(This was written as addressed to me. ~Sian)
When I accepted your challenge, let’s just say I had no idea what I was getting into. Not like that’s a bad thing… it’s just that I couldn’t get away from it if I tried. This whole topic had decided to stalk me. Maybe God is lovingly funny/weirdly good, as you tell me.
So I started this thing with trying to find a concordance. Let’s just say they decided to run off on me, but I finally succeeded in finding one, albeit not a very good one. I found a lot of verses, most of them somewhat familiar. I found many verses about the beauty of the Lord and His majesty and His goodness and love, but that wasn’t the only thing I found.
I started finding things about how God makes things beautiful. Like a verse in Ecclesiastes where Solomon writes that God “has made everything beautiful in His time.” It didn’t say He makes only the good things beautiful. It didn’t say He made only the pure things beautiful, or the lovely or the unscarred. It said that He makes everything beautiful in His time. I found more in the first three verses of Isaiah 61, a prophecy about Jesus. How He is sent to preach good news, to heal the brokenhearted, to comfort the grieving, to release the prisoners from darkness, and to proclaim freedom for the captives, and bestow upon them a crown of beauty instead of the ashes. God makes beautiful things out of the dust.
And then I started finding other things. Not just about the goodness of God, or what He can make beautiful. I found verses, yes, but all these other things have been popping up out of nowhere and shoved-aside memories flooding back, all at once.
The verses. About how God created us, saw what He had made and said that it was very good. How he knit us together in our mothers’ wombs, and how we are fearfully and wonderfully made. How God delights in His people, and how the heart is more pleasing than braided hair or gold or jewels… and how this was the way that “the women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.” How much God values us and loves us and cherishes us. How our bodies are living temples that He dwells inside and does not want us to defile.
And then there comes the things popping out of nowhere. An old lesson I heard back when I was about twelve, and the wife of the youth pastor we had then was trying to impress upon us how beautiful we were in the eyes of God… and how beauty as the world defines it is fleeting. I remember how she said – and for some reason I haven’t forgotten –, “Sure, it’s fun to get all dolled up once in a while, but it’ll be gone by tomorrow. Or if not by tomorrow, then certainly by [the next day].” But she went on to tell us about how in Christ we had a beauty that would never, ever fade. How that beauty came from Him and from what was in our hearts, and how that was worth so much more. I have a memory of her husband a year and a half later telling us, rather out of the blue (during a battle I was having with you-know-what and stuff and this seemed to be totally random), but he said, “What does it matter if you’re beautiful in the eyes of the world if you’re beautiful in the eyes of God?” It seemed that he looked straight at me when he said that, though that couldn’t have been true.
Skip forward then to the Summer Workshop and you’d said something about “you’re beautiful” and I remember just being kind of shocked and asking you later if you could read Mandarin. It must have sounded like an awfully weird question, and you told me you didn’t and asked me why. I can’t remember for the life of me what I replied to that why question, but I mumbled something and managed to get out of that question. (Apparently I didn’t think ahead that far.) But the truth is that all day long, all through the day, I had been writing one thing on my papers/arms/hands: 美? (Beautiful?) I think I might have had a grammar error in it but I still remember how the characters looked on the paper and myself and what I was thinking. I remember struggling so much that day with the concept of the way God saw me vs. the way I saw myself and it was all just weird and coincidental – if there is indeed such a thing – and anyway… yeah that’s stuck with me a lot.
And then there comes my Mandarin lessons. There are some characters that have the Gospel written right into them. (For example, in the traditional characters used in China before Chairman Mao simplified them and that are still used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the character for “righteousness” is made up of two characters, the character for “lamb” placed directly above the character for “me”. Made righteous under the lamb.) And since the stuff fascinates me, I decided to research it further. When on the internet, I found a lot of people saying things who obviously had no knowledge of the Mandarin language whatsoever and were blabbering on about things they knew absolutely nothing about. But then there were those characters that I could look at and say, “You know what? This time they’re right”, because I could read those different characters and components thereof.
I don’t remember exactly how I came upon the character for beauty, but it’s one I know how to read and write very well. But suddenly it hit me, looking at the character, that two characters were merged and intertwined together to make the one character for “beauty”. The character for “lamb” and the character for “day” together making, “the Day of the Lamb”. I don’t know it it’s coincidence or not, but sometimes I’m told that there are no such things as coincidence. But I thought about that one a lot… and you know what? That’s what beauty is. Beauty came through the redemption of the Lamb over me. It came on that Day of the Lamb, when my sin was atoned for. Beauty is not what I see when I look in the mirror, but what came when Jesus scarred His hands so that He could forgive the scars I’d make and that His scars could cover my own.
Beauty isn’t looking like a Barbie doll, it’s what He made me when He died for me and defeated that death. I was born a sinner because of the Fall, but He knew everything I would ever do and yet chose to create me and die for me anyway.
And one more thing I found. I was reading a book, an old favorite of mine, but I’d totally forgotten this scene. But anyway, an American businessman and a Christian Chinese woman are talking, and the American guy tells her that at a conference in Beijing, he’d heard it said that Christianity was really holding Chinese women down from advancing in society and he asked her what she thought of it. She told him, “Perhaps they speak of Confucianism? Old proverb say when son born he should be given a piece of jade to play with. But when daughter is born she should be given only broken piece of pottery…in China, government has given women broken pottery. Yesu has given us jade.”
And someone showed me this song a few days ago, on the same day (ish) I read the jade thing:
You called me out to the Valley of Trouble
just to look at the mess that I’ve made,
a barren place where nothing can grow.
One look and my stone heart crumbled—
it was a valley as green as jade.
I swear it was the color of hope.
You turned a stone into a rose, Hosea.
…Which of course brings me back to the Bible and the story of Hosea and Gomer and an old skit I saw long ago about how much Hosea loved Gomer and God loves His children. How beautiful we are in His sight.
…I think I need to go read Hosea again. And yeah… I guess that’s what I’ve found in regards to beauty, Siân. It’s nothing about me… but Jesus… and it’s His opinion that counts, not mine. And I still find it ridiculously hard to believe any of this, but I’m working on it; I promise. And somehow I think God’s not finished with me in that regard. :P