Theology of Beauty in Action: Age and Sovereignty

Beauty and Age    

If motherhood is the death knell of beauty in our culture than aging is the funeral. Our culture is obsessed with appearing young. Since beauty is equated with a young appearance women are encouraged to do everything necessary to look that way. From a biblical perspective age has very little do to do with beauty.

Young or old, a woman who is beautiful in the eyes of the world yet lacks discretion is likened to a pig with a nose ring (Prov 11:22). External beauty is always hollow if the inner person is ugly. Youthfulness is no guarantee of beauty. Lack of discretion, however, is guaranteed to make a woman a sow.

At the ripe age of 90 Sarah was considered beautiful. Her spirit was gentle and she was clothed in submission (1 Pet 3:3-6).[1] It seems that her beauty only increased as she aged. As her physical appearance dimmed her gentle and quiet spirit only shined brighter (Gen 12:10). For it appears her submission matured with age.[2]

Since Peter is referring to her in the elderly years of her life it makes me wonder if he would have made the same assessment of her when she was younger. We can’t know for sure but we do know that he saw beauty in this older woman precisely because he viewed her with the eyes of faith rather than the lens of culture.

Men are not immune to this pressure. The pull to look young is pervasive. The Bible is not silent on this pull as it connects old age with wisdom. In fact, Scripture equates glory with aging men. Gray hair is a “crown of glory” (Prov16:31, 20:29). It is time to put to death the idea that beauty and youthful appearance are virtually synonymous.

Beauty and Sovereignty

What does the sovereignty of God have to do with beauty? A lot. Discontentment plagues the souls of men and women in our culture and in our churches. The sovereignty of God is medicine that drives away this ailment and at the same time produces peace and contentment. Mahaney once again does a great job of showing how.

“A loving God has determined what we each look like. He decided our body shape, how tall we would be, the color of our eyes, and all the unique features that make up our body type and appearance— right down to our fingers! We can either spend our lives pining about the results of God’s determination or we can receive with gratefulness His design, knowing that He does all things for His glory. David said, ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps. 139:14). When was the last time you worshiped God for the way He created your body? Anything less than a heart filled with gratitude and praise to God for our physical appearance is sinful and grieves the Lord.” [3]

 

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What You Won’t Find in God’s heart

God is sovereign and pain is pervasive. This is a tension I uncomfortably affirm. There is a text from the book of Lamentations that provides a window into the heart of God on the matter. More specifically, the passage reveals what is absent from the heart of God as he sovereignly executes his work.

Here is the text. “Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:22-23). I have called on some old school commentators to explore this discussion. Take a look at their interpretations of the passage. 

John Calvin


This is another confirmation of the same truth, that God takes no delight in the evils or miseries of men. It is indeed a strong mode of speaking which the Prophet adopts, but very suitable. God, we know, puts on, as it were, our form or manner, for he cannot be comprehended in his inconceivable glory by human minds. Hence it is that he transfers to himself what properly can only apply to men. God surely never acts unwillingly nor feignedly: how then is that suitable which Jeremiah declares, — that God does not afflict from his heart? But God, as already said, does here assume the character of man; for though he afflicts us with sorrow as he pleases, yet true it is that he delights not in the miseries of men; for if a father desires to benefit his own children, and deals kindly with them, what ought we to think of our heavenly Father?

“Ye,” says Christ, “who are evil, know how to do good to your children,” (Matthew 7:11); what then are we to expect from the very fountain of goodness? As, then, parents are not willingly angry with their children, nor handle them roughly, there is no doubt but that God never punishes men except when he is constrained. There is, as I have said, an impropriety in the expression, but it is enough to know, that God derives no pleasure from the miseries of men, as profane men say, who utter such blasphemies as these, that we are like balls with which God plays, and that we are exposed to many evils, because God wishes to have as it were, a pleasant and delectable spectacle in looking on the innumerable afflict, ions, and at length on the death of men.

 Thomas Brooks


For He does not willingly (or as the Hebrew has it, ‘from His heart’) bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” Christians conclude that God’s heart was not in their afflictions, though His hand was. He takes no delight to afflict His children; it goes against His heart. It is . . .a grief to Him to be grievous to them, a pain to Him to be punishing of them, a sorrow to Him to be striking them. 

