Breaking our Silence on Attractiveness
September 27, 2015
I spent time in Seattle this past week. It was beautiful, with blue skies and bright sunshine, and the people we met told us we came at the best time of the year. But still, it’s Seattle, so there was rain. We still woke up to see puddles in the morning from evening rains. Sometimes, there were drops of water on our windows as we were driving from one activity to another – or to be more accurate, driving from one meal to another. We would gaze out at the scenery, but I would also look at the drops as they made their way down the window.
Have you ever seen how water droplets act when two of them meet?
One droplet never rejects another. They do not bounce off each other. They always accept one another. The two always become one.
I was contemplating water droplets, and thinking about acceptance and rejection.
Many well meaning men, they approach women after consideration and prayer. They think, “We’re compatible. We can help one another.” They say, “Do you want to date and see if the potential unity I sense can become actualized by the grace of God?” But even though they were mature and prayerful and sincere, they are rebuffed and rejected.
Many well meaning women experience the same thing. Why is it that these two do not unite but bounce off?
Many times, it comes down to, “You’re great, but I don’t see you in that way.” Simply, the answer is, “I don’t experience attraction towards you.”
This happens often. It would be less confusing if people said, “You are not great. There are many warning signs that tell me you are not healthy and that you have no desire for holiness. As a result, I don’t experience attraction towards you.”
But that’s not what happens.
Many people who are not healthy and not holy have no problem being seen as attractive. On the other hand, many people who are healthy and holy are not seen as attractive. What is up with that?
Water droplets attract one another. They experience cohesion. That’s the way God made water – the H20 atoms share electrons in such a way that one end is positive, the other is negative, and so droplets attract one another.
When humans are living according to divine intent, we are supposed to be like water droplets. It’s not supposed to be so hard to find acceptance. Those with a desire for marriage who are growing in their faith should have no problem experiencing mutual attraction.
Let me attempt to prove that this is the way it’s supposed to be from scripture – from the account of creation in Genesis.
How did Adam know Eve was the one? Why did he say, “She is exactly what I was looking for? Partly, it was because she was better than all the others.
She was better than the dogs, furry and affectionate as they are. She was better than the dolphins, as bright and cheerful as they are. She was better than the cats, as mysterious and soft as they are.
There is something about Eve that made his heart leap with recognition that she was the one he was meant to love. In the midst of a creation that was “good” Adam sees Eve and says, “She’s the one for me.”
It was love at first sight. Was it because Eve had a certain shape of face, or a certain curve in her frame, or a certain type of hair? I don’t think so. The Bible doesn’t say, “Adam saw that she was full figured and strong and he loved her.” Nor does it say, “Adam saw that Eve was wispy and almost translucent, and he loved her.” Adam saw her and he knew he loved her, and he said,
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of Man.”
Do you know why Adam chose Eve? It was because she was a woman. Do you know Eve knew Adam was right for her? It was because he was a man.
You put a man and a woman together, in the midst of Douglas firs and Venus flytraps, in the midst of red tailed hawks and gophers, and they will say to each other, “You know, this world is good. I feel a connection to all in this world. But when I see you, I don’t just experience a connection. When I see you, I experience attraction.
We are designed to be attracted to one another and to see potential connections with one another. Marriage isn’t supposed to be like a competition where only the top contestant finds a partner and gets married. Marriage is supposed to be raindrops on a car window. One water drop crosses paths with another. The positioning of the water drops is beyond their control. If one or the other moved a little faster or made a different turn, they would not have connected. But a thousand different variables resulted in these two drops crossing paths, and as they do, they are attracted to one another and they become one.
There is supposed to be this recognition of attraction – “I want to be one with you.” “Oh, and I want to be one with you.” And then the two get together, forsaking all others, and experience one flesh unity.
And it’s supposed to be that simple – that’s the way it was with Adam and Eve. But we are not Adam and Eve, walking around in the Garden of Eden, naked and feeling no shame. We walk around in the concrete jungle of New York, and we not only feel shame, we also experience fear, lust, pride, envy, disdain, complacence, despair, anger, frustration, and a thousand other negative emotions. As a result, we don’t walk around naked, ready to experience attraction. Because we have to deal with sin that deforms us, because we know that the people we are interacting with are sinful, and we know that our world is polluted by sin, we put on armor as well as camofluage.
