Skip to main content

Does God care what you look like? Part 1: Yes!


Does God care about the way we look? Does he care about our bodies, our hairstyles or our clothing? Does he care about tattoos or a wonky nose - or perhaps a scar or physical defect?

In my church, we generally don't care about what people look like. Black, white, fat, thin, fashionable, unfashionable. How someone looks might be a very occasional point of interest, but generally speaking, what someone looks like will not have a significant influence on our judgement or value of a person. Heck, even I managed to get away with leading a Sunday service in shorts without getting so much as a raised eyebrow.

Whilst the modern day, western, evangelical church scene will be keen to point out that there are more important things to worry about than what people look like - taking a sort of "man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart" approach - the rest of the world is obsessed with personal appearance.

Beauty is big business and hot topic All you have to do is browse the BBC homepage to come across all manner of beauty-centric journalism. Recently I've read articles on everything from a beauty YouTuber whose live appearance caused Birmingham city centre gridlock to the various body modification practices of remote tribal cultures, to the question about whether physical disability is hidden in the fashion industry. There is seemingly no end to the conversation. The world, it seems, is desperate to reconcile its instinctive preoccupation with looks with its sense of value and identity.

People really do care what they look like, but does God?

I think this question requires a two-part answer, with the first part beginning in the book of Exodus.

In Exodus, we first learn about "the law", that process by which God shows his fallen people how he will begin to redeem them. And, as Moses is passing on the divinely instructed regulations for tabernacle worship, there is an interesting purpose explicitly revealed for the garments that the Priest must wear when ministering and performing his duties before the Lord, in the tent. The Priestly garments, according to Exodus Ch 28 v 2, must be designed "for glory and for beauty".

This might sound rather unexpected, at first. However, when you examine the prescribed design of the Tabernacle itself, this instruction does begin to make sense. From the tabernacle decorations to the altar, to the table of the bread of the presence, to the lampstand, to the Ark of the Covenant, you soon understand that aesthetics are important to God. God cannot and will not let his presence dwell within some shabby looking tee-pee, he demands a dwelling place that represents his own inherent beauty and glory and value and worth. He cares what his home looks like, and he also cares what his people look like. Therefore, the Priest cannot come before God in ragged clothes. He must be arrayed in garments of fitting splendour. God cannot associate with sinners, he is holy. So the Priest, in representing the people before God, must symbolise holiness in the way he is adorned. Not just as a symbol how God's people ought to be, but also as a symbol of who it is they seek to meet with.

Beauty really does appear to be a requirement of God and an essential part of the process of drawing near to him. They need sacrifices, they need incense, they need the showbread, they need an offering, they need the Priestly garments. God's people not only need to be right, they need to do right and look right. They need to be made right on the inside (morally) by the sacrifices, and so they need to look right (aesthetics) by the beautiful priestly garments and decorative tabernacle. The beauty of the Priestly garments is to symbolise, along with things like the sacrifices, a fully restored and perfect being, righteous and acceptable before a perfect, holy God.

God, you see, at creation, formed a sinless beautiful creation, with a sinless beautiful man. Man had no blemish, no defect - a spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical specimen of perfection - accurately and worthily displaying the perfect and beautiful image of God, in which he had been created and was designed to reflect.

The outside, at the point of creation, is supposed to reflect the inside - the visible reflect the invisible. If mankind does not look beautiful on the outside (aesthetic), we don't know whether he is beautiful (moral) on the outside. If we can't see the beauty on the inside, we don't see the beauty that man is a reflection of, and thus we could be led to doubt the beauty or even the existence of God.

Thus God requires his Priests to wear garments of beauty to symbolise the holistic restoration of man that is required before his relationship with God may be restored. Just to drive the point home even further, it's good to check out Leviticus ch 21 v 17. Those with a physical defect: the blind, the lame, the mutilated, anyone with an abnormality, an injury, a hunchback, even to be a dwarf, anyone like this is prohibited from having a tabernacle role. He may not be a Priest or minister before the Lord in one of the official capacities. All these things, of course, symptoms of a fallen world. God is not excluding the weak and needy and infeebled because he despises them, he makes provision for these in other ways. But in that way, at that point in time, he wants to make a particular point.

A point which God continues to make throughout scripture. We get a great sense of this reality in the book of 1 Samuel ch 16, that I quoted from earlier. The Church often has a "God looks on the heart" (so we must, too) approach to appearances. But let's not forget the sweet irony in that well familiar narrative. Only a few sentences after God makes that perception shifting statement, it is recorded for us that David - the young son of Jesse whom God has just chosen to be King, and whom God is primarily making that first statement about - he is in fact "ruddy", "handsome" and has "beautiful eyes". In fact, God appears to be making a habit of appointing good looking kings. Saul, David's predecessor, we are told in Samuel ch 9 v 2, was also handsome and tall. Physical appearance is important to God. It means something. It's there. It's obvious. And it has a purpose that should not be quickly ignored.

You see, within all these official roles reserved for those whom God appoints, there is a focus within scripture on the importance of appearance. Maybe not the primary focus, but attention is drawn nonetheless. God is indeed concerned with the way people look because ultimately, people are in the image of God. If they don't look beautiful, he is not perceived as beautiful. And through such as the offices of priest and king, God is careful to make this point: he cares what we look like. So, as Christians, let's not shrug off the instinct to care about our appearances. Let's not just shy away from the fear of becoming vain or proud or obsessed - dangers that they are (be wise). But let's continue to think through how our beauty can reflect the beauty of God in whose image we are made. Let's think about how beauty in our physical appearances can be a symbol of redemption and new life. Let's enjoy the wide variety of fashion, skin colour, hair style, eye colour etc that God has worked into the fabric of our existence, in order to display the love he has for his children from every tribe and nation. Every people group on earth has different beauty standards and practices. We know by instinct that we ought to be beautiful. Let's think about why. Because it matters to God, and so it should matter to us.

As I mentioned earlier, this question requires a two-part answer. I'll work on the next bit soon. But for now, I would suggest that we need not shy completely away from focusing some of our attention on the way we look or drawing some attention to the way we look.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Importance of Plastic

What I like about philosophy is that you have an idea which you express in a certain way, according to the language you use, the words you know, the analogies you can think of, the categories you have defined, the context you exist in etc... But then you spot something, another idea, expressed rather differently and related to a different situation, yet somehow it seems eerily familiar. I love it when I see a conceptual crossover of ideas. I love Francis Schaeffer's 'line of despair' idea, I love Elaine Scarry's 'beauty makes copies of itself' idea and I love Piet Mondrian's 'plastic art' idea, to name but a few off the top of my head. It's quite reassuring and encouraging to find resonance in your own thinking with the ideas of great minds. But not necessarily surprising. God made the world to work a certain way, so why shouldn't people come up with similar ideas about how to interpret the material and spiritual universe? Anyway, I want to b

Jesus IS Ruling Well

Jesus IS Ruling Well As I was reflecting on 2020 and pondering the year ahead, a verse from Psalm 118 came to mind. As it turns out the whole Psalm is full of the type of wisdom that will help us all to reflect on a year we didn’t expect and will help us prepare for a year we can’t really predict. Psalm 118 offers us three things to remember about God, and then an appropriate response at the end. This little transcript is in no way an in-depth exegesis of the whole psalm - so full of glory as it is - but touches on the key points which are of most use to use for helping us get to grips with how God operates in the world. Point one: Remember that God is good The first thing we need to remember according to the psalm is that God is good . Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. That's how the psalm begins. Right from the off, the psalmist is establishing the innate goodness of God. It’s the premise of the rest of the psalm and good practice for us, to recognise that God is a good God