The Tension of Beauty


Beauty carries a powerful tension. Seeing beauty isn’t enough. 

C.S. Lewis writes that “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”

Beauty leads us to wanting more of it.

A recent email we received asks, “What place does beauty have in the observance of another human being? Is there an ability to recognize physical beauty without assigning value or taking something from a person? 

Is it possible to view the human form, clothed or not, without lusting or coveting while still admiring the physical beauty God created?” So glad you asked. 

Let’s begin.


There is a difference between noticing beauty, observing beauty and lusting after beauty.

Lust wants to take beauty and make it my own – it’s a grasping, greedy thing without concern for the other.

Beauty not only fulfills desire but it also incites desire. This tension makes human beauty different from the beauty we see in other parts of creation.

We are created in God’s image so there is more opportunity to sin in how we respond to human physical beauty than how we respond to physical beauty in the world around us.

Can we see physical beauty and be drawn to it without sin? Yes we can.

When your heart is pure, you see God everywhere.

Help the show

This Episode’s Transcription

Josh 0:01

What on earth? Are we supposed to do with human beauty? What are we supposed to do with beautiful bodies? That’s the question we’re gonna get after in today’s podcast. Every week, we invite you to send in questions, concerns, problems that you’re running into, so we can address them in this podcast. And today’s question actually comes from a listener named Ryan. Ryan wrote this question about beauty. And to be honest, Ryan, I found your email beautiful and compelling. And so I’m actually going to read chunks of Ryan’s email, because I think that it’s going to both challenge and inspire you listeners. And then we’re going to kind of tease out some of what he’s brought up and, and try to bat it around a little bit on this podcast. I’m not gonna be able to answer the question completely, but I think I’m gonna, I think it’s just going to be a good conversation. It’ll, it’ll stir us all, towards something better that God has for us. So here’s Ryan’s email, he says, this has been something I’ve struggled with and mulled over for a long time, beauty. We soak in it when outdoors or in an art gallery, witnessing an act of kindness in the meaning of a relationship. What place does it have in the observance of another human being? We are to only share our bodies in sex with our spouse. But is there an ability to recognize physical beauty without assigning value? Or taking something from a person? Is it possible to view the human form closed or not? Without lusting or coveting, but still admire the unique physical beauty God created? He says, He goes on to say, I believe beauty is one characteristic of God’s that is woven into his creation. I believe it is meant to inspire worship and awe of the Creator, but not become the subject of worship, we can take in the vastness of a night sky, the power of a storm, comfort of the grandmother, or the skill of an artist, all these things are a reflection of the glory of the Creator, is not the human form. Yet it like any beauty, when coupled with human weakness in a fallen world has the power to distract from the creator and become a snare. So what do we do with beauty? Ryan says I can’t ignore it. I’ve tried. It doesn’t seem healthy or honest. It has value just like humility, generosity, strength and intelligence do isn’t it true? Then we can have differing levels or types of physical beauty. So when our eyes and really our whole being recognizes the beauty of a person, not limited to, but definitely including physical beauty? What do we do with that? Ryan? Great question and love it. Great questions. Really? Before I answer, I want to just kind of back up a little bit and just clarify one thing that I think you you get Ryan, but I want to, I want us all to kind of start with this, that there is a difference. There is a difference between noticing beauty, observing beauty, even being drawn to beauty being moved by beauty, and lusting after beauty. All the first things all those first things are really designed by God. That’s what beauty is for, it’s we are meant to be drawn to beauty, we are meant to be moved by beauty. But lust is different lust wants to take beauty and make it mine. You know, take it from someone else and make it my own. It’s a grasping, greedy thing without concern for the other. And in that way, it’s its sin. And there is a tension there. And Ryan, you talk about this too, there’s a reality of what Christianity is has called concupiscence, which is the tendency in the human person to sin, that tendency that we all carry in us to kind of lean into lean towards sin, we find ourselves off balance at different places in our lives. And in our in our days, where we’re listing towards sin, you know, even even though we don’t intend to, or don’t want to. And certainly in the area of of seeing human beauty, we find that tendency in us. And that’s concupiscence. And that’s that is a challenge, because because we are meant to be drawn towards beauty of all kinds in nature, in acts of kindness, in music that we hear, and in human beauty, the various kinds of human beauty and we can talk about that in a minute. CS Lewis writes this in the weight of glory, He says, We do not merely, we do not want merely to see beauty, though God knows even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words, to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves to bathe in it to become part of it. And I think that I love that quote by Lewis and I think I don’t know if you when you hear it if you resonate with it, but we don’t just want to see beauty. That’s great. We love to see beauty, but there’s something in us that wants more. Even even seeing a beautiful sunset or looking at the ocean. We want to see we love to see but there’s something in us that’s compelled toward it. We want to enter into it, to merge with it. As Lewis writes, we want to be united with the beauty we see to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it to become part of it.

