet the condition. Jesus calls us to make a different kind of promise. "I'm attracted to you because of how much of Christ I already see in you, and I promise to work hard to see even more of Christ in you."
Is there no one you're attracted to? Stop complaining and feeling sorry for yourself. Get out there and give yourself to the job of making someone really, truly forever beautiful. And then pray she finds you attractive, too.
Part 2: I'm Just Not Attracted to Her »
Copyright 2007 Michael Lawrence. All rights reserved.