Sean and Drew have been coming to this gym for years, but the brothers have only recently started working out together. This new arrangement is great, though, if for no other reasons than it gives them a spotter and a chance to maintain their well-honed sibling rivalry.
Drew is particularly appreciative, at least on the spotter bit, as he mentally prepares to attempt a new max on the flat bench. “Ready?” he asks his little brother who nods in answer from above.
“Wait,” Sean says suddenly, leaning over the bar. “Look at that,” he adds with a glance to the left.
Drew peers over his left shoulder and sees a beautiful woman walking by in yoga pants and a tight cami glistening with sweat. “Yup,” he acknowledges, returning his focus to the weight racked over his forehead. “Ready?” he repeats.
Sean mutters an affirmative grunt and Drew breaks the rack. Dang, that’s heavy, he thinks, feeling his palms groan under the bruising burden. No time to waste, though, so he drops the bar smoothly toward his chest and reverses the motion, pushing with all his might. It moves an inch… two inches… two and a half… and stalls out! He holds it, but it’s not going any further and his chest is rapidly giving out. The bar descends an inch. Two inches. Where’s his spotter? “Sean!” he gasps as the bar comes to a rest on his chest.
“Oh, sorry,” Sean offers with a start, peeling his eyes away from the distraction for the first time and helping his brother lift the bar.
How many of us men have been Sean? Likely all of us have seen a beautiful woman and glued our eyes to her. We have lusted without eyes, and our physiology has reflected the truth Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5— we committed adultery in our hearts. The same jolt of epinephrine we get from the physical act arrives on the heels of our mental act, indicating we’ve drawn sexual gratification from someone to whom we had no marital rights. We consumed her beauty.
How many of us men have been Drew? Likely very few have developed the discipline (or even seen the need to, since we dismiss the Bible’s teaching on this subject so readily) to recognize beauty — even acknowledge it — and not become a consumer of it.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with recognizing beauty. Or even acknowledging it. We were made to be aware of it, and even to appreciate it.
It’s telling that such a variety of people are depicted as beautiful but never once does the Bible prescribe or define beauty. It is inherently subjective, and our Creator made it so.
The Bible is full of examples of women who were recognized to be beautiful, and God’s word holds no reservation about acknowledging that beauty. Some named examples include Sarah (Genesis 12:11), Rebekah (Genesis 24:16), Rachel (Genesis 29:17), Abigail (1 Samuel 25:3), Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2), Absalom’s Tamar (sister in 2 Samuel 13:1, daughter in 14:27), Abishag (1 Kings 1:3), and Esther (Esther 1:11). Unnamed examples can be found, too, including Job’s daughters (Job 42:15), the desirable daughters of men (Genesis 6:2), Delilah’s little sister (Judges 15:2), Amos’ prophesied fainting women (Amos 8:13), and the personification of Israel by two major prophets (Jeremiah 4:30 and Ezekiel 16:13).
It’s hardly one-side, though. The same Hebrew words used for women, tôb (pleasing, desirable; often paired with mar’eh which heavily emphasizes visual appeal) and yāpeh (lovely, beautiful, attractive), are also used of men including Joseph (Genesis 39:6), Saul (1 Samuel 9:2), David (1 Samuel 16:12), Absalom (2 Samuel 14:25), Adonijah (1 Kings 1:6), and Daniel (Daniel 1:4).
On both sides of the gender aisle, God created the human race to recognize and appreciate beauty. In fact, he gave us a variety of tastes and preferences so we can appreciate different kinds of beauty. It’s telling that such a variety of people are depicted as beautiful but never once does the Bible prescribe or define beauty. It is inherently subjective, and our Creator made it so.
The problem comes when, like Sean, our recognition becomes consumption. In a perfect, sinless world, we could all gaze at dozens of bare-bodied members of the opposite sex all day long and never once entertain impurity. That, however, isn’t the world’s current state, nor ours. Left unchecked, our appreciation becomes gratification, and sin enters the picture, as that gratification is only to come from the undefiled marriage bed.
In my experience, the difference is a matter of discipline. That discipline can take many forms. The simplest is mere avoidance. If Sean can’t control his eyes and mind, perhaps he needs to avoid the gym. Yet this sort of discipline can’t be the only shield in modern culture. Every other billboard, commercial, and magazine rack displays women with airbrushed cleavage and men with dehydrated abs. We must have additional ways to handle such visuals with discipline (one of my favored methods redirects energy back to my wife) so that we, like Drew, aren’t captured by the captivating.
This doesn’t mean we pretend beauty doesn’t exist or pretend we don’t notice it. That is like a white man saying he doesn’t see skin color: that’s not enlightened; it’s blind and stupid.
The Bible doesn’t pretend that beauty isn’t beautiful; it celebrates beauty. Yet it also esteems the kind of discretion I’m talking about. Proverbs 11:22 likens a woman who has the kind of beauty (_y__ā__peh_, actually) I’m talking about yet lacks the kind of discretion I’m talking about to a pig with a golden nose ring. Physical beauty is recognized, as it should be — it’s part of God’s handiwork. Yet it’s only one highly subjective piece of the puzzle.
As Nate Pyle insightfully wrote, “I’m not telling you to not look at women. Just the opposite. I’m telling you to see women. Really see them. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart.” Applied broadly, we should be able to recognize beauty but not be so exclusively focused on consuming it that we’re too full to appreciate the rest of the spread — personality, intelligence, humor, or even discretion.
And when we do consume, it should be from our plate, not from the next guy’s. If I can’t sit here and eat with proper manners, perhaps I need to go learn to eat properly by myself at the little kids’ table.
This is the difference between telling a friend, “You have a beautiful wife, inside and out. We’re both lucky on that, huh?” and saying, “Your wife is smokin’ hot. I’d like to live a night in your shoes.” One glorifies him, and the other likely (and reasonably) enrages him. One is healthy, honest recognition; the other is self-serving consumption.