Men and women go around this world, and they do not experience attraction very much because their hearts are covered with armor.
However, some people have a quality that makes others want to take off their armor. This is the quality that makes others want to smile and open up. This is a quality that helps the other become more attentive and present.
This quality is called “Attractiveness.” Not everyone has the same amount of this quality. The Bible says that David had an attractive appearance, as well as King Saul. The Bible says that Esther, niece of Mordecai had this. Sarai, wife of Abram had this. Probably, so did Delilah, the second wife of Samson. Notably, Jesus did not have much of this quality. Neither did Paul.
Attractiveness is the quality that gets the other person to take off their armor. Attractiveness is the quality that gets the other person to look at you when you take off your armor.
Now, I want to talk about another quality. “Healthiness.” Healthiness is the quality of being what God intended for humanity. Your body is healthy when it is the way God intends it to be - from blood cholesterol level, to body mass index. Your heart is healthy when it is the way God intends it - from loving people to loving God. In a perfect world, we would all be healthy, and our healthiness would be revealed because we would carry no armor or camoflague. And as people see our healthiness and as we see the healthiness of others, we would experience attraction.
The irony of our world is that many who have a lot of healthiness are not very attractive, and many who have a lot of attractiveness are not very healthy.
You can be attractive without being healthy – You might be a model with a gambling problem and multiple personality disorder. Even though you are not healthy, people might be really attentive to you, and by simply allowing them to help you with your problems, people might become attached to you. They want to take off their armor and experience connection with you.
And you can be healthy without being attractive – You might be a bodybuilder monk, and you might be full of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health, but others might still stiff-arm you and call you Quasimodo.
The thing to remember is this: God doesn’t care much about appearances. Sinners living in a sinful world look at a person by their outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. While the world asks “How can I become more attractive?” God wants us to be asking, “How can I become more healthy?” More subtly, while the world is asking, “How can I appear more lovely to others?” God wants us to be asking, “How can I be more loving of others.”
The paradox is this. The less we chase attractiveness and the more we chase health, the more attractive we become.
Luke 12: 27"Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 28"But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!
The pastor who prepares his preaching because he loves his congregation and wants to bless his congregation will become attractive to the congregation. When my heart is right with God, God will pour anointing on me so that the armor falls off your heart and you become more attentive. When I love you more, God will make me more lovely to you.
The woman who does her work because she is making her life a living sacrifice to God does all things to love God and love those around her. As she does, God will often make her more and more anointed. God will clothe her life with a beauty and attractiveness that no amount of primping and self pampering will accomplish.
As we become more intent on loving, God will make us more lovely. And a final thought about spending money and time on our appearance. Most people in the world invest in their appearance for the sake of becoming lovelier. But Christians are called to invest in their appearance for the sake of becoming more loving.
This is a tricky point, and a lot of self deception is possible, but try to understand my heart. I was talking about this with Pastor Sebahn, because we kick around the ideas we are preaching on often. And I told him, “I don’t think plastic surgery is a sin. In fact I think it’s a lot like make up. It’s possible to invest in becoming more attractive for God’s sake and for other’s sake.” And I told him the story about getting micro-abrasion on my face - removing scars from the stitches I had. I told him about feeling self conscious and getting a nickname - Scarface Sammy as a kid. And I told him my spiritual journey of applying the grace of God to that hurt, and overcoming. By the time I was a senior in high school, I told him I legit didn’t want this procedure. I didn’t feel l needed it. But my mom was telling me that getting it would be a way that I serve others and make it easier for them to be attentive to me. Making it easier for my future boss, future congregation, future wife to love me by removing this scar, at least a little, would be an act of love to them. And doing this for the sake of increasing my leadership capacity would be an act of love to God.
I was half convinced at best. But as an act of humility, recognizing that the Christian doctor that was willing to do the procedure at cost was acting out of love, and that my mom was acting out of love (although it was a slightly insecure love), I decided to do it. I tried to explain my motive, not sure if he would understand, and when I looked up at him and our glances met, I could tell that he understood.
