Beauty’s Double-Edged Sword

i was young when i first felt the affliction with which beauty can pierce your soul.

That way in which something indescribably gorgeous, sublime, and profound can stir you to tears or take away your breath.

Or, in some cases, how something visually or audibly captivating can be simply the deepest comfort your heart could ever know.

i have memories of times at the beach, in the woods, the fading twilight, the majesty of a summer thunderstorm, the brilliance of the seasons, and countless other moments in which the natural world resonated very deeply with my soul. i was caught up in the wonder of beauty, which is what God designed my heart to experience.

There is an intensity about beauty that can make you speechless. Perhaps that is the best indicator that something is truly beautiful.

i remember being keenly aware of feminine beauty and the way it captured my heart when i was still only in pre-kindergarten. i was aware of sexuality at some level. i noticed, and was attracted to, women’s bodies.

And herein lies the double edge of beauty.

Beauty is good and right and our hearts are made to drink deeply of it. But it stirs us like nothing else, and it defies our efforts to control it. Beauty is wonderful and vital, but it is also wild. Beauty will leave you speechless, for good or for ill.

Like any child so young, i lacked any sort of understanding for what i was feeling as i experienced feminine beauty and felt what sexuality was before my mind or body could fathom it. i did not have a vocabulary or the maturity to accurately interpret what i was experiencing, but i recall vividly how aware of beauty i was.

i was attuned to more than feminine beauty, but to be sure, there was something unique about it; feminine beauty, that is.

The double edge of beauty is that while it is exhilarating and it connects us to divinity, it can overwhelm us in a way that we — in our brokenness — give ourselves over to the endless pursuit of possessing it and deriving our very sustenance from it.

Beauty is amazing and life giving, but it is limited. Beauty is actually not Life itself. As C.S. Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.

That i liked pornography when i first discovered it at nine years old is not the least bit surprising. i was primed to be fascinated with women’s bodies.

In those pictures there was a remnant of legitimate beauty.  Perhaps it’s best to think of it as an echo. Pornography is not beautiful, but Woman – as she bears the image of God in her beauty — is captivating.  No pornographer can fully obscure the divine imprint that all women carry.

Women are beautiful in far more ways than their physical beauty, but God has indeed made them physically attractive. It was Eve in her unadulterated physical beauty that caused Adam to break out in poetry in Genesis 2:22-25.

i was also a prime candidate to become a pornography addict. My relational and emotional wounds coupled with my keen eye for beauty naturally meant i would over indulge with porn.

However, pornography was a dumb idol that broke my heart. It still has the power to do that if i begin thinking that there is somehow life in those fantasies or pictures.

And yet, i live in the world as a man who is keenly aware of beauty still — now more than ever, actually. The double-edged sword is this:  God has made me highly sensitive to beauty with the best of purposes in mind, but my finely tuned ear that can detect the slightest melody of beauty as it floats through the world leaves me vulnerable to the pull of the counterfeit that inevitably bears some degree of of the beauty God instilled in it.


5 Responses to “Beauty’s Double-Edged Sword”

  1. Christopher Mars

    Your best blog post yet, James. Brilliant.

    I often want to try and control beauty. I often hate that it is wild.

    And as Lewis pointed out, I often mistake the “vehicle” of beauty (the woman) for “life” itself. In fact, I probably do this all the time.

    • james tarring cordrey

      chris, thanks for reading. thanks too for the kind words. it’s so easy to get this confused due to our brokenness. we need to live in the grace of knowing that our affection for beauty is actually good, and trust Him with the way that manifests itself in our lives. peace, brother.

  2. Taylor Droke

    James, very well said and thought out. I love the way you think and the way to express yourself in your writing. Keep it up.

    • james tarring cordrey

      Thanks for those kind words, Taylor. and thanks for reading. i will keep at it.


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