Photo credit: IStock
Beauty. In our culture, it's pursued. It's glorified. It's feted. We have contests, we are drawn to mid-level marketing ventures, and millions log on to online and media platforms that introduce new and rare treatments almost daily. The products and services that promise to enhance beauty make up a multi-billion dollar industry (over $55B in 2015 alone).
The history of beauty treatments includes some pretty bizarre and dangerous activities and applications: crocodile dung baths, dimple machines, the tapeworm diet, foot binding, white lead facials, black-lacquered teeth, urine mouthwash. Don't laugh. A quick search for "rare beauty treatments" brought these up for today: bee venom, placenta face masks, vitamin IV drips, plasma (or "vampire") face lifts, ceramic crystal therapy, leech therapy, and bird-poop facial. And then there's this treatment that showed up in visual form all over my Google image search:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, said the ancient sage, and it really is true. I get a great deal of pleasure when I read how different body or facial shapes or "types" were revered in previous generations, if only because it helps me realize how fleeting our desires are, how transient our opinions, how fickle our affections -- and what that means for millions of women who wrongly look to trends and fashion to determine their worth. If accepted truth about beauty is constantly changing, that says more about the credibility of those who proclaim such truth than it does about the targets whose lives are supposed to evolve according to the proclamations.
As in other pursuits, the drive to conquer the beautiful look is an attempt to influence the future, to change it from what we think may be a dead end if we remain the way we are, or to secure it from instability in case we lose what we have attained. Perhaps it's financial security. Perhaps we are sure we will feel confident in ourselves if we just reach that beauty level. Usually, it's love we are striving for.
The problem is none of these are guaranteed -- in this life. The Lord's promises are for our good, but we don't have a clue what our good is, hence we chase the mist and grasp after the wind.
Feminists argue that women ought not to pursue beauty for the sake of pleasing men, and some add that the industry has been developed for the purpose of pleasing men, so women ought not to be a part of it as consumers either. I imagine, then that the first chapter of the book of Esther is a little hard to swallow for feminists. In fact, I suspect most women cringe a little at the treatment women receive in these verses. Even the most committed traditionalist would struggle with putting a “domesticity is divine” sticker on the debacle we see in Persia’s capital, Susa, between King Ahasuerus and his queen, Vashti. I can’t imagine the meltdown a feminist must experience. If wrongly taken as a prescript for how men ought to treat women, readers whose only exposure to the Scriptures is a few paragraphs like these might understandably view the Bible as misogynistic.
At a feast of his royal officials and military advisors -- at which there was license to drink without restriction and elaborate evidence of the power possessed by the ruler of one of the greatest empires of the world -- Vashti is summoned to appear, to leave her own ladies’ banquet, and display herself as a trophy wife, a toy, a collectible, an object of desire sans humanity, a piece of meat to be assessed and graded, a showpiece before the men of the kingdom. She is ordered to wear her crown; Jewish scholars debate whether the implication was that that was to be her only attire.
She says no. Here's where I cringe. Now, girls, remember the accounts of biblical history are not there for us imitate but from which to learn more about God.
Vashti the beautiful is deposed. Banished. Who knows whether she is allowed to take anything with her, items that bring comfort or contain memories. Who knows what her fate will be. The story has gone out across the kingdom; who would risk the king’s wrath by taking her in? And not just Vashti, but what about her circle of women? The king’s advisors are concerned they’d be facing an epidemic if other women hear of Vashti’s refusal and become emboldened in their own homes, so they convince him to decree that every man is a master of his domain. Because a decree is the only way to effectively demonstrate headship.
End of Chapter 1.
In a message on Esther 1, Ian Hamilton notes that “women are marginalized in this culture.” I’d like to amend that: Vashti was marginalized. With the decree, all other women in the empire were recategorized as empty of value, their worth made subject to the whims of their husbands. Mostly, their existence was a mere blip on the consciousness of men, except as household appliances, tools, decor, distractions.
Chapter 2 doesn’t get much better. Because King Aha is hankering for some affection, his homies recommend he order a neighborhood by neighborhood sweep of the entire kingdom and claim as his own property every beautiful virgin found throughout the land, and from the booty a queen will be chosen. Esther the Jewess is gathered up like so many loose jewels. Because her only worth is her beauty and her potential to allure and satisfy the king, she is primped and spa-ed for a year. This is a culture in which the unlovely and the damaged are passed over, and yet even the chosen are not good enough. Although the story progresses with intrigue and excitement, all along the way there have been women discarded, demonized, dispossessed, and forgotten.
