In the last few years, there has been an explosion of what I playfully term “babes in arms”, or actresses in very restrictive and undoubtedly uncomfortable clothing wielding high-caliber weapons or just generally kicking butt. Matrix, X-Men, Tomb Raider, Underworld, Catwoman, Aeon Flux, Bloodrayne, Buffy, Xena, Elektra—even Disney got in the act with Kim Possible. These are not just B-movies on the fringe, these are mainstream culture making big money, along with video games and other media.
This phenomenon would have been inconceivable 50 years ago, and probably illegal 100 years ago. What’s the reason? Why are men flocking to this new image of femininity, which is almost a complete antithesis of the beauty that God looks upon as precious?
Although the reasons are undoubtedly complex, let me venture one that both men and women need to think about. It certainly is not my original thought, but let me express it in my own way.
I would start with a very self evident quote from John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart:
If a man does not find those things for which his heart is made, he will look for them in some other way.
Yes, that’s obvious, but maybe not so obvious after all. Eldredge is famous for saying that men must have a battle to fight and an adventure to live. And that is not original with him either, having been echoed in one form or another for millennia. Men must be releasing testosterone and adrenaline—that is the way God has both biochemically and spiritually made them.
So what happens to men, millions of them, in a culture who are not engaging on a daily basis with the challenges, battles, risks, and adventures that are Kingdom-building, God-honoring, Christ-focused, and Spirit-empowered?
They look elsewhere. And where are they looking? Lots of places, like the spectator sports industry, grabbing power and success, and various addictions.
But how about looking for adventure through women? And what kind of women? I recently read a commentator describing his feelings while interviewing Angelina Jolie. He basically said that all men think that they “play it safe”, and never risk enough in their “lives of quiet desperation”, as Thoreau put it. He said being around Jolie a man wasn’t sure whether she was going to have sex with him, murder him, or take him around the world, but he knew one thing for sure, that life wasn’t going to be boring, that he wouldn’t look back and think he missed out.
There it is. If a man thinks he isn’t risking, something within him is impelled to start risking, and the picture of a woman with a kind and gentle spirit, which is of great value to God, doesn’t fit the bill of risk the way a woman in a black catsuit with Uzis in each hand does. If you don’t think you are living on the edge with God, then living on the edge with that kind of woman seems to be a pretty good second choice.
So, if you are a man, what about you? Are you trying to fulfill your God-given spirit of adventure, risk, and battle with a “risky” woman, either in reality or vicariously through media? If you are, you need re-oriented in the basic concept of what God made women for, and you need to find out what kind of real adventure that God made you for.
If you are a woman, don’t be pressed into the mold of the world. Be beautiful, be feminine, be a refuge of delight and peace for your man away from his adventure and battle in the world, instead of unknowingly being a substitute for them.
Just got finished listening to a great series of messages by C. J. and Carolyn Mahaney that are available for download here .
I found it interesting that one message directed primarily toward men was on true greatness and how one message directed primarily toward women was on true beauty.
This echoes many other writers, most famously John Eldredge recently, that there is something God-given within the masculine heart that seeks after, knows that it is made for, and is not satisfied without, greatness, and likewise something within the feminine heart that is made for beauty.
In men, the God-given desire for greatness has been corrupted into what Eldredge likes to refer to as striving after “small stories”—greed, power, lust, sports, self-focused achievements. Most clearly through Jesus, we see that true greatness, the greatness that God defines, the greatness that God made men for, is the path of servanthood and humility.
In women, the beauty that the apostle Peter describes in 1 Peter 3:4 as precious to God is that of a gentle and quiet spirit. This has been corrupted into the brash, competitive, and self-focused vanity of external appearances.
Our relationships have been corrupted as well. Every man wants to be thought of as great, respected, by the woman in his life(because of this seed of greatness within his soul), and wants to be able to glory in the beauty of his wife(recognizing the beauty that God has intended for her). Men have corrupted this into domination and abuse of women, and focusing on and abusing their external beauty instead of seeking and cherishing their inner beauty.
Likewise women want their men to be enthralled by their beauty, not abusing it or comparing it to others. And as a literal reading of the Hebrew of Genesis 3:16 points out, women’s desire is now corrupted into wanting to rule over their husband instead of wanting to join as his help-meet in God’s vision of greatness for him.
So, in a nutshell, this is what was intended and where we have went wrong, and also a path back, through Christ a path back for men to seeing that true greatness, the greatness that the regenerated heart truly longs for, is through servanthood and cherishing our wives’ true beauty, and for women to relish and cultivate their true beauty and see and support the greatness in their husbands.
No, really, I’m serious…
As Christians we shouldn’t take any culture or practice and label it good or evil a priori, but with sound minds and the guidance of the Scripture and the Spirit we should be able to have solid, informed, and convincing reasons for all that we do.
Take burkhas. Seriously. We conservative Christians talk a lot about modesty and the lack of it in American culture. Trust me, conservative Muslims around the world talk about America’s lack of modesty even more than we do and it stains our supposed status as a Christian nation in their eyes.