He said that because of severe acne, his face was covered with scars, and he went through the same spiritual journey overcoming self consciousness, then had the exact same conversation with his mother when he was a senior in high school, and that he had the exact same procedure done in high school.
And we looked at each other, and we loved each other.
Both of us had a procedure done that was primarily about increasing our attractiveness rather than increasing our health. In the light of eternity, it is a silly investment. When we and society becomes healthy, when we are part of the new heavens and the new earth, attractiveness will cease to be a relevant quality. We are destined to belong to a society where all armor will fall off from every heart, and we will be attentive and delight in one another - being attracted to one another without any possessiveness, envy, or lust. In eternity, we will be glorious, because Jesus will make us like him, making our lowly body like his exalted body.
However, here in the world, we should be generous and compassionate with each other. We should celebrate if our brother or sister chooses to do things that increase their attractiveness. I have a friend, who is now a pastor, who called me sexy all the time. But he called every guy sexy, whenever he saw something that we did that honored God. Thinking back, I realize that he chose to call me sexy all the time, not because I was so healthy and holy, but because he was so generous and compassionate. And as a result, I became more secure, and more loving.
When I meet the souls that grow up under his care and influence, I see that they have become more healthy, holy, and attractive. They have this type of anointing on them that allows them to have the attention of others, and to cause others to let down their guard, and to cause others to see the best in them. This then allows them to influence them to lead them towards recognizing the worth of Christ.
That’s the type of pastor I want to be, and that’s the type of influence I want us to have on each other. May we become healthier, and may we also become more attractive, to the glory of God. Amen? Amen.
Let’s pray. “God, we live in a world where we are told we must be attractive. The world tells us that if we are unattractive, that we are no good. But God, you are the creator, and you declared that your creation is good. And of us who bear your image, you have said we are very good. You knit us together. You love us. Help us to delight in these truths. God, you are calling for us to be healthier, to be more the way you intend for us to be. Help us to know that should be our goal, because that is our eternal destiny. Teach us to be like Jesus, and to see ourselves and others through the eyes of Jesus. These things we pray in Jesus name.”
So...that was the introduction. Sorry, I know that it was long. But for this month’s series - on breaking the silence - and speaking about things that are usually not talked about - I’ve had a burden to teach on the themes in addition to wanting to preach on a relevant text.
Forgive me, for making the teaching in the introduction longer than the preaching of the text. If this is your first week, please know I generally try to be an expository preacher, focusing on letting God speak to us from the text.
I believe God wants to use today’s passage to help us move from being fixated on attractiveness to becoming more concerned with health and wholeness. Let’s read Mark 8: 22-26 together.
22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him,
24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into[a] the village.”
I believe God is telling us to be like Jesus and to see people the way Jesus sees people. Learn to see their inherent attractiveness and worth as God’s creation, made in his image. Once you do, you will become someone who becomes better at loving others.
To have our vision restored, here are three steps we need to take. 1) Avoid Celebrity. 2) Recognize Your Blindness. 3) Ask for more.
1) Avoid Celebrity.
If you want to see the way Jesus sees, then you have to stop seeing in a worldly way. One of the ways of the world is to say, “Hey look, look over there! There’s something to see there.” When we make a spectacle of other people, we are objectifying them, and are not truly seeing them. Let’s begin by looking at the verses at the beginning and the end of today’s passage.
22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into[a] the village.”
Why did Jesus take this man out of the village and tell him not to go back?
There are times when people will crowd around you, to write down what you say, not because they care about you, but because they just want to see what will happen, and they want to report on it to gain attention for themselves. If people give you that sort of attention, then avoid it.
I think that’s why Jesus was critical of the people who brought the blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. That’s why Jesus took the blind man away from them. They were not like the four friends who brought their paralyzed friend to see Jesus. They were not motivated by love, faith, and a desire to see their friend restored. Those kinds of people usually get a front row seat to the work that God does.
These people do not have a good motive. So Jesus tells the man he healed to not go back into the village and to avoid those crowds.
