Are You Beautiful?

In my last post I mentioned the well researched monograph, Dress and the Roman Woman: Self-Presentation and Society by Kelly Olson (University of Western Ontario). Until I read it, I didn’t know yellow was the Roman woman’s “pink.”

And when I pictured togas, I’d always imagined them as white, probably because of TV frat parties with guys wrapped in sheets.

But Romans loved color. And Roman women also liked cosmetics. Archaeologists have found remnants of eye makeup and skin enhancers. But even if Roman women used gloss, lips still weren’t the big deal. Skin was the thing.

A beautiful complexion free of pockmarks or wrinkles would have been difficult to maintain in the ancient world. Think of what small pox, poor sanitation, and diet, not to mention harsh skin treatments, and the lack of acne aids would have done to devastate the face. Lighter skin was more highly valued, perhaps because wealthier people spent less time in the sun. So women used white lead to lighten up their faces. And that stuff can ravage the skin.
 With that in mind, I read with new appreciation the eschatological picture of the church in Ephesians 5. The bride of Christ is described as “…splendid, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” In the context Paul is talking about Christ’s purpose in giving Himself for her. The Lord laid down his life so that he might bring her to perfection and present her to himself. (He will do the presenting because no one else is worthy.) And on that day she will be “glorious” and “splendid.”
 The ooh!-and-ah!-evoking church Paul envisioned is said, in some translations, to have no “stain” or wrinkle. But the word “stain” could also be translated “spot.” And I think translating it the latter way is better in light of what we now know about how highly Romans valued skin. Paul probably has in mind not the wedding dress, but the bride’s face. He’s referring to the physical beauty of Christ’s unwrinkled, perfect-skinned, breathtaking fiancee. It is not her clothing that’s perfect, but it is she herself. 
 To describe the church this way is not to idolize literal youth and beauty. Paul is using beauty as a metaphor, just as Ezekiel did to describe God’s betrothed, Israel when he said, “‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments.  I adorned you with jewelry . . . You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect,’ declares the Sovereign LORD” (16:10–14).
 God is into beauty. He created it. Yet the beauty He values is internal. As Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment… Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3–4). Even with acne meds, anti-aging cream, and Botox, our faces eventually get spots and wrinkles. Yet inner beauty requires no preserving aids because its beauty endures.
 God values gentleness over harshness, quietness over striving and turmoil. An extravert can have a quiet spirit. My outgoing friend who just learned her husband’s cancer has returned is trusting God. My sister whose husband was killed last year can talk above a crowd, but inside she is resting in God’s grace. Such inner quiet reveals that the Spirit is in residence. It’s supernatural, precious, and unfading. And it makes God whistle.
The new year brings time to evaluate and set goals. Why not schedule a soul “spa” day sometime soon?

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.

One Comment

  • Armida Leigh

    A (soul) spa day, that sounds

    A (soul) spa day, that sounds nice. We are begining our 3rd week of the new year with a fast to encourage that idea. Thanks for the thoughts on beauty.

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