Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Male Reader Speaks

In September 2008 I published an article which rejected the idea that Christian women need to downplay their looks in order to be holy. The following response was written by one of our male readers (who prefers to remain anonymous). His thoughts are being published with his permission.

Earlier this year, in mid February, I visited a friend’s blog site, Reformed SHEology, and in my browsing through some of the titles from the past therein, happened upon one posting from September 2008 that particularly captured my notice, on the topic of physical beauty in women, and/or lack thereof (“She's . . . but she sure can cook!”). The piece had a lot of humor in it, and I had a few or more good laughs as I read, but really the subject matter was not meant to be, essentially, lighthearted or frivolous in nature at all.

Approximately twenty-five years ago I was reading through Arnold Dallimore’s two-volume Life of George Whitefield. Something I read way back then, from the chapter in Volume II concerning Whitefield’s marriage to a woman named Elizabeth James, arrested my attention in a strange sort of way, and I have never forgotten it. Whitefield, just 26 at the time, was writing a letter to a friend, announcing that he had married, and this is how he described his new bride:

“I married … one who was a widow, of about thirty-six years of age … neither rich in fortune nor beautiful as to her person, but, I believe, a true child of God …” (my emphasis added)

Hmm . . . “nor beautiful as to her person.” Clearly Whitefield was referring to external, not internal, beauty. However, the less than glowing picture of marriage for this great and now famous man of God did not end simply with this emphasis upon the external. Dallimore went on to say, more or less as a summary statement,

" . . . on this basis Whitefield’s marriage proceeded. He proved a concerned and gracious husband and she a dutiful and helpful wife, and though there was probably no strong love on either side, their attitude toward one another was at least one of devotion and mild affection.”

At the risk of sounding a bit on the cynical side, I am not too sure, if the truth were known, that such a description does not fairly well describe a lot of marriages, even successful ones that last, even Christian ones, and even, I dare say, ones in which the physical attraction/ attractiveness IS strongly present, especially in the wife (because men are naturally more enamored by this than women, I have always heard, whereas women are far more interested in a man who will simply, really, love them).

Nearly four months ago, I was finishing up reading and studying through the book of Job. A verse there in the 42nd chapter particularly grabbed my attention, after all the unfathomable sufferings Job had endured:

“And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren.” (v. 15)

As I sometimes do, I reached for the commentary of that dear man of God from seventeenth-century England, Matthew Henry, to see what he had to say about these exceedingly “fair” daughters of Job, with the former ones, and their brothers, having all died in the tragedy told of in Job Chapter 1. I can’t speak for anyone else who would read the same, but his words struck me as very moving, very profound (quoting from the online, unabridged commentary):

“Concerning these daughters we are here told, That God adorned them with great beauty, no women so fair as the daughters of Job, v. 15. In the Old Testament we often find women praised for their beauty, as Sarah, Rebekah, and many others; but we never find any women in the New Testament whose beauty is in the least taken notice of, no, not the virgin Mary herself, because the beauty of holiness is that which is brought to a much clearer light by the gospel.”

In the glorious providence and ways of God, it has often amazed me how something so profound, and even so obvious, as this can be veiled from one’s eyes, until such a time that God sees fit to unveil them. Truly, it had never occurred to me before, that the New Testament is so loudly, so curiously silent about this very matter that is indeed given such prominence, at least in places, in the Old Testament: Eve, Queens Vashti and Esther, Abigail, Delilah, Bathsheba, etc. I ended up having a very engaging time discussing the same — Mr. Henry’s commentary on Job’s daughters — that same night at home with our own many “beautiful daughters,” and my wife, in our family devotion.

Well, it is time to get real personal and honest with this, as much so as in anything I have ever written, I do believe. And this is what everything heretofore has been leading up to. While I would never claim to be, or try or pretend to be, a modern-day George Whitefield, I, like he, married a woman not particularly “beautiful as to her person.” Without at all wanting to go into a lot of my history as a young man, more than a few decades ago by now, I would simply sum up those later teenage years by saying that I was terribly bashful with regards to the opposite sex, most especially with the “gorgeous” girls that I surely took notice of. I was pretty well convinced that none such would ever want to go out on a date or any such with me, and so, I never asked. I just “worshiped” from afar (more about this in a few minutes). As I think back on those years - with no regrets whatsoever today, mind you — it was just inevitable, I believe, that when I did eventually marry (at age 27), it would be to a woman who was not, outwardly, particularly beautiful.

