29 January 2013

The Outward Appearance not as Important as the Inward

Your Appearance Reflects the Inner You

Let us be grateful to the mirror for revealing to us our appearance only. [i]

We all know that first impressions are important. The cosmetic and fashion industry’s financial success in both men and women’s categories tells us something about how much emphasis people in today’s society put on appearance.

People from all over the globe take great pains to enhance their image. They focus on the face they want to show to the world.

However, in doing this, often times people forget to consider that their appearance is something that should reflect their inner self in a way that will accurately portray their unique, individual identity.

In Who's Image are We Created?

The Bible and the Book of Mormon tells us we are created in God’s image. That means, as His children, we are truly special and unique. When thinking about our appearance, it is important that we remember our identity with our Heavenly Father. When we stay true to the Biblical principles of who and what we are, we begin to see that our outward appearance should reflect our inner selves.

Fashion Focus: A Long History of Judgmental Culture—or Couture

Our world is captivated and intrigued with the concept of appearance, fashion, design and style. We live in a judgmental culture that is socially structured to view worldly stature based upon a polished and enriched outward appearance.

This is not a new concept. It has been going on for thousands of years.

Almost 2,000 years ago, we learn of a parable, which we today call, "Parable of the Good Samaritan." Even the highly, religiously "chosen" were condemned by Jesus for focusing too much on the outward appearance. In the parable, both the Priest and the Levite (who by the way were coming home from temple worship) were guilty of "passing by the other side" of a man who was hurt and in need. Why is that?

Because religious purity and sanitation of the outward body became more important than the liberation and deliverance of another human being in need. We see in Jesus' parable that he condemns both the Priest and the Levite who appear clean on the outside but "inwardly unclean."

He says, “For ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion” [ii]

By saying this, Jesus makes the critical distinction between those whose good outwardly appearance reflects their goodness inside verses those who only appear good, but are inwardly immoral, unethical, corrupt and iniquitous.

If you look closely enough, you will see strands of Jesus' parables condemning the outward appearance, which in my view describes the disadvantage of focusing only on someone’s appearance—and judging them based solely on that—rather than looking for the substance found in the heart of that person, whether it is yourself, or someone else.

Jesus Cares about Our Inner Appearance

There are five classic examples of this found in the following:

The relationship between this parable and our outward appearance is that the way we look and behave may cause us to look like weed, or “Tares” to the rest of the world. Because we have a goal of reflecting our true image in our Heavenly Father’s eyes, it is important for this distinction to be made. Jesus used this parable to show his disciples that outward appearances can hide the true nature of a person or thing. In the Parable of the Wheat and Tares we understand that, at least from a distance, Tares look like Wheat.

·         The Parable of the Foolish Ten Virgins,[v]

This parable talks about being prepared. All ten virgins seemed to be prepared to meet the Bridegroom at first glance. They were decked out in their finest clothes and had all brought their lamps.

However, as the night unfolds, the true character of the Five Foolish Virgins is revealed. Their appearance was a bit deceiving; they looked ready, but they were not. In the Parable of the Foolish Ten Virgins we understand that a person with his lamp lit and burning with plenty of oil looks like a person with his lamp lit and burning who did not bring enough oil for the night.

·          The Parable of the Fig Tree, [vi]

In this parable, we can think of the fig tree as ourselves, and the fruit as the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus looks at us, he looks to see if we are bearing “fruit.” He looks not at our fashion sense, hair style, the shoes we wear, or our jewelry and fragrance, but at our hearts. Do we respect the commandments? Do we participate in gossip? Do we help a friend in need? Do we seek His guidance for our daily lives through prayer and acceptance of His will? The fruits of the spirit are many, and if we are truly walking our talk, Jesus will see that no matter if we wear clean but serviceable clothing, or are blessed with more expensive clothes to wear.