So, why not have our modest Christian women demonstrate their modesty by wearing burkhas?
The answers that would probably immediately come to mind might run along the lines of “That’s sexist” “That’s impractical” “My wife would never do it” “People would think we were weird” “That’s not very seeker-sensitive”, etc. Sorry, none of those answers hold water in God’s eyes. If something is right, it doesn’t matter the practicality or what others think, we should do it to the glory of God.
Whoa there, maybe there’s the key, the glory of God. Isn’t that how we should structure everything we do? So the real question is “Do wearing burkhas glorify God? Why or why not?”
Sometimes extreme examples are useful to show the “bare bones” of a question—burkhas are simply an extreme example of the use of clothing and “outward adornment” in the life of a Christian woman. Obviously, there are issues that men must consider as well but for clarity let’s confine our focus to women.
There are three major principles to consider in the whole realm of how we as Christians should deal with the physical beauty of women: the principle of the primacy of the heart, the principle of stumbling blocks, and the principle of displaying God-given glory.
First, consider the principle of the primacy of the heart. Simply said, a woman’s (and a man’s) primary focus must be on the cultivation of a Christ-like spirit, must be on her heart. The primacy of the heart is repeated throughout Scripture, from Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” to Jesus’ description of the Pharisees’ corrupt hearts in Matthew 23:27.
The most direct exposition of this subject is Peter’s oft quoted and oft misused direction in 1Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold, or of putting on fine apparel; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” It doesn’t get much plainer: a woman should be most concerned about cultivating the beauty of her heart, and not with outward adornments and enhancements. (And as many experiences tell us, the woman who focuses on her spiritual beauty often sees an overflow into her physical appearance as well).
So, where do burkhas stand on principle #1? Well, actually quite well. Burkhas ensure that a woman does not focus on her outward appearance, although it must be noted that not devoting time to one’s outward appearance has no relationship to actually devoting time to one’s inward appearance. I unfortunately have met women who spend little time on either their inward or outward appearance. But there is nothing wrong strictly from a principle of focusing on the heart with a Christian woman who wanted to wear a burkha.
Second principle: stumbling blocks. This is a principle that many women do not consider at all, and some women consider very well, but in the wrong way. An important text is obviously Romans 14:13, “Let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” The application verse in this instance is from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Simply put, a woman who dresses to deliberately get a man’s sex drive racing, to assist him in committing adultery with his eyes is grieving the heart of God. Many Christian women do not consider this when they dress, and unfortunately some women deliberately consider this when they dress and make it their aim.
However, there is more to be considered here than simple rules about skirt lengths. A woman who wants to be provocative can be so in almost any type of clothing, and a man fixated on lust can mentally undress a woman even in a burkha. Both women and men need to use wisdom in this area. But on the whole, there is certainly nothing about wearing burkhas that violates this second principle of stumbling blocks.
So, what are we left with? Is my wife destined to go without a tan for the rest of her life? She is not rescued from this fate by practicality, by feminism, by her own opinion, by the primacy of the heart or by not laying a stumbling block before other men. She is actually rescued by the third principle, one that is not often mentioned or considered in Christian circles.
This principle is the principle of displaying her God-given glory. God has ordained that women’s physical bodies are beautiful: it is a gift He has given them, a blessing, part of the unique way that they reflect His glory. God could have easily chosen it otherwise, but every daughter of Eve has been bequeathed beauty. Although I’ve never heard it quoted in a Sunday School class, William Blake was speaking truth when he once wrote, “The naked woman’s body is a portion of eternity too great for the eye of man.”
Because after Adam’s fall men have a flesh nature, God in His wisdom has chosen through clothing to veil some of a woman’s God-given glory and reserve it only for her husband, to protect men from their own corrupted desires. But the glory remains, and God has not meant for it to be completely hidden. Over and over again, the Bible describes women as beautiful (Rachel, Esther, Solomon’s bride) and never once in anything but a positive manner. God meant for women to be physically beautiful and to reflect God’s glory in that beauty as surely as he meant a rose to be beautiful and reflect His glory. In 1 Corinthians 11:15 Paul says that a woman’s long hair is a glory to her, given to her by God for a covering. I know that physical beauty is not the main exegetical point that Paul was making in the verse, but the point remains that Paul states a physically beautiful attribute was specifically given by God to women
Christian women should not wear burkhas because their physical beauty is God-given and accomplishes a God-honoring purpose when not misused, and it is dishonoring to women and dishonoring to God to completely veil that God-given beauty. That is the true reason that women should not wear burkhas, and strangely enough that is a reason that Islam cannot theologically grasp, because its God intends to be unknowable and does not wish for His true nature and glory to be revealed. The true God wishes His glory to be declared through his creation (Psalm 19:1), and woman, being the last divine creation, is the capstone of His creative glory. He does not wish that glory to be smothered under yards of black cloth, it is not His will that the beauty of a woman be submerged under the weight of a burkha.