And so in that way Beauty as as much as it satisfies it also insights doesn’t it. It quenches our desire, but it also incites desire in us, we sit and watch a sunset and can feel bathed in it for a moment. But we don’t want it to end we want to move toward it, we might look at the mountains, and we might move into the mountains, we might take a hike, we might take a drive into the mountains, because we want to be in it, we see the ocean, we might dive into it, or take a boat out to be further out into it. There’s something in us that wants that. And that tension is, is part of what makes human beauty a bit different than beauty we see in other parts of creation, doesn’t it? Because to be united with, to enter into, to receive it into ourselves, as Lewis says, these words in relation to human physical beauty, sound, intimate, sound sexual. And so now we’re at the heart of Ryan’s dilemma, his question here because it is one thing to see a beautiful waterfall on a summer day and to, to run to it and to dive in the water and to come underneath the the flow of the water and to rejoice and glory in that moment. But it is quite another thing, to move towards a human person and to and to take what is not ours or to get involved in a sexual relationship that that is outside of marriage. There’s there is a difference there. But so I want to go back to what I said a minute ago about this reality that that beauty is something and Lewis touches on this, that not only fulfills our longing but also incites longing, and not only fulfills desire, but it incites desire. And this is important. Because if if we think about beauty, as something that points us to God and Ryan, you talked about this something that points us to worship God. That’s one thing, the moment we start to take the created world and and worship it, and believe that we are fulfilled with it. That’s where we have gone awry. That’s where we’ve moved towards idolatry. And Paul writes about this in Romans one. He writes, so beginning in verse 19, he says, For what can be known about God is plain to them. Because God has shown it to them. He’s talking about all the peoples of the world, for His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power, and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that had been made. So in other words, what Paul is saying is, is, if even for those who have never heard of God, just the fact that they live in the created world, the created world is already singing. It’s already communicating. And it’s already conveying it’s already portraying, it’s manifesting in its own way, the reality that God is and that God is glorious, that he has eternal power, and he has a divine nature. That’s just out in the world. Atheists have no excuse those who’ve never heard the gospel, have no excuse. And that’s what Paul says. So they have their without excuse he goes on, for although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him. but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged as my was where I wanted to get to, and exchange the glory of the immortal god for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. So in other words, they exchange the glory of the real God, for the creature, for the creature. So what we’re talking about is, I think, in some ways, Ryan is varying degrees of what we can, how we can wrongly, view beauty, right. And because human beings, male and female are created in God’s image, I would suggest that, that there is more opportunity to sin, in how we respond to the to human beauty, human physical beauty, than there is and how we respond to the physical beauty in the world and the universe around us the rest of creative creation.

Because a human person can be violated in ways that that the the rest of creation can’t be violated because human beings as human beings are sentient. Human beings, are image bearers of God, human beings are created with a different person, purpose, human beings are, are the crown of creation of some output. And so they can be they can be violated, we can violate God’s intent for them in ways that we can’t with the rest of creation. But with that said, with that said, if there is more opportunity to sin, it’s only because initially there’s more opportunity for glory, and there’s more opportunity for good and there’s more opportunity to rightly order our desires towards proper worship. Because as Christopher West has said, the devil doesn’t have his own clay. And so any place that we find ourselves wrestling more with sin or more with temptation, it means there’s more art Unity for good that’s there, the devil can only take what God has designed and twist it. Right? And this comes back to your your question Ryan? Is there a way? Or one of your questions is there? Can we see physical beauty and and be drawn to it? Without without sin? Can it be a good thing? And the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. This is why Jesus came in the flesh. This is why Jesus was, according to Isaiah, marred beyond recognition marred more than any human before him, he became so much less than beautiful in his, in his in being flogged and beaten and whipped and crucified. Why to restore our our ability to see rightly the beauty of humankind and to restore humankind’s beauty, to where it is meant to be. So certainly, Jesus did not come to turn our eyes away from human beauty, but to redeem our eyes to be able to see to behold human beauty, and to be able to see God’s image in human beauty. I think here of what Jesus said in Matthew, when he said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. And one way to think about that passage is that the pure in heart will one day when they die, they’ll they’ll see God because they’re, they’re pure enough to, I think, another way to see that when we recognize that from Matthew, The kingdom of God was both now and not yet several times in the book of Matthew, The kingdom of God is among you, the kingdom of heaven is now and so Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God I think, I think through this lens, we can also understand that, that part of what Jesus meant there is when your heart is pure. You see God, everywhere. You see his handiwork in creation, you see his handiwork. In a sunset, you see his handiwork in an orchid and when you look at a man or a woman, clothed or unclothed, clothed, you see God, I don’t mean that that person is a God. But you see God’s handiwork and that that person, their beauty, their physical beauty, their nakedness. Points, you heavenward points you to God.

