Yesterday morning I discovered four flower heads were ripped off of my Callo Lilies in front of my house, which I had carefully and diligently planted, watered and nurtured for the past few weeks. I thought the Callo Lilies, often referred to as “resurrection flowers,” would add beauty to the urban neighborhood I live in and bless the many people who walk by my home. When I saw the freshly ripped stems with their missing flowers, I was perturbed. I thought about it and realized someone took (stole) them because he/she also found them beautiful as well. That person was obviously blessed by them as well to want them. The problem was that the person wanted them for him/herself, and in order to have them, he/she had to destroy them. This reminded me of a common but destructive treatment of beauty.
Dr. William A. Dyrness from Fuller Seminary wrote in Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, “Beauty gives rise to desire, which demands possession. Possession then can destroy the beauty of the object” (82). He references the desire of Amnon for David’s beautiful daughter in 2 Samuel 13 as a biblical example of this principle. After Amnon took the daughter by force and used her for sex, he no longer found her desirable in his sight and she withered away as a woman of shame. I think when we objectify the things of beauty to serve our personal gratification, we exploit its worth and in the course of satisfying our desires, we destroy what is beautiful. We destroy it by demeaning its dignity, worth and integrity. We destroy by using it. We destroy by consuming it for ourselves. Beauty is meant to be seen, shown and enjoyed by an audience, whether that audience is a passerby of a garden on a city street, a viewer of an artwork in a gallery, or a husband of a wife. But beauty that is not respected, honored and treated with nurture will be used and destroyed by those who so selfishly claim it for themselves. The beauty destroyed could be a flower, an artwork, a talent, a celebrity, a girlfriend or spouse, a human being… We destroy beauty with our lust and lack of respect. We destroy beauty all the time internally with our envy, lustful eyes or prideful entitlement. It’s the consumerist mentality that often destroys beauty.
Our society however is paradoxically confusing, because in our consumer-driven culture, people fabricate the appearance of beauty with the intent of selling it. Our culture markets beauty, or at least a form of it, in order to arouse desire. Whether it is sexualizing people or creating a facade of the beautiful, people want to sell beauty. But it is a consumerist form of beauty. In marketing themselves, true, genuine beauty that is defined by goodness, truth and grace is on a path to destruction. So, the selfish taking of beauty has a flip side, which is the selfish selling of it. Both aspects exploit beauty and lack respect for it.
But our society is often like a child. We see something beautiful, we like it, we take it and in doing so we break it. I think we have to be careful of how we treat beauty in this world. Just because we like it, doesn’t mean we should “have” it.