Remember that Jesus knows that a person can disguise themselves in pretty clothes, even when their heart and character do not match the clothes they are wearing. In the Parable of the Fig Tree, we understand that at least from a distance a fig tree with fruit looks like a fig tree without fruit.

·         The Parable of the Plough, [vii]

The Parable of the Plough (or Plow) depending on how you spell it, talks about our commitment to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. In the telling of this parable, Jesus makes a distinction about our words and behaviors versus the true nature of our hearts. Are we committed in our heart of hearts? Or are we just giving lip service, and professing to walk with God, when in reality, the work seems to be too much trouble and we turn back at the first sign of rocky ground?

It is important to remember to evaluate others, as well as ourselves to see if there is “looking back.” Are you looking back while you are plowing the soil of your own character?

In the Parable of the Plough, we understand that, at least from a distance, a person who is ploughing looks like another person who is ploughing while looking back.

·         The Parable of the Good Samaritan.[viii]

Do you care more about what other people think than you care about what your Heavenly Father thinks?

Will you pass by someone in need because you are afraid to be associated with that person based on how they appear to you and others?

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we understand that the Priest and the Levite were more interested in the ritual purity and sanitation of the outward body than doing what really mattered. Like the Priest and the Levite, many of us today are guilty of judging others simply by how they appear on the outside.

Long before Jesus was born, Jehovah told his servant Samuel, "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."

In all five of the previous parables, we can recognize and identify the seriousness of, "judging a book by its cover." According to these parables, it is neither reliable nor reasonable to judge a man by what is manifested on the outside.

The choices we make reflect what we look like on the inside. And the choices we make come with outcomes, results, and consequences. These outcomes can be disguised with clothing and the “right” clubs and the “right” friends, but they will not go away.

God sees the choices we make, and sooner or later, we will have to acknowledge the results of those choices.

So, Does This Mean I Shouldn’t Care About My Appearance?

Not at all. But it does mean we should remember to look deeper into our own hearts and into the hearts of others.

As one man so eloquently put it, There's nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you've been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.”[ix]

Don’t Miss the Ocean for the Beauty of the Waves

Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism are no strangers to this idea either. The Islamic traditional understanding of appearance is three fold based upon idea that, “Allah does not look at the outward appearance or wealth of any one of you, but He looks at your hearts and deeds.”[x]

The three-fold understanding can be summed up in the following way:

"One of which is commendable, one is blameworthy and one of which is neither. The kind of beauty which is to be commended is that which is done for the sake of Allah, to help one to obey Allah and fulfill His commands, such as when the Prophet sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam made himself look beautiful (i.e. handsome) when meeting the delegations that came to him. This is like wearing armour or battle-dress when fighting, or wearing silk and showing off (in front of the enemy). This is commendable because it is done to make the word of Allah supreme and to support His religion and annoy His enemies. The blameworthy kind of beauty is that which is done for the sake of this world, for reasons of power, false pride and showing off, or to fulfill some (selfish) desires. This also includes cases where beauty is an end in itself for a person and is all he cares about. Many people have no other concern in life. As for the kind of beauty which is neither commendable nor blameworthy, it is that which has nothing to do with either of the two purposes mentioned above (i.e., it is neither for the sake of Allah nor for the sake of worldly purposes)." [xi]

The Judaic God seems to have desired that His creations benefit from a life in which our corporeality would not position ourselves to internally define us.  

The passage of Leviticus can better explain this, "do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly...You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart. Reprove your neighbor, but incur no guilt against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD."[xii]

In other words, we will live a beneficial life by remembering that our outward appearance (i.e. being rich or poor) should not internally define who we are in the heart.

The Buddha is also on par with this approach for according to the Buddha, people make judgments according to rūpappamāṇa or the outward appearance.

The Buddha was very much against judging others by how they look. This is of great interest to Buddhist. Speculating about the karma of another person is frowned upon by the Buddha.

