Call me a cynic, but could the fact that more than 100 million people watched recent TV show The Bible Series in the US have anything to do with the actor being, well, pretty hot?
We love a handsome male lead on our screens. Because of what psychologists have dubbed the “beauty as good” theory, hot leading men and women are more likely to win us round than those society might deem beauty-challenged.
So it makes sense that creators of The Bible Series would cast in the role of our saviour Portuguese former model Diogo Miguel Morgado Soares, 33, tall, dark, handsome, brooding and with these gorgeous, haunting eyes…
Before I get carried away… back to the point of this post: Jesus.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think Jesus was hot. Not in the way today’s Western society might narrowly define hot, in any case.
When you picture Jesus, I’m guessing you picture a man that looks like Diogo or of the guy in Jesus Christ Superstar or The Greatest Story Ever Told. You’re probably thinking of an attractive man with luscious long locks, a beard trimmed to perfection and piercing blue eyes. Oh and he’s definitely white.
Because that’s what an archetype of a hero might look like in our cultural context. The Jewish people would have been expecting their equivalent of a hero who looked the part when they thought about the Messiah that was to come. But, in so many ways, the Jesus that came was not like the person that they had expected.
Jesus was not beautiful. Not as the world expected him to be anyway. If you think about it, Jesus probably would not have been cast in a movie to play himself.
He would not have been deemed pretty enough. Jesus was not George Clooney. He wasn’t Eric Bana or Brad Pitt or Robert Pattinson or any other of these beautiful male works of God’s creation… Ahem.
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).
I wonder whether I would give Jesus a second look if I saw him walking down the street. I wonder whether he would be the type of person that would be invisible to me; or the type of person that I would avoid sitting next to on a bus.
The verse above tells us that at least during his crucifixion, people “hid their faces” from him. Instead of being drawn towards him, he repelled. Despised, rejected. We find it uncomfortable to believe that this passage is actually talking about Jesus’s physical beauty – or lack thereof. And that’s precisely because of the way we have been conditioned to believe that external beauty is equal to goodness. And since Jesus was perfect, our minds tell us that he must have also looked perfect too. That’s what artists throughout the centuries have depicted him as – beautiful.
As humans, we associate beauty with goodness. And since Jesus was the ultimate example of ‘good’, our minds find it hard to believe that his appearance was not so good. But that in itself is beautiful. Because this man – regardless of what he looked like – was our beautiful Saviour God.
As 15th century Nicholas of Cusa wrote: “O! Lord; and all beauty that can be conceived is less than the beauty of Your Face. All faces have beauty; but they are not beauty itself. But Your Face, O! Lord, has beauty, and this having is being. Hence, Your Face is Absolute Beauty.”
When we sing of Jesus’s beauty, we’re not talking about how great he looked. Song lyrics speak of a beauty that can be found only in the majesty of the divine – the beauty that creates; the beauty that is light and power and sacrifice. Jesus’s beauty is beyond pretty. He, Beauty, is the one who gave his life that we might be totally free. And this freedom includes a freedom from un-pretty thoughts – about ourselves, about our bodies and about other people.
This God in his un-prettiness on this earth showed that it’s really not about the outward appearance. It didn’t matter what he looked like. He was divine, inner beauty embodied. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, we read that God “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ”. Isaiah tells us that there was nothing special about him physically, but the paradox is that Jesus’s face displayed God’s glory in all its brilliance. Though mankind rejected him and turned their faces away from him, he was, and is, Beauty itself.
Was Jesus beautiful? No. Was Jesus Beauty? Yes.
Walford writes in The Beauty of God: “A broken beauty can be a redemptive beauty, which acknowledges suffering while preserving hope . . . For the Christian artist the incarnation of Christ provides a basis to engage with integrity both beauty and ugliness, pleasure and pain.”
I think there is a reason why Jesus was not beautiful. He could just as well have been a first-century pin-up if God wanted to reveal himself to us in that way. No one would have blamed him for casting a dreamy Jim Caviezel-type as Mel Gibson did in The Passion of the Christ. God was trying to draw people to Jesus, right? He was trying to usher them into the Kingdom of God. And humans are drawn to attractive people. We cry when beautiful people die: Diana, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean. We are outraged when blonde, blue-eyed cute kids like Madeleine McCann are snatched from their parents. We feel more empathy because beautiful things shouldn’t suffer. But Jesus, the beautiful and un-beautiful, was like one from whom men turned their faces away, although he was God in human form.
What if we were to see the imago dei – beauty – in everyone; not just the Princess Dianas or the James Deans of this world? What if we were to take off the glasses that cause us to see beauty through an arbitrary, man-made, culturally-defined lens and look purposefully for the beauty of God, to search for inner beauty in others? It could change everything.
This post is adapted from a chapter in Am I Beautiful? (Authentic Media)