(Only because I could not bring myself to call this post “What it means to be hot!”)
After I posted last week’s post, with a number of references to being physically attractive (only I could manage to introduce that topic when writing about prayer warriors!) I got thinking about what it really means to be attractive as a Christian. There were also a few comments on Facebook about this…
I have often playfully referred here on this blog to the fact that my husband has to be cute, or handsome, or attractive.
There will of course be people who jump to assert the standard Christian thinking that beauty comes from the inside. You need to have a pure and a holy heart, you need to be kind, gracious, generous, full of joy. All these things are true of course, and I trust that I have covered these things quite adequately in other blog posts; not just in an airy-fairy theoretical sense, but also in a pragmatic down-to-earth sense showing the difference that these characteristics would make to your life on an ongoing basis.
However this post is not about internal beauty – sorry! I am trying not to sound glib about this because as a person I know that it is the joy in my heart that lights up my eyes (usually with mischief) and puts a wide beaming smile on my face and laughter into my mouth. I know that this is the most attractive thing about me as a person and this is what makes me happiest about myself and happiest to be myself. There is also joy and confidence in the future and being thankful for my life and grateful for all that God has made me, and all that He is doing in my life. And I know that that is also extremely attractive.
Beyond this though, I also think quite a lot about physical beauty. There are a number of reasons for this. As Christians, there are a couple of verses in the New Testament which seem to condemn outward beauty. 1 Peter 3v3-4
“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”
In the Greek, the word “merely” in verse 3 is missing, so in the Greek it literally reads “Do not let your adornment be outward” In this context Peter is talking to wives, so it is definitely geared towards women – although I guess that someone very argumentative could make the case that this verse is directed at wives, whereas I am not a wife….but for once, that argumentative person is not going to be me!
I was making the point on Facebook half-jokingly that this is one verse that simply does not exist as far as Nigerian Christians are concerned. Wearing elaborate, flamboyant and even ostentatious clothes is part of our cultural “makeup” and we just don’t pay attention! And then I realised that I was contradicting myself, because I had already written about Nigerian Christians in my last post, where I said exactly the opposite thing – that many Nigerians think that it is impossible to be truly holy and to aspire to look amazing. So what exactly is it? Is it that Nigerian Christians dress flamboyantly and ostentatiously, or is it that Nigerian Christians frown on elegant dressing? The answer, believe it or not, is “both”! Such is the extent of faith in Nigeria/amongst Nigerian Christians that there are at least two sizeable camps which hold to these opposite mindsets.
The attitude towards dressing seems to be governed by the flavour of Christianity which someone prefers. As a rough distinction, Christians in churches in the prosperity movement (or “You will be blessed” churches, as I like to think of them – because that is all that is ever said in those churches – seriously now!) are the Christians who never see this verse in the Bible, completely ignoring the injunction against gold, dressing with unspeakable flamboyance, unashamedly competing with one another. Other Christians who are more Bible-oriented, who emphasise more Bible truth, righteousness, holiness – tend to dress more simply. In fact, for many of these Christians, you signify your commitment to holiness and righteousness and God’s truth – (especially as a woman) by apparently looking as dowdy and unattractive as possible. I wish I was joking, but unfortunately this is true. Some Nigerian denominations even forbid things like makeup and earrings altogether.
This is something I have personally struggled with very intently. On one hand I am a very serious Christian, and I want to take the Bible seriously, and make it absolutely central in my life. On the other hand, I also love beautiful clothes and looking good! I humbly think that Nigerian clothes are the most beautiful clothes in the world, rivalled possibly only by Saris and other clothes from the Indian subcontinent. (Clothes from India, Pakistan etc can often be more ornate and bejewelled than African styles, however they don’t seem to get made in the huge variety of styles that Nigerian tailors churn out; the bespoke clothing industry is a huge industry in Nigeria).
1 Peter 3v3-4:
3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.