I was sitting in Starbucks the other day when I saw three very attractive young women walk in together. They appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties, and could very well have been supermodels. But that is not what caught my attention. What I noticed almost immediately was that all three looked profoundly unhappy. The three neither smiled nor made eye contact with anyone around them. They hardly spoke while they prepared their drinks and when finished, went on their way. I couldn’t help wondering how people with such beauty could possibly be anything but radiant. Anywhere they go they will be stared at, envied and almost certainly afforded special treatment. The answer to such unhappiness, I believe, lies in the heart.
Our culture has made physical beauty an idol to be worshipped. As a result, those who possess it bear a terrible burden to maintain not only physical fitness and facial glamour, but they also have to bow to the gods of acting like a celebrity, which means not making eye contact with anyone who is not one of their own, or smiling for smiling’s sake. As a father of two teenage girls, this issue is important to me. Beauty in our culture seems to require a detached air of coolness and a dispassionate demeanor. Beautiful people often seem to be preoccupied with maintaining their beauty, and as a result come off as very self-centered. They are working hard to maintain the status, admiration and perks that come with their social privilege. While this is certainly not true for all attractive people, and may not have been the case with the three women I observed, it is a common malady of the beautiful among us. And this makes them a most miserable lot, because they sense the truth that their beauty cannot be retained for long.
The wisest man who ever lived, the Jewish king Solomon, noted that “personality is deceiving, and beauty is fleeting…” (Proverbs 31:30). Those who possess great beauty know that every day after around age eighteen is a losing battle with death. Time adds wrinkles, sagging flesh, and general deterioration. Those who have bowed at the altar of beauty have every reason to be and look unhappy—their god will surely fail them. They will soon go down to their “long home”—the grave, a fate shared by everyone, beautiful and ugly, rich and poor.
Solomon finishes his wisdom saying with the words, “but she who fears the Lord will be praised.” The point here is that the kind of person who can light up a room is not one who meets the standards set by a glamour magazine, but one whose heart has been transformed by the grace of God, and overflows with gratitude for what has been done for her. This kind of person cannot help but express otherworldly joy, and that is what makes someone truly beautiful. Beauty is a gift of God, not to be worshipped, but to be used to display the ultimate beauty of the one who is to be worshipped.