Teach Them Double-Edged Beauty

Here's an experiment for you. Type the word "beauty" in your browser. Then click on the images tag. Voilà . . . this is what our culture thinks about beauty: it is external, skin deep, and that which tantalizes the senses.

Open up your Bible to Song of Songs and you may think you haven't left Google. In chapter four Solomon writes, "Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves. . ." Not stopping with the eyes, he embarks on a top-down praise of his bride's stunning looks: "Your eyes ... your hair ... your teeth... your lips... your cheeks... your neck... your two breasts.... " Whoa boy!

I love the Song of Songs, in part, for the place it gives the physical. The human body is a beautiful creation of God. But God also reminds us that physical attraction has a shelf life: "Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting" (Proverbs 31:30 NIV). Yes, despite the heartfelt sentiment of the Rod Stewart lyrics, no one stays "forever young."

Age will register its advance. It's mile markers are gray hair, skin spots, sagging shoulders, and a weaker grip. Plastic surgery and hair color can work wonders, but no one stays glamorous forever. Not Rita Hayworth, not Liz Taylor, not Gretta Garbo, not Kate Hepburn. And the same will be said of Cameron Diaz, Tyra Banks, Halle Berry, and Irana Shayk. Years squeeze vitality from the body.

But there is a beauty that does not fade. Peter describes it:

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV

Peter's admonition does not nullify attractiveness. In case we have forgotten, it is God who creates physical beauty. Physical beauty matters -- hidden beauty just matters more. Physical beauty belongs to the spouse to savor -- hidden beauty is everyone's to enjoy. Physical beauty is fading -- hidden beauty is imperishable.

In his book, Leap Over A Wall, Eugene Peterson introduced me to a concept I have never forgotten: "double-edged beauty." Peterson was reflecting on the dazzling and discerning Abigail who appears in 1 Samuel 25. He describes her beauty as that of character and countenace.[1]

We seem to have lost double-edged beauty in our culture, but we can recover it.

Back in 1978, Country singers Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson had a crossover hit called "Mamma's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys." Great tune! I was thinking about that song the other day. It ties right in with the Solomon's bride, proverbial wisdom and God's admonition through Peter. Here's my take on that tune:

Mammas, don't let your babies grow up without a passion for double-edged beauty. Daddies, teach your boys what to look for in a woman.

Teach them to pursue character and countenance.


[1] Eugene Peterson. Leap Over A Wall. New York: HarperOne. 1998. Page 88.