“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Eliab is tall and handsome, but don’t judge by things like that. God doesn’t look at what people see. People judge by what is on the outside, but the LORD looks at the heart…’” (1 Samuel 16:7).
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3–4).
Does God despise fading, external beauty?
No! The Lord Jesus said that God himself creates fading beauty:
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28–30).
God rejected handsome Eliab, but did He call his younger brother David to become Israel’s king because David was ugly?
No! Michelangelo turned David into Europe’s icon of male beauty because the Bible says that David “was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features” (1 Samuel 16:12). David was “a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him” (16:18).
Saul, David’s predecessor, was also chosen partly because of his ‘fading’ physical beauty: Saul “was a handsome young man. No one in Israel was more handsome than Saul, and he stood head and shoulders above everyone else” (1 Samuel 9:2).
Beauty is adored because it is divine: like truth (John 14:6), goodness (Matthew 19:17), wisdom (Colossians 2:3) and love (1 John 4:8).
Why is beauty divine?
Beauty expresses God’s creativity. He takes delight in His work:
“And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
“And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food . . .” (Genesis 2:9).
God gave us the gifts of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking, imagining and speaking, so that we may take such delight in what He has made, so as to praise Him (Romans 1:19–21).
To love our neighbours as ourselves means to not envy (1 Corinthians 13: 4) their work and success, but to delight in what other creatures make, made as they are in the Creator’s image. To love means to “encourage one another, and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), to become godly, that is, God-like, creative.
God takes delight in the words of our lips (Hebrews 13:15) as well as in the fruit of our creative, caring work (Genesis 4:4), especially when they are offered to Him or to His children as unto Him (Matthew 25:31–46).
“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17).
Beauty is spiritual. That is why God filled creative artists with His Spirit (Exodus 31:2). Beauty becomes ugly only when it is separated from inner spirituality. This is true also of religion. There is a religiosity that God hates like filthy rags. (Isaiah 1:14; 64:6)
Can Ugly Art Be Divine?
Reality can be very ugly. For the world is really fallen.
Can Art reflect ugliness, brokenness, evil and yet be divine?
Imagine you are studying Fine Arts. For four years you have studied great masters. Besides internalising theory and art history, you have spent countless hours developing your skills and style. Now you have sat down for your final, practical exam.
Every student in your class is given a canvas and three hours to paint a landscape. You are the best in your class. You complete your painting in two hours. While the colors are drying you decide to get a cup of coffee. A student looks at your canvas and knows that he won’t get the gold medal. He is jealous. So he dips his brush in black paint and splashes it on your canvas. He goes back to work on his canvas.
You return to find your masterpiece a mess. You can’t possibly sign it. So, what are you going to do?
You can start fighting with your neighbours. The culprit could say that you must have messed up your own canvas and now, out of envy, you were interfering with his work. Other students might support the culprit’s hypothesis. If you fight too much, you could be thrown out of the examination hall.
Your other option is to pick up a knife, shred the canvas that you can no longer own, and stomp out of the examination hall. But then—you lose, your rival wins.
If you are a real genius, you have another option: you can get back to work. You can turn each of those ugly dark spots into stones, rocks, plants, leaves, flowers, fruits, butterflies, birds, bad boys, clouds, kites, helicopters, planes, and so on. In the end, your landscape would have acquired greater depth, colour, and reality.
You were already a great creator, now you would also be a great redeemer.
By embracing ugliness redemptively, your art will become truly divine—beautiful, Godlike. You will be like Jesus who embraced sinners, tax-collectors, and prostitutes (Matthew 9:10-13; 11:19).
Vishal Mangalwadi, author of 18 books, is Honorary Professor of Applied Theology at Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences at Allahabad (UP)
Painting: Landscape, Acrylic on Canvas, Bhaskar Rao, 2014