David was Handsome
I have been encouraged lately to see more examples of models and others in the media who are no longer just rail thin with perfect skin and hair. We are beginning to understand that unrealistic beauty standards can be really destructive.
While I am thankful for this shift, I remain concerned. The real solution, I think, is not that we need to broaden our definition of what is beautiful or attractive. Rather, we need to abandon the emphasis we put on outward appearance. I’m not suggesting that we all give up any thought of our appearance, but that we recognize it for what it is — a simple, physical characteristic, no more an indication of intrinsic value or worth than skin color or height.
No one would ever accuse me of being a “fashion plate,” but I do make an effort to be clean, groomed and dressed appropriately for the circumstances. For me, that shows respect for the people I am with and what we may be doing together. Using enough care to be “presentable” is a very different thing from the destructive obsession with appearance that plagues many of us and our society. The danger is that we have come to grant greater intrinsic value to those we perceive to be beautiful or attractive and conversely, see others or ourselves as somehow lesser if we don’t look as we think we should.
Granting too much importance to appearance is not new. Indeed, some 3,000 years ago, we can see this obsession playing into the calling of David to be King of Israel. The book of Samuel tells us how the Lord has told Samuel to anoint one of the sons of a sheepherder named Jesse as King. (Click here to read the story.) When Samuel seems surprised that the Lord does not choose the eldest, handsome son, we learn “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
The fact that the author can’t resist noting that David was “handsome” even after learning that “the Lord looks on the heart” I take as an indication of what a hard time we have giving up this appearance obsession. As Christians, we need to take seriously the importance of looking with the Lord’s eyes, not on the outside but at what is on the inside.
I understand that this is difficult, as it is counter to what has been hammered into us since childhood when our parents communicated the importance of appearance by constantly telling us that we were beautiful or handsome. But to begin to look past the shell and to see what lies beyond is a critical step in learning to see one another, and ourselves, as the Lord sees us.
This column appeared in the March 22, 2020 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
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