For example, some Buddhist may well ask within themselves, "I wonder what that person must have done to such a condition as that?" Once when the great Buddha caught wind of one of his followers arbitrating the destination of a man based upon his karma the Buddha said, "Who is this...to know the complexity of the human character?"[xiii] He then later he added, "Do not be a judge of others, do not judge others. Whoever judges others digs a pit for themselves."[xiv]

We can also find many similarities in the great religion of Hinduism. Hindus believe that they have a moral duty to concern themselves with the welfare of all others regardless of how they look. In fact, altruism (unselfish service) and universality (showing respect and favorable tolerance for everyone) is part of the Hindu law. Any deviance to this law would require one to fall into the snare of suffering which is the ultimate goal of the Hindu to avoid.

It is Okay to Transform Your Outward Appearance—Jesus’ Way!

This does not mean you should disregard your outward appearance! We are, in fact, told to transform our image and countenance in the persona and likeness of Christ. [iii]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have always been focused on both the outward appearance but more importantly the inward.

There are in the LDS church "Missionary Standards" of both inward moral cleanliness and "dress codes" that aid a member, "to be lively, vibrant, and beautiful both in your dress and in your actions."[1] There is even a whole website dedicated to LDS Missionary dress standards.  

Fashion Tips From the Latter Day Saints

In the LDS "True to the Faith" pamphlet we read that, “clothing expresses who you are. It sends messages about you, and it influences the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you can invite the companionship of the Spirit and exercise a good influence on those around you.”[1] A focus has been placed upon the Youth to be clean both morally and outwardly. See Here

Both the inward and outward have been a focus for the Latter-Day Saints,"Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."[2]

·         The First Presidency of the LDS Church states, "Your body is sacred. Respect it and do not defile it in any way. Through your dress and appearance, you can show that you know how precious your body is. You can show that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and that you love Him. Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress and grooming influence the way you and others act.

·         Never lower your standards of dress. Do not use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval.

·         Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. Young men and young women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior. They should choose appropriately modest apparel when participating in sports. The fashions of the world will change, but the Lord’s standards will not change.

·         Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings. Young women, if you desire to have your ears pierced, wear only one pair of earrings.

·         Show respect for the Lord and yourself by dressing appropriately for Church meetings and activities. This is especially important when attending sacrament services. Young men should dress with dignity when officiating in the ordinance of the sacrament.

·         If you are not sure what is appropriate to wear, study the words of the prophets, pray for guidance, and ask your parents or leaders for help. Your dress and appearance now will help you prepare for the time when you will go to the temple to make sacred covenants with God. Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?”[3]

Strict in its observance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has gone to radical measures to ensure that it's Ensign magazine readers are shown good wholesome images that would not deter from its dress codes and policies. There are times wherein the Ensign has specifically censored what they would consider harmful and objectionable images to its viewers. In the December 2011 Ensign we can see the practice of adhering to dress standards as displayed on page 54. Carl Bloch's painting had been censored to show modest dress standards and the doctrinal
belief that angels don't have wings. A close look at the two angels shows that the bare shoulders and the triceps and flanks have been covered by sleeves. 

[i] Samuel Butler, Erewhon

[ii] Matt. 23:25-28
[iii] 2 Corinthians 3:18; Alma 5:19
[iv] Matt 13:24
[v] Matt 25:1
[vi] Matt 21:1
[vii] Luke 9:62
[viii] Luke 10:25-37
[ix] Dave Barry
[x] http://islamqa.info/en/ref/islamqapages/2
[xi] http://sunnahonline.com/library/purification-of-the-soul/200-allah-is-beautiful-and-loves-beauty
[xii] Leviticus 19:16
[xiii] A.III, 351
[xiv] A.III, 351

[1] Thomas S. Monson

[1] True to the Faith page 107
[2] 1 Corinthians 3:16–17
[3] (For the Strength of Youth: Dress and Appearance.)
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The Outward Appearance Not As Important as the Inward by Michael A. Hickman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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