This particular train of thought was brought to you by a comment thread a few days ago. I posted a sermon outline, Sketch of a Godly Wife, and some of the things that popped up immediately made me realize that I had to develop this thought further. I can’t really go back and cite whatever comments were involved because as of this writing there are 244 comments and I can’t find the source of my inspiration.
So let me make my observation, set out my explanation for the phenomenon, and then defend my effrontery.
I make these observations, not as some kind of creepy journalist, but simply as someone with eyes in his head. I travel a good bit, spending time in airports and the like, and I have also done hard time at Christian conferences. Having been in this place, I am in a good position to state that there is a marked difference between Christian women and women in the general population. Christian women are a lot prettier.
Years ago I debated an atheist here in Moscow. He was from Beverly Hills, and as it turned out we were able to invite him to join our family for sabbath dinner after the debate. During the course of the debate, he had made a standard unbelieving point that the Christian faith is a misogynistic affair, citing a verse from Deuteronomy, if I remember correctly. But in the course of our dinner, he said to a friend of mine seated near him that he had never seen so many beautiful women as he had here in Moscow. My friend asked, “What does that tell you?” He replied, “It tells me they don’t live in Beverly Hills, that’s for sure.”
Here is my explanation for this. The phenomenon is grounded in the order of creation, and in the purpose of redemption. What are men and women made out of? The first man was made from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), and he was made to be the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7). But the raw material that went into the creation of Adam was dirt. The first woman was made from the rib of the first man, not from dirt (Gen. 2:22). This means that man was made into the image and glory of God out of dirt, and woman was made out of the image and glory of God to be the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7).
This means that with regard to the importance of source materials, there is more wisdom in old nursery rhymes than in our current academy-approved gender studies.
Because man was created before the woman, the apostle tells us that he is the head, he is the authority (1 Tim. 2:11-14). Man surpasses woman in authority. But the order of creation tells us something else as well. If we are talking about glory, and not authority, woman surpasses man.
On creation days one, two and three, God created the structure. On days four, five and six, He came back through and filled it out. On the seventh day, He rested, filling that day with Himself. On day six, He created the man, and then He came back through and filled out that day, making it complete. He filled that day with glory by creating the woman.
In this sense, the creation order tells us something important about women. As God’s work of creation progresses through the creation week, it does so with ever-ascending glory. When man is created, He is almost done, but not quite. The capstone still must be placed. The crown must still be set. The final glory touch, the woman, must be presented to the man. So when we are talking about glory, the last thing created is the most glorious. That is the finishing touch, the final flourish.
The fall did not annihilate all this, but it did smash it into quite an impressive ruin. The dislocations and suspicions that have existed between the sexes ever since are a result of that fall (Gen. 3:16). But God did not abandon us in that miserable state, but resolved to send a Messiah, who is first named in Scripture as the “seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15). The woman, the first one tempted, will eventually have her revenge on the serpent.
Now that Christ has come, and the process of rebuilding the great ruin has begun, one of the central things that must be rebuilt is life between the sexes. Both men and women were ruined, but they were both ruined according to their respective natures, and so when they are saved and sanctified, the process varies accordingly. Men must be rebuilt in the area of authority, learning how to take responsibility as a true head, without grasping, demanding, or browbeating. This is done by imitating Christ — so that men learn that authority bleeds, and never bullies.
And women must be rebuilt in the area of glory, learning how to be a true glory, without ostentatious or seductive display.
This is why apostles in the New Testament spend a surprising amount of time instructing Christian women on the importance of being beautiful. The contrast between Christian women and unbelieving women does not consist of the former not caring about beauty and the latter caring very much. The difference is to be between caring about beauty as wise women and caring about it as foolish women.
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands” (1 Peter 3:3–5, ESV).
This is not the apostolic equivalent of “make sure you have a nice personality.” This is not compensation for plain looks with a vivacious spirit. This is what the Bible teaches about the source and origin of all true and lasting beauty. This is the real thing. But take care that you do not take some worldly standard, and then try to use the Bible as a means of fulfilling that false standard.
“likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” (1 Timothy 2:9–10, ESV).
The command is not that Christian women should not adorn themselves, but rather that they should adorn themselves in a particular way. They should do it in a way that really works. They can adorn themselves without any selfishness because when they adorn themselves rightly, they are becoming the glory they were created to be. This is no porcelain doll glory, and does not leave out the facts of real life. The good works the godly women are genuine work. This is not written in defense of the old maxim, overly precious, that said horses sweat, men perspire, and women glow. And neither am I ignoring the fact that all of us age, and that there are such things as wrinkles. I have seen two elderly women in my life who were positively radiant–one was Edith Schaeffer, delivering a talk that was filled with glory, and the other was a woman playing the piano at a Salvation Army dive in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Unbelieving women either compete for the attention of men through outlandish messages that communicate some variation of “easy lay,” or in the grip of resentment they give up the endeavor entirely, which is how we get lumberjack dykes. The former is an avid reader of Cosmopolitan and thinks she knows 15K ways to please a man in bed. The latter is just plain surly about the fact that there even are any men.
Let me anticipate a basic objection. This is my reason for writing about this in the first place. When I posted that sketch of a godly wife, one of the reactions was to point out that some women are not in a position to “have it all together.” They have really sick kids, they are hampered by sickness themselves, life is tough, they might not have the money for a nice dress and perfume, and so on. But this immediate retreat to the hard cases is simply a technique for refusing to let the Scriptures speak to us. If I were to say, as I do say, that husbands ought to work hard and provide for their families (1 Tim. 5:8), how is it on point to start yelling about a man you know who was laid off at the factory, broke both his legs the next day, and cannot begin to look for work for another couple months yet? The standard is set for us by God, and we work toward that standard as best we can. When obstacles and trials come, as they inevitably do, we are to carry our own burdens (Gal. 6:5), but we are also to make sure we help one another in the process (Gal. 6:2).
But it is no help at all to declare war on the standard itself. That is a false comfort, a lying trick, and a snare for keeping perpetual victims in bondage. It is an empathy that kills. It is therapeutic Ophrah-speak, and all the prisoners in the penitentiary are being trained to talk that way.
All of God’s standards in this fallen world are hard standards, and in the tyranny of false sympathy we have discovered a trick that can nullify absolutely every one of them. For every hard standard we find a hard case, and then we taunt anyone who still wants to achieve the standard.
This is another way of saying that some Christian women are sadly in the process of being deprived of their glory. They are listening to the serpent again, and they have falsely muddled the serpent’s faux-sympathy with Christian compassion. And the fact they are doing so registers in their faces. They are taking, to use my wife’s pithy expression, ugly pills.
But when we receive true forgiveness, when we receive God’s grace and kindness, when imputed righteousness is declared to be ours, He then gives us His standards as a token of His sanctifying love. We are no longer under condemnation, and have been set free to pursue the standard apart from the accusations of guilt. This grace is active and alive in this world, and is working wonderfully. And that is why Christian women are as gracious and as lovely and as glorious as they are.