It’s like when your chemistry teacher puts solid potassium in water and there’s an explosion. Everyone is suddenly interested. “Do it again! I want to see it again!” There’s no interest in the lesson. There’s no attention being paid to the teacher. There is only a hunger for spectacle.
The crowds just wanted to have these two elements touch – that of divine power in Jesus and human brokenness in the blind man, and they wanted to see what would happen.
Humanity is strange. Think about the pope. You have a guy who wants to live simply and to love and lead sincerely. And everyone is trying to turn him into a celebrity. And some even try to turn him into an idol. A friend was out to see the Pope. And she overheard a person say, “I saw him with my own eyes! And I feel so refreshed. I feel like I don’t have to go to church for a couple years, because I’ve experienced closeness with the Pope.”
Isn’t that ironic? Aren’t pseduo Catholics stupid? Those were the thoughts that went through my brain in one second. Then in the next, I thought about the way we act at Christian conferences. “I saw Francis Chan! I touched David Crowder!” And these guys are telling us, “Hey, don’t objectify us or idolize us. We just want to serve God and help you draw near to God. We don’t like the cult of celebrity, but I guess we’ll try to do something good with it and use it as a platform to testify to Christ.” And I think that’s what the pope is doing.
What I’m trying to explain is something that I barely understand, so please forgive me for rambling. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like if this sanctuary were filled with people, and I preached a sermon in which people cried and experienced spiritual breakthrough, and if stuff like this happened often.
I think what would happen is that I would be tempted to think of myself as famous, and you would be tempted to think of me as famous. And this is why I love that Tim Keller is cold and standoffish. The temptation for me if I preached in front of thousands like Tim Keller would be to try to come across as understanding and pastoral. I would encourage people to experience a connection with me that doesn’t actually exist. I would encourage the misconception that I was their primary pastor and counselor when in fact my role was simply to be the teacher of God’s word, and that they were probably called to connect with others - small group leaders, campus pastors. I used to think Tim Keller’s coldness was a character flaw and a ministry liability. I know think it’s a sign of his maturity and integrity, and part of the reason Redeemer’s health as a church.
That’s why I appreciate Shia LaBeouf - I can’t even pronounce his name - you know the Transformers guy - the adorably ackward Jewish kid who put a bag over his head and scripped I’m not Famous Anymore on it. Read the interview on dazed digital, that young man is on the right track.
They’re on the right track. Live as if you’re not famous. Let go of persona. Refuse to be a spectacle. In order to do this, live modestly. Do your best deeds in secret. Spend time alone with God. Be oblivious to what the world wants from you and just live in response to GOd. Value privacy.
Jesus does not want that sort of celebrity attention for himself, and he doesn’t want it for you. When you refuse to look at others as idols, when you train your heart to see people and not spectacles, and when you refuse to be famous and refuse to adopt a public persona, then you will experience the possibility of seeing the world the way Jesus sees the world.
And if people want to look at you, remember. Attention is flattering. Applause is intoxicating. There is a type of being looked at that is unhealthy, and that is the type of attention that Jesus does not humor. When you feel like you’re getting unhealthy attention, ask God for permission to go underground.
2) Recognize Your Blindness
Why did Jesus not heal him all at once?
We know that Jesus can make the blind become able to see without needing any intermediate steps. It’s not like Jesus made a mistake and needed to correct it. I believe Jesus put him through a two step process because Jesus wanted us to recognize that we’re all at that intermediate step. We see something, but we don’t see people the way they actually are. Jesus put him in a position where he could see people but they seemed like trees to him, because he wants all of us who claim to see to consider whether we are blind.
I am meditating on young men, those who look at ladies and see only trees.
Men who see long limbs of wispy willows and want to bend them to their will, those who look for full fruits close enough to pluck, who see sad stumps and keep their gaze moving, their gaze always consuming and never satisfied.
And I see young women who are looking at men, and they gaze at the tallest and the strongest and do not notice those who are hidden in their shadows. They do not notice the trees that have been denied sun but still have managed to grow, they do not notice the trees scarred by fire who have managed to survive.
Could it be that you and I are blind? Our vision is distorted. Some people are idealized to us, and we don’t see their weaknesses and needs. Some people are demonized for deformed to us, and we don’t see their potential or their strengths.
