An article I skimmed today ended with the line “there is nothing more beautiful than being smart.” This hit a nerve for me and fits perfectly with what I’ve been reflecting on recently. Our society has long idolized physical beauty. And while I appreciate that we seem to be (at least in our words, though I would argue certainly not in our actions) moving away from this focus, I think our focus has shifted to something equally wrong – idolizing intelligence.
Many mothers (myself included, if I’m being honest) place a major emphasis on whether their children are “gifted” or how early they learned to read or how high they score on tests. As Christians, if we are more concerned with nurturing this intelligence than we are with nurturing their relationship with Christ, there’s a real problem. Which has a more long-lasting impact? Getting into a good college and being “successful” as an adult is pretty fleeting compared to eternity. But I digress a little.
When we learned during pregnancy that our daughter Lily would be born with Down syndrome, a major source of sadness for me was that she likely wouldn’t be “smart” or “beautiful” (at least by society’s standards). I know that I’m not alone in this feeling, and I don’t hold it against myself. However, it has caused me to re-evaluate what is truly important and what is “beautiful”. I do not accept this “smart is the new beautiful” idea. I reject it. Completely. I think idolizing intelligence is as dangerous and as negative as idolizing physical beauty. The real question is how does God define beauty?
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. -Proverbs 31:30
Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes, but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God. -1 Peter 3:3-4
But the LORD said to Samuel: Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The LORD looks into the heart. – 1 Samuel 16:7
While there is certainly nothing wrong with admiring physical beauty or appreciating a person’s intelligence, I think we must be very, very careful to keep them in perspective. We must realize that these are given by God and not a reflection of our hearts. When we think with pride of our children or when we compliment them, we should be conscious of the fact that physical beauty and intelligence are not necessarily permanent parts of who we are, can be lost at any time, and are ultimately outside of our control. I would hate to inadvertently imply that these make a difference in how much I love my children or how much they are worth. Does a person’s IQ determine whether or not they are “beautiful”? I’m sure we can all think of highly intelligent people who are extremely “ugly” people. So, no, I do not believe that smart is the new beautiful. I believe working hard and doing our best is worthy of compliment. A naturally high IQ though, not really something to praise. I believe beauty is determined by internal character – patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness – these are the marks of TRUE beauty.
Smart is not the new beautiful. A beautiful character is the new beautiful.