This is what godlessness will get you. But the solution is not to swing in the opposite direction toward feminism.
Throughout the Bible, we learn of another king with a different message about what is most important about women -- about all of us -- a most gracious message about what constitutes beauty and love. And he shows us a better way.
This King also holds a feast for his bride (Revelation 19:6-8). He prepares the table for her with the choicest delicacies, and he sets a place exclusively for her with all the intentionality of showering her with honor and lovingly seeing to her needs. He gives her his own spotless cloak of righteousness to wear. He chooses her to be his beloved, and his love for her enhances her beauty and makes her lovely.
But this King had to first be made unlovely in order for her loveliness to have a suitable frame. His visage provokes disdain and revulsion. He is a most unacceptable sight. The disarmingly repulsive stain of sin has spilled on the King as he extends himself over his bride, as a tent, as a covering, as a barricade that will absorb the wrath of God against her crimes against the holy heavens. In this sacrificial act, her worthiness is secured.
This is the divine recipe for the bride's beauty treatment: otherworldly love that compelled a King to sacrifice himself on her behalf.
She is not lovely according to the world’s standards. She would not be summoned before a powerful worldly king because he would not want her to be seen or associated with him. Her presence would not be desired at a banquet attended by elite fashion mavens or sought out by minions of celebrity makers. It is the special love poured out on her by a righteous and holy King that magnifies her worth.
If there is any lesson to be learned from the comparison between these two banquets, and these two kingdoms, and the brides of these two kings, it is this: The world is not the arbiter of truth about love, beauty, and worth.
The kingdoms of this world relegate many to unlovely, unacceptable status. Some of the discarded wrongly believe the world’s lies blindly promoting a beautifying routine that produces hollowed out shells of false beauty. These mistakenly give the world’s voices too much value and power when the Lord God himself has declared them his treasured and cherished bride. Some, however, haven’t had their hearts captured yet by the king, nor have they yet found that his tender ministrations are far more desirable than what the world has to offer.
Our king Jesus loves his people with a sacrificial devotion that far surpasses any fictional or historical romance. That’s why even the best love stories of the Bible can only point to the covenantal love of Christ to his bride -- because it is too transcendent for us to find words to describe.
He accepted the lowliness of the flesh of man -- born into poverty, in a stable surrounded by lowly creatures. He was spat upon, mocked, humiliated, and tortured by the bone-crushing weight of sin. He was subject to the basest of treatment. He left his throne, forsook his privileges, departed his home of devotion and adoration, and came to woo a bride that despised him.
He obeyed because we couldn’t.
His love is purposeful and successful.
His love is ever fixed and never diverted.
He constantly intercedes on our behalf before the throne of God.
He has raised us to new life, and will raise us to perfect holiness, unspotted and whole. He will present us before his glorious presence with exceeding joy.
“Oh, such was Christ's transcendent love—that man's extreme
misery could not abate it. The deploredness of man's condition
did but heighten the holy flame of Christ's love. It is as high
as heaven, who can reach it? It is as low as hell, who can
Heaven, with all its glory, could not contain Him. Neither
could all hell's torments make Him refrain! Such was His
perfect matchless love to fallen and miserable man. That
Christ's love should extend to the ungodly, to sinners, to
enemies who were in rebellion against Him; yes, not only
so—but that He should hug them in His arms, lodge them
in His bosom—is the highest degree of love!“
Do you know people who feel unlovely, discarded, used? The king has sent out his servants to bring in the outcasts from the highways and the byways, not the elites who believe they deserve a place at the banquet, but those who know they are lost and undeserving. (Luke 14:16-24)
This is the better way. For those who have not yet been beautified by the grace of Jesus: Invite them to the king’s feast.
“On this rock they rest — amidst all the storms of life!
In this fortress they hide — when dangers of every kind surround them!
At this fountain they live — when every creature-stream is dried up!”
Laura Miller aka mrsdkmiller
Looking for a list of articles published around the web?
Looking for posts written in response to 5-Minute Friday prompts? Click here:
Her March Isn't Over
Across the River
When God Pries My Fingers Off My Children
Life's Defining Moments
To the Christian Wife Who Berated Her Husband in Front of My Daughter
Zeal and Grace in France
An Unconventional Love Story
Seeing What's in Front of Our Eyes
Remembering Why I Called You Hannah
Love Your Sister.
Because He Came Home
Go Valiantly! A Prayer for New Homeschooling Moms
© lauraenglandmiller, #thereyougothinkingagain, Laura E Miller
2015-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of written material and images without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to #thereyougothinkingagain, lauraenglandmiller, or Laura E Miller with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.