Could it be that you and I are still blind? Of course we are blind. I get this whenever I find myself impacted in my faculties by someone who is really famous, really rich, or really ridiculously good looking. Dang it, I can’t see them as they are. And that makes me sad, because it’s a sign of my immaturity. And at least a little bit, I mourn that I am not really capable of ministering to them.
And of course, when I look at people asking for handouts, I still tend to see just the label “homeless” instead of their whole humanity. The same when I see different marginalized people. The same when I see entire races of people. You know, if I met a North Korean, I don’t think I would see a person. I would just see, “On my gosh, this is a North Korean.” And that makes me blind.
3) Ask for more.
Of course, God is at work, and we are being given better sight. There is a continuum of blindness.
What do you think of when you hear, “blind?” Do you imagine a man locked in darkness, who cannot see light from dark? This is like me in the dark with my eyes closed. Do you imagine a person who can tell that there is a presence of light, but cannot see any shapes? This is like me on a sunny day, with my eyes closed. Do you imagine a legally blind person without his glasses? This is that person with their eyes open on a sunny day without their corrective lenses.
Legally, all three people are blind. But they’re not the same. My point is, that if you go from totally blind to legally blind, you would be tempted to say, “I can see, I can see!” Because you can see more than you used to, and you have experienced a miracle, you would be tempted to act as if there’s nothing more that you need.
When I go to a diversity workshop, and I can see a little bit about my racism, and my vision clears a little bit, my temptation is to say, “I can see, I can see, I’m not racist anymore.” But is that honest, and is that accurate? Is my triumph and thanksgiving pleasing to God?
Consider how the man responds to the first phase of his healing. “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
He says, “I do see more than I used to. I see people. But I know something is still wrong with me. They look like trees walking around.” This statement is a mix of gratitude for the grace already given, and also a plea for more grace that’s still needed.
Thank you Jesus for the work that you’ve done already. Thank you for holding my hand and letting me know you care. Thank you for taking me away from the people who were objectifying me, making me feel like a circus attraction. Thank you for tending to me and touching my eyes. Thank you for letting me see more than I could before. But Jesus, I still can’t see the way I want to see. I see people, but they look like trees walking around. I want to see them as they really are”
This man was grateful to Jesus, but he still wanted more from Jesus. He told Jesus that he wanted to continue to progress in his healing. He told Jesus, “I want more.” And how does Jesus respond?
Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey man, be content with the crumbs of healing I’ve given you.” When this man says, “Can I have some more,” Jesus responds quickly, without requiring convincing. Jesus acts as if this is what he wanted the man to ask for all along, as if he would have been disappointed if the man didn’t ask for it.
25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
Isn’t this awesome? We are supposed to ask for more. Sometimes, when we ask for greater happiness, Jesus gives us greater happiness. In general, when we ask for more wholeness, Jesus is happy to give us more wholeness. When we ask for greater holiness, Jesus is happy to give us greater holiness.
Ask for more. And while we often become frustrated when we pray and don’t receive what we ask for, this is what I have found. Generally, when I ask for things that make me happy, God gives them to me if they will also make me healthy. And when I ask for things that will make me healthy, God gives them to me if it will also make holy. And if God doesn’t give me something that I think would make me holy, it increases in me a hunger for heaven and for the second coming of Jesus.
So pray. When you pray, you will become able to pray better. When you ask, you will become able to ask more wisely. So don’t wait to become wise before you pray, pray now. And as you pray you will become wise. Ask for more - more happiness, more healthiness, and above all more holiness.
As that the way you posture yourself and present yourself to the world will be happy, healthy, and holy. And ask the way that you see the world would be happy, healthy, and holy. As for your blindness to be cured, and for you to be able to see people as they truly are.
As we do so, may we experience ever more holy attraction and love.
Let us pray.
God, teach us to abstain from the pursuit of celebrity. Show us our blindness. Give us faith to ask for more healing. May we become a people who see the way we are supposed to see. In so doing, let us model the right relationships and become the type of community that declares to the world your nature.
Pastor Samuel An