 Matthew Poole


In the Hebrew it is, he doth not afflict from his heart, that is, with pleasure and delight; or (which seemeth the best sense to me) not from his own mere motion without a cause given him from the persons afflicted. Hence judgment is called God’s strange work. Showing mercy is his proper natural work, which floweth from himself without any cause in the creature. Judgment is his strange work, to which he never proceedeth but when provoked, and as it were forced from the creature, whence it followeth that he cannot delight in it. 

John Piper


Ezekiel tells us that God does not delight in this suffering. “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). But the plan remains, and Jeremiah gives us a glimpse into the mysterious complexity of the mind of God in Lamentations 3:22-23. “Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” Literally: “He does not from his heart [millibbô] afflict or grieve the children of men.” He ordains that suffering come—“though he cause grief”—but his delight is not in the suffering, but in the great purpose of creation: the display of the glory of the grace of God in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of sinners.

John Gill


He does not [afflict] with delight and pleasure; he delights in mercy, but judgment is his strange act; nor does he do it with all his heart and soul, with all his might and strength; he does not stir up all his wrath: for then the spirit would fail before him, and the souls that he has made; and especially he does not do it out of ill will, but in love, and for their good: nor grieve the children of men: that is, he does not from his heart, or willingly, grieve the children of men, by, afflicting them; which must be understood of those sons of men whom he has loved, and made his sons and heirs; those sons of men that wisdom’s delights were with from everlasting, Proverbs 8:31. 

 

The Sovereignty of God: A Remedy for Bitterness?

I spent some time studying and writing on the story of Joseph this month. One of my research assignments was to read the narrative with an eye to the theme of bitterness and forgiveness. I was encouraged by what I learned and a bit surprised as well. You know the story. Here is a thematic rundown of his life.

Joseph was favored by his father, hated by his brothers, and sold by his own flesh and blood. He was wrongly accused for immorality, unjustly imprisoned for integrity, and left to rot in a prison cell. He was forgotten by the cupbearer, remembered by God, and exalted by Pharaoh. He gave food to the hungry, grace to his offenders, and honor to God. He was proud in his early years, humble in his middle years, and stately in his older years.

Joseph had every reason to be a bitter individual. Can you imagine being sold by your own family and then forced into a life of slavery? What about being falsely accused of a crime and then imprisoned for around 13 years at the prime of your life? It is hard to grasp the trauma and pain that Joseph experienced.

In the story, Joseph is brought face to face with his brothers. Amazingly, he gives them grace and forgives them for what they did. It was not easy, the text seems to point to the conflict raging within Joseph. He held a position of authority that would have enabled him to exact vengeance on his brothers. He refuses revenge. Instead, he pardons and absorbs the pain. Forgiveness always requires that someone absorb the pain of the wrong.

What enabled Joseph to give grace? How could he after so much suffering? Throughout the story, Joseph points to his source of strength multiple times. This is where the surprise comes. Joseph’s forgiveness was rooted in and motivated by the the sovereignty of God. What a strange place to draw this type of strength. Wouldn’t God’s sovereignty actually make Joseph more bitter? After all, he was ultimately responsible for Joseph’s suffering.

Joseph didn’t see it that way. He makes some incredible statements in this story about his faith in God’s comprehensive reign. Here are two sections of the story that capture Joseph’s astonishing perspective.

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt (Genesis 45:4-8).

Joseph’s grace toward his brothers came flowing out of the conviction that God put him in Egypt. Three times he calls God the sender. He views his brothers wicked plan as the means through which God worked out his plan. Notice how the people who wronged him fade away in light of his belief in God’s control. His beef was ultimately with God. I would guess that there were many late night wrestling matches with God while in prison that brought him to this place of calm trust.

After Jacob dies the brothers are fearful that Joseph is going to lash out on them. They approach Joseph and get on their knees to beg for mercy. Joseph weeps at their actions. Then he makes this statement.

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:19-21).

Again Joseph turns to his faith in God’s sovereignty. He knew his place and he let God have his. He did not attempt to sit in the Judge’s seat. He did not attempt to transgress his creaturely boundaries. He knew his place and he accepted it. He also believed that all the horrible things that happened to him were orchestrated by a God of good intentions. He even grasped that all he went through was for the benefit of the very people that had wronged him so terribly. Joseph waged war on his bitterness and his weapon was God’s sovereignty.