For some reason, I’ve begun to hear two different, but equally disturbing misunderstandings of orthodox Christian theology when it comes to self image. In the first place, when I affirm that I am in fact a beautiful person physically (which I believe myself to be) some people think that I am at that point lacking humility. At the same time, others believe that when I speak about my own sinfulness, and lack of inherent worth, that I must have an amazingly low self-image.
It’s an important question, especially in the world we find ourselves. I know far too many Christians, women and men, who find themselves subject either to a low view of their own beauty, or an unnecessary fixation on the physical. Both are to be avoided.
So I think I should explain what I mean when I say that a person ugly in their own sin, is at the same time beautiful physically and spiritually definitionally.
I also feel the need here to say I’m not aiming at some pseudo-psychological love fest. While I am going to say that everybody is objectively beautiful, I am not going to say that we are beautiful in the same ways. Indeed, some of the things we see as most beautiful in ourselves may be the most ugly.
At the risk of being super obvious, I believe that God is beautiful. I think this is true in an absolute sense, and that if you see God for who He truly is, you could not help to worship Him. We can see that God is beautiful partially through creation.
In my role here as captain obvious, let me also point out that as a Christian I believe that humans are a special revelation of God. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we (male and female) are created in the image of God.
This means that God is revealed in us, the very image of the beautiful God. From this perspective, to call ourselves mainly ugly is a form of blasphemy, as it can claim that God is ugly. The determinative point of humanity is not that we are corrupt (which is true), but that we are made in the image of God. Thus definitionally, as a human, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. But this beauty is not based on your relative beauty when compared to other humans, but on the objective fact that you are an image of God. Our beauty is different from one another, but insofar as we are created in the image of God we are beautiful
I am handsome, simple fact. I cannot be arrogant in that, because it’s through my being an image of God, thus in the only comparison that matters (me and Jesus), I’m less beautiful.
Of course, there is more to the Bible than that. We as the image of God fell into sin, and became subject to corruption. Some of that extends to physical beauty. Even the most beautiful person you can imagine is still less beautiful than what a perfected human looks like in the kingdom to come.
The reason is simple. Imagine a work of art damaged. Despite how beautiful the work might be, no matter how well it reflects a scene, the damage makes the art less beautiful. The same is true of us. When we fall, our beauty (all of it) is marred. In a sense, we are more ugly, because we are very beautiful as created, and the damage takes away from that beauty.
Sanctification: Beauty and the Beastly
This is where Christ comes in. When we are saved, God begins the work in us of perfecting that which once was marred. Indeed, many of the things we thought our beauty become revealed as ugliness, and are changed so that we can be seen as more beautiful; better reflections of a beautiful God.
Thus we do not have the right to call ourselves ugly, we are the reflection of a beautiful God, and thus objectively beautiful whether anyone sees us that way. God sees us that way, because in us he sees the image of Christ, the image of God. Thus whether any woman ever deigns to see my handsomeness, I am. Whether any woman is ever called a supermodel and makes it to the cover of a magazine is immaterial, she is beautiful.
We work to maintain beauty, we may diet, we may go to the gym and use various beauty products, but Christians do it differently. It is not primarily to make us look more like the world’s idea of beauty, but to reflect the beauty of God.
Similarly, we cannot be arrogant about it. We see beauty in ourselves and others as an image of God, not something to compare ourselves or others to. Ideally, we come to rejoice in the beauty of others as they reflect God.