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Skin deep

Is beauty always beautiful? Reflecting on a line from a Dostoevsky novel, Amelia illustrates the difference between a holy and sinful appreciation of beauty.
Beauty will save the world.
— Fyodor M. Dostoevsky

People say that beauty is only skin deep. Is this true, or can beauty really save the world?

The answer depends how we define beauty. There are two kinds—the beauty we see with our eyes, and the beauty we see with our hearts.

There's nothing wrong with admiring a beautiful sunrise, a beautiful mountainside or a beautiful person; God made them all. There's also nothing wrong with admiring a beautiful painting, a beautiful dress or a beautiful poem. These are creations of men, but there can be beauty in them, too.

But when we admire beautiful things only with our eyes and not with our hearts, we can't see beneath the surface. Is the beautiful person unkind or conceited? Will the beautiful dress bring impure thoughts to someone's mind? Does the beautiful poem have an untrue message? Does the beautiful sunrise mean a dangerous storm is on its way? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, but we can't be very good judges of the true nature anything if we only look with our eyes.

Physical beauty, as we say, is only skin deep. It doesn't reveal the inner character of a person; it's only the wrapping around it. Even the most beautifully gift-wrapped package can be disguising a deadly bomb.

When we let this kind of superficial beauty blind us, enslave us, or tease our passions, or when we use it to form judgments of other people, we've turned physical beauty into a false god. Instead of loving God and our neighbors, we love what appeals to our senses.

But there's another kind of beauty, a nonphysical kind, that doesn't lead us away from the Lord. In fact, it leads us toward Him. It's the kind of beauty that God sees and values—the beauty of a person's soul. Smooth skin and silky hair have no bearing on our salvation, but how beautiful anyone's heart is makes all the difference.

The way we live and the choices we make are what determine how beautiful our souls are. By themselves, our deeds neither guarantee nor prohibit our salvation. By our deeds, however, we either show God that He's welcome in our hearts, or we push Him away. Poor choices tarnish our souls, little by little, until they're so corroded with sin that they've become hardened and impermeable to His grace.

Hearts that are dark and hard like this aren't beautiful to anyone, and their ugliness has a way of shining through even the most physically beautiful body or face.

Just the same, when a person's soul is beautiful, that beauty transcends his or her physical appearance. We see a countenance that's warm and kind and peaceful and loving, because what we're really seeing through the eyes of a good person is God. The Lord dwells in those who love Him (1 John 4:16). This is the kind of beauty that Dostoevsky meant in his metaphor when he said that beauty would save the world--the beauty of Christ. In this sense, Beauty already has brought us salvation.

Not everyone can have symmetrical cheekbones, a flattering jaw-line, or a flawless complexion. It's God's choice who receives which physical features, but we're the ones who label them as good or bad, beautiful or ugly. By the world's standards, we may not all have the potential to be physically beautiful, but each of us can have a beautiful heart.

No one is perfect, but the potential to strive toward perfection still exists for each of us. We just have to make sure we have the right idea of what perfection is. If we strive for perfection in gyms, or spas, or tanning salons, or clothing stores, or at the makeup counter, we'll never reach it. But if we strive for it in holiness, the true measure of perfection, it will show: Perfect in beauty, God shines forth (Psalm 50:2, KJV). When we live a holy life, we welcome God, the true meaning of Beauty, inside of us. His holy presence in the heart is the only thing that makes anyone truly beautiful.