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Image is everything? 


None of us is immune to the pressure to look good. However, we must choose to see past the mere physical exterior and see the true heart beauty that God values, writes Hazel Paine, author of a new book that aims to challenge a young adult audience about what true beauty is

 

Image

In this fast-moving, trend-setting, interconnected world, image is everything. And now, thanks to the wonderful realm of social media you are free to photoshop, filter and beauty app your way to achieving the perfect look – the look that speaks of youth, attractiveness, success and happiness – the look that declares to the world that ‘I have made it!’
 
‘That kind of thing doesn’t interest me,’ you may say. ‘I am a Christian, and I know from Philippians 2:3 that I must “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”.’
 
Yet it seems none of us is immune to the pressure to look good. This new level of image awareness will have crept into the hearts of all who have ever been asked to ‘select a profile picture’. I doubt any of us will choose the photo that was taken as we snoozed after Christmas dinner, with our belt buckle loosened and our nodding head giving us an impressive double chin. No, we choose a picture where we look happy and preferably blemish free. Indeed, there is a growing trend in Christian circles to choose a profile picture which shows us in a position of great importance, perhaps while leading a church group or worship time. The Christian holding a microphone seems a far more common Facebook image than the Christian washing feet.
 
There is an even darker side to this heightened image consciousness, most commonly seen in teenagers and young adults. The continual exposure to perfect physical images has led to a massive rise in dissatisfaction with personal appearance. Studies show up to 87 per cent of teenage girls are unhappy with their appearance, and 55 per cent of teenage boys would consider changing their diet in order to look better’.[1] Social media has a huge part to play in this growing unhappiness.
 
But what is the solution? Can the Bible speak anything of relevance into this global phenomenon that is the social media revolution?
 
God is interested in every part of us, even what we look like. He formed us in our mother’s wombs and has given us physical bodies. We know that we should be ‘good stewards’ (1 Peter 4:10) of the gifts God has given us and in 1 Timothy 4:8 we learn that ‘bodily training is of some value’. Although these things are right and true, it is becomes apparent that God is far more concerned with the condition of our soul.
 
In 1 Samuel 16 we find Samuel about to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the new King of Israel. With his anointing oil at the ready, Samuel watches Eliab, Jesse’s eldest son approach. The prophet must have breathed a sigh of relief as he thought, ‘Surely this is the Lord’s anointed.’ God, however, warns Samuel not to ‘look on his appearance or on the height of his stature’, because, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
 
It turns out that God is completely underwhelmed by looks. Even his own Son, Jesus, God in human form, was prophesied by Isaiah to have ‘no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him’ (Isaiah 53:2).
 
Jesus’ looks might not impress anybody, and yet His disciples got a preview of Jesus’ true heart-appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration. Suddenly they could see Jesus as God sees Him: radiant-faced, clothed in shining robes and full of love. 
 

SoulVision

So here is our solution. We must learn to ‘look on the heart’. In our dealings with one another and with the world, who better to help us see true value than Him who put treasure in jars of clay? And we have the Holy Spirit who gives us wisdom and revelation as we have the ‘eyes of [our] hearts enlightened’ (Ephesians 1:18) so we can begin to truly see as God sees.
 
This is the heart of the novel Soulsight and its sequel Soulvision. As a parent of teens I wanted to present an allegory for this Holy Spirit-style vision. A challenge, a provocation to a young adult audience.

We must choose to see past the mere physical exterior and see the true heart beauty that God looks upon and values. Love, joy, peace, self-control, self-sacrifice… these are the ingredients for true lasting beauty. Skin will wrinkle, curves will sag and muscles will wither, but as we see in 2 Corinthians 4:16 ‘though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day’ (thankfully).

 
 
Hazel Paine is the author of Soulvision: Seeing the End is Only the Beginning (ISBN 978-1-909728-62-2), published by Instant Apostle on 1 July 2017. Soulvision is the sequel to Soulsight (978-1-909728-49-3, Instant Apostle 2016).

 

[1] Statistics quoted from a 2004 study for Bliss Magazine. Of 2,000 girls questioned, 87 per cent unhappy with their appearance. BBC News article August 2016, ‘Body Image “a problem for boys”, says advertising think tank’.

 
Baptist Times, 03/07/2017
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