Me and My Mirror
Is there anyone reading this who has never, in their lives, spent time staring into a mirror seeking out all the imperfections of face and figure? It seems a common human occupation, not limited to females, especially during those vulnerable years between eleven and twenty-one. With growing self-consciousness comes growing sensitivity, especially about appearance. Unless one is born to be featured on the cover of Vogue or GQ (and those people have their own set of problems) mirrors are not a teen’s best friend, but somehow we can’t stay away from them.
Mirrors tell the truth, for good or ill. In the ancient myth of Narcissus, the hero’s downfall was his own reflection in a still pool of water–so beautiful that Narcissus wasted away to nothing while gazing at it. The magic mirror in Snow White gave unwelcome news to its owner when it refused to show her likeness in answer to the question, “Who’s the fairest?”
The 1991 Disney version of Beauty and the Beast also features a truth-telling mirror that shows the viewer whatever he asks to see, as long as it is not the viewer’s own reflection (compare that with the ordinary kind of mirror that Gaston gazes into at every opportunity!). Storybook mirrors tell us that beauty is not for the possessor, but for others; that often it exists below the surface; that it springs from a source outside ourselves; that it is capable of redeeming ugliness. If we look into our own heart-reflected “mirrors” with wisdom instead of insecurity (see James 1:23-24), they can tell us the same things.
This month the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast opens to great anticipation. Like the live-action Cinderella a few years ago, the film promised clean entertainment, gorgeous production values, and a wholesome theme. Some unwelcome news about the inclusion of a “gay” subplot has dismayed Christians who were looking forward to the opening on March 17. But after all, the story existed long before the movie. It’s a story that taps into deep reservoirs of Christian truth—the central Christian truth, in fact: God loves the unlovable, and the Beautiful Prince himself came to seek out and redeem heedless children made ugly by sin.
The 1991 Beauty and the Beast remained true to this theme, even from the first two minutes where the story is set up: “Although he had everything his heart desired, the prince was spoiled, selfish, and unkind.” Warned by an ugly crone “not to be deceived by appearance, for beauty is found within,” he refuses to listen and falls under a curse of hideous ugliness that reflects his inner being. But the ugly-crone-turned-enchantress offers one ray of hope: “If he could learn to love another, and earn her love in return, then the spell would be broken.”
But who could ever learn to love . . . a beast?
Only one whose heart is kind (and whose appearance, incidentally, reflects the beauty within) is able to remove the curse. Love is the key, but Belle’s love is also mingled with compassion. Just so, God’s love is motivated by compassion for the “beastly” creatures he adopts as his own. As we get ready to think about the themes underlying the classic story of Beauty and the Beast, let’s think about how the Bible speaks of beauty, and of love.
Beauty in the Bible
1. Very few Bible characters are mentioned in connection with their physical appearance—and, interestingly, almost all of them are mentioned in Genesis and I and II Samuel! Look up the references below. Was attractiveness a hindrance or a help to these people? In what ways? Also, which of these people demonstrated an inner beauty as well?
- Sarah (Genesis 12:11-13)
- Rebekah (Gen. 24:16)
- Rachel (Gen. 29:16-18)
- Saul (I Sam. 9:1-2)
- David (I Sam. 16:12)
- Abigail (I Sam. 25:3)
- Bathsheba (II Sam. 11:2-5)
- Tamar (II Sam. 13:1-14)
- Absalom (II Sam. 14: 25-26)
- The Beloved (Song of Solomon 4:1)
- Esther (Est. 2:5-18)
2. What use do you think God would have for physical beauty? (See I Sam. 16:7, Isaiah 53:2, I Peter 3:3-4) How could physical beauty be used to glorify God?
The Beauty of Love
3. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word hesed doesn’t have an exact English equivalent. It’s almost always used to refer to God’s love, not human love. Look up the following verses in which hesed (sometimes translated “mercy”) is used: how would you describe this kind of love? Ex. 34:6-7, Deut. 7:12, II Sam. 7:15, Ps. 107:8, Ps. 87:2, Ps. 119:64, Prob. 16:6, Job 37:13, Jonah 4:2, Isaiah 55:3.
4. In the New Testament, the word most often used to describe God’s love is agape. One of the most famous descriptions of agape is found in I Cor. 13:4-8a. Write down all the words used to describe God’s love in this passage: How does agape compare with hesed?