This is the this is one of the reasons that we want to be after purity in our lives, we want to be after God, purifying our hearts and purifying our minds and purifying our eyes, purifying our bodies, one of the reasons we want to abstain from sexual sin and from last, because we want to untwist ourselves, we want to live the Holy Spirit and we only want to participate with Holy Spirit and untwisting ourselves from the ravages of sin where we without even thinking of it, see the human form and start to lust, start to try to take in for our own selfish gratification, instead of being directed to worship directed towards the Lord. Alright, with that said, I want to I want to go back to me, I said a podcast a couple weeks ago, that other ancient peoples around Israel made idols for themselves. And those idols made out of out of wood or precious metals, or stone, we’re, we’re in the image of the gods small g god. And they believe there is something of the essence that would come and abide in the image that they created out of the the wood or stone or precious metals. And so they would bow down in front of that idol. But the Israelites through the 10 commandments were forbidden to worship any idol and they were forbidden to make any image in the likeness of Yahweh, they were forbidden to try to create something that was in the image of Yahweh. Well, why is that? And I’d suggest to you the reason is because Yahweh Himself, the creator of all had already created something in his image and likeness. He’d already created that not meant to be an idol, but meant to be an icon that points to him and that that thing that he created is human beings, male and female. We see that in Genesis one, he had created this, this, these little idols of himself to be walking around, not made of, of wood and stone and precious metal, but to be made of, of human flesh, in which the presence of God is actually designed to abide in us. In US. This is part of what Christ came to restore. And if that’s not beautiful, then then what is certainly including the human body, right? Because the human body, according to Paul, in First Corinthians six is uniquely designed to be one with God. We are We are created to be made one with God what an incredible creation the human body is. But unlike those those other ancient Near East gods, we are not meant to be bowed down in front of we are meant to be signposts pointing to our Creator God, and this is what Christ has come to restore. Well, so Ryan, I don’t know how much I answered your question. I’m kind of just musing with you on on the question of beauty and human beauty, but the unequivocal thing I unequivocally I want to say that yes, yes, yes, we are done Designed to we’re meant to Christ came to restore us to be able to see the human form male and female, and not to lust, but rather to see beauty and to be drawn in, not, not necessarily just to that person, but to God Himself. And so that longing that Louis writes about, where we don’t want to just see beauty, but we want to be united with the beauty we seek to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it, that we don’t want to be confused, and move just towards sexual union or intimate union with other people. There might be a small expression of that within marriage, a beautiful, strong, wonderful God given part of that in marriage, where we enter in and become one with, but ultimately, the human form like all of creation, but the human form in a unique way, is meant to, to draw us towards the ultimate, which is the ultimate beauty which is God Himself, and to seek Him to be united with Him, to pass into him, to receive Him into ourselves, to bathe in Him, and to be become a part of him. And this is what all of what it means to be human including what it means to be a sexual being. This all that is pointing to that ultimate union that God has designed us for. So Brother keep on the path and I hope everyone listening this has been helpful for you. It’s certainly been helpful for me to muse on it for 15 minutes or so. But obviously this is something we participate in but but a grace that we need from God and so God we just we wrap up this podcast with this desperate prayer. Lord, there’s beauty around us which you purify our eyes to be able to see beauty without taking hold of it in an improper lustful way.

And, Lord, would You when the beauty we see incites us to greater longing? Would you help us not to bring our longings Lord, to creation alone, but ultimately, Lord, to point our eyes up towards you and to pursue you and to not be afraid of the longing we feel but to let it expand our desire for you that we might be more desperate for you and receive more of you into ourselves. So we pray this for our good we pray it because where else can we go? And we pray it, Lord, that you and you will only be glorified today and forever. Amen and Amen.

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By Josh Glaser

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