Pastors talk about never being asked an original question. We seem to be asked the same sorts of questions over and over (which is fine, by the way!). Why does God allow suffering? How can you trust the Bible? What’s the deal with Noah’s ark? or the Trinity? and so on. So it’s a rarity when someone asks you a question you haven’t been asked before – usually a welcome rarity. Here’s a question I was asked by a parishioner that I certainly hadn’t been asked before…
A young lady in our congregation asked to see me and my wife to talk to us about something. When we met up together, she told us her plans to have cosmetic surgery on her nose and a breast enlargement operation. What did we think? Well, that was an original question! How would you answer it?
How do you answer questions you haven’t thought about before? Where do you go? Of course you go to the Bible. But I would suggest we should think through all questions in terms of what the Bible says; how the gospel bears on the problem; and pastorally in terms of where the particular person is in their walk with God.
In terms of having a breast enlargement operation, would you say No immediately as a knee jerk reaction to the excesses of our sex-crazed society? Mind you, her husband didn’t want her to have the operation. This was something she wanted. She was not satisfied with how she looked. Her nose was a bit crooked. She assured us the small size of her breasts was causing her psychological angst. She was not happy with her appearance and how she felt about herself when she got up in the morning.
What does the Bible say? As I stared into space I racked my brains regarding the Bible. Hmmm. Nothing I can think of that talks about nose jobs and breast enlargements! Now what? Well, we listened to her reasons for wanting such things (that gave more time to think!). And I consulted the IVP New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology (we pastors know all sorts of cheat short-cuts like that!). In the latter dictionary there was a very helpful article on cosmetic surgery that we discussed together. Is any cosmetic alteration wrong? What about make-up? Jewellery? Nice clothes? Good shoes?
Some Christians would indeed rule out all cosmetic alteration on the basis of verses such as 1 Timothy 2:9, that says: “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”. Does this verse rule out the wearing of jewellery and make-up? On the surface of the verse it seems to do so. However I believe that would not be an accurate reading of the verse in its context. In the context of 1 Timothy 2 Paul is speaking about women aspiring to godliness, an inner godliness as opposed to how they look on the outside. It would be going too far to suggest that the verse is outlawing any cosmetic change to your looks (such as make-up or jewellery). In the context of a parallel passage this becomes clear. In 1 Peter 3:3-4 Peter says: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing— 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.” In verse 3 Peter says that women are not to wear gold or clothes. Should women go around naked then? Of course not. Taking the verse in a wrong literal sense would result in an absurd meaning and application. Peter and Paul are making the same point. Women are to be concerned about their inner godliness, not so much about their outward appearance. Wearing no make-up and jewellery is fine of course, but is not what these verses are advocating. Paul and Peter are urging Christian women to pursue godliness of character. How much time do you spend on make-up and clothing? How much time do you spend in the word of God and prayer?
Perhaps a question to ask would be why one would wear make-up and jewellery? There may be many reasons no doubt. I’m sure for most women this has far less to do with attracting the opposite sex and far more to do with how they feel about themselves. Personally I see no problem with women spending time making themselves look good. What do you think?
Of course everyone will draw a line somewhere. Women must be careful not to cause their brothers in Christ to stumble by what they see. Christian women should certainly dress modestly. Short skirts and low-cut tops may be current fashion and help young women feel good about themselves, but they will cause their fellow Christians to stumble by what they see (cf Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8).
Furthermore the amount of time a woman spends in dressing and the amount of money she spends on make-up and jewellery should be taken into account. But hopefully, dear reader, you can see the problem? Where do you draw the line? Such a question is the question of the Pharisees. There is no definite line to draw here. And on the scale of cosmetic surgery, make-up is at one end, breast-enlargement is at the other. Plastic surgeons may operate on someone’s ears that stick out so that they look more like other people’s ears and there is less pain from teasing and less staring from other people. A woman who has a partial mastectomy from breast cancer may have cosmetic surgery as a result. Would we say such operations are wrong?
So how do we answer the young lady parishioner’s question? I could not say that having a nose job or breast enlargement operation is wrong. However I would find it very hard to see why one would do such a thing (in the case of the breast-enlargement at least). It costs an enormous amount of money for one thing. But the key problem to me is in the area of contentment. Are we finding our contentment, identity and sense of self-worth in the gospel or in how we look? Jesus has died and paid the penalty for my sins. I am forgiven all my sins. God loves me and counts me now as his child. God loved me so much that he gave his one and only son to die on the cross for me. I need to find my contentment from what God has done for me (Philippians 4:11-13). That can, of course, be easier said than done. But if a Christian lady has a breast enlargement operation, not for health reasons, but because she is not satisfied with how she looks, will she be content then? I doubt it. In fact I suspect that one operation will lead to another. It’s a bit like getting a tattoo and then wanting more and more, but then that’s a topic perhaps for another blog…