All of what I just said may strike some readers as just a bit sad, or bothersome perhaps, I don’t know. I mean, there may be some who believe — naively, from my perspective — that it is almost or even downright sinful not to think that one’s own wife, no matter what she looks like, is the most beautiful woman on earth! All that aside, the infinitely greater reality that was, and still is, going on in all of this, in the unerring providence of God for my life, is not at all sad, I am quite sure. For one thing, God has blessed me and my wife with a good, strong marriage for over 27 years now. We have been through a lot, an awful lot, together. Most specifically, I have been through two exceedingly deep spiritual valleys (dungeons, is more like it) during these years, about eight years apart, and totaling about 4 full years altogether (no adultery, no porn, just immense, spiritual trials in nature). And, although there is no way of ever knowing for certain, of course, I am fairly well convinced that an outwardly beautiful, but likely far less devoted wife, would have never endured all of that, but would’ve said “adios” in the midst of the ordeal, long ago. (Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not of course suggesting that all very attractive women are “empty beauties,” but probably a disproportionate number of them are, especially the ones who spend - needlessly spend - more time in front of their mirrors than just about anyplace else.)

Well, as I was saying concerning “adios” in the preceding paragraph, not so with my wife. True to her wedding vows to me, she stood faithfully by my side through it all. Furthermore, knowing myself as I do, I am fairly well convinced that had I married a “glamour girl” sort of woman, I would have been mighty proud of her, and would have ended up virtually worshiping her, and this, I have come to believe in later, more mature years, is at the same time diabolical, pathetic, and destined for utter futility and disappointment: “worship[ping] … the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:25). I could never state it any more powerfully, or more poignantly, than in the next-to-last verse of Proverbs chapter 31:

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” (NKJV)

I could never end this confession, or call it what you will, without a bit of final commentary on what marriage is intended to symbolize: spiritual union between Christ, the truly and unfathomably glorious Bridegroom, and the Church, the Bride—made up of all true believers, from all over this planet—which, I am quite convinced, will in the end prove no “ugly bride” for such a Bridegroom. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8, my emphasis). Can you even begin to imagine, dear reader, what such a sight will be like, and how that, were it somehow possible to place the most stunning, jaw-dropping “Miss Universe” in history alongside our Heavenly Father and our glorified and resurrected Savior/Redeemer/Bridegroom, she would be, at the very best, a grotesque, fearful, monstrous hag, by comparison? In fact, I believe that analogy would fit, as well, for everyone who will worship and, as part of the Bride, be married to this Bridegroom someday, robed and bejeweled in a glorified body, most certainly to include any dear sisters in Christ who, here in this life, were not, or are not, endowed by their Fashioner, God, with a whole lot in the way of external beauty, and all for His greater purposes for them.

As I draw this to a close, a line from an old hymn, rarely sung any more it seems (“When We All Get to Heaven”), comes to mind: "Just one glimpse of Him in glory, will the toils of life repay.”

I am thankful indeed for a good, faithful woman, a wonderful mother to our many children, and for God’s preserving mercies through all the long years of our union thus far. I would be lying, very honestly, if I were to say that I take no notice of all of the beautiful, and mostly youthful, female faces “out there,” and occasionally even wonder a bit what life would have been like, had I ended up with such a one, instead. I can only restate, as I have already tried to do, that the spiritual reality is the greater, eternal reality. The Creator of the human form, and the human face — particularly all of these lovely daughters of Eve, men — and everything else our eyes behold in this vast and beauteous and mysterious universe, is, we really must realize, infinitely more beautiful than anything these eyeballs can behold, and even these minds can conceive of, or take in. Yes, Moses, in the only psalm attributed to him, said it very well, speaking of this greater beauty:

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90, first part of verse 17).