Monday, March 29, 2010

Two Examples of How to Describe Beauty

A couple of years ago I wrote about How to Describe Beauty and basically said that the best thing to do is to not try to describe it. I still think there’s a lot of truth in that, but today I want to look at some examples, both from the Bible, one of not describing beauty and the other of a more direct approach.

The first example comes from Genesis, the first book of the Bible. In Genesis 12:4 it says, “Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.” Then in Genesis 12:11, 12 it says, “And it came to pass, when [Abram] had come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, ‘Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon. Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, they they shall say, “This is his wife”; and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.’” Abraham and Sarah were ten years apart, so she was 65 at the time. I’ve seen some attractive women who are about 65, but Abraham tries this stunt again when his is 100 and Sarah is 90. In fact, Abimelech decides that he wants Sarah as his wife. If she was that attractive when she was 90, she must have been something special in her younger years.

In Revelation 21, we find a more direct description of beauty. In verse 2 it says, “And I John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Here it is simile that shows us the beauty of this great city. Brides are beautiful, so when we see this comparison we imagine the city to be beautiful. Later in the chapter, John goes into the specifics of the city, describing things in terms of the gems. Verse 11: “And her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t do as much for me as verse 2 does. I suppose I’ve seen a jasper stone, but I can’t say that I’ve given it much thought. What that tells us is that though we can use simile to describe beauty, we must use comparisons that connect well with the readers. Verse 11 is likely to mean a whole lot more to people who have a special appreciation for jasper.

But I’m sure John must have had a particularly beautiful piece of jasper in mind when he wrote that. Though I’m sure this has a much deeper spiritual meaning than just a need to describe beauty. The name jasper means “spotted or speckled stone.” To describe it as clear as crystal seems like an oxymoron. Then when we stop to think about it, those of us who are going to be living in that city are indeed spotted and speckled by sin, but the blood of Jesus has washed us clean. The image that John saw was of a people who were once so opaque that we blocked the light of Jesus, but now his light shines through us. What could be more beautiful than that?