How Important Is Physical Attraction in Dating and Marriage?

What is the proper role of physical attraction in a dating relationship?

In this episode of Ask Away, Jo and Vince consider how we can approach dating relationships carefully and wisely. They suggest that we should be attracted to things of lasting beauty in another person as well as have a healthy perspective on both our physical appearances and those of whom we date or marry.



After you’ve listened to the podcast, join our discussion about it! Here are some questions to jumpstart our conversation:
  • What are examples of “things of lasting beauty” that should be the most attractive to us?
  • What is a healthy perspective on physical appearance?
  • After listening to this podcast, did your view of the role of physical attraction in dating and marriage change? How?
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This episode of Ask Away addressed the questions, “Is physical attraction completely worldly? Should physical attraction play any part in dating?” but the episode goes beyond that to explore our ideas about beauty. This was just the nudge I needed to rethink beauty from God’s eyes.

I’ve had mixed success in viewing beauty biblically. Many years ago I noticed the young ladies in my life needed an example of attractive modesty, and this helped me see the way I dressed as an act of service and worship. However, I’ve also battled anorexia in the past, so I know how susceptible I am to measuring beauty according to the world’s standards.

I looked up what the Bible says about beauty, and I was surprised to find that at least four different Hebrew words are sometimes translated beauty or beautiful. One of them, tiph’arah, can also mean splendor or glory, and it’s sometimes associated with strength (Psalm 89:17; Psalm 96:6; Proverbs 20:29).

I immediately thought of a day recently when five men from church came to help my family move boxes into our new home. As I watched them bound up the stairs with stacks of book boxes in their arms, I knew the wisest thing for me was to stay out of the way. I would have needed days to move the boxes that they moved in a couple hours.

That’s exactly what God has been teaching me in my relationship with Him. Many things are completely out of my control but completely within His. Why do I labor trying to do the impossible? God keeps whispering, “Rest in Me.”

I may never have beautiful strength, but I’m realizing God intends all forms of beauty to picture His character.

Towb is another Hebrew word that is occasionally translated beautiful or fair, but much more often the translators chose good for this word. God called creation good (Genesis 1:31). Towb is used of physical beauty in Genesis 26:7. It speaks of moral goodness (Psalm 37:3) and the goodness of God (Psalm 23:6; 34:8).

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV)

God wants us to understand His goodness, so He tells us to taste and see. This conjures up memories of delicious food. It brings to mind images of beautiful sunsets and starry night skies. God says, “Think about these things, and know My goodness.”

So is physical attraction completely worldly? Absolutely not. When surrendered to Christ, this attraction is an incredible picture of the relationship God wants to have with us and the joy He wants to give.

In fact, all forms of beauty are pictures God gave to help us understand the glory of His character. If I pursue beauty with this in mind, it becomes an expression of worship and witness to God’s love. And that pursuit begins by relishing the beauty of God.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4 ESV)

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For perspective, I’d like to start with what the role of physical attraction in dating is not – which is, all in all. Two of my former youth visited church yesterday. I’ve known the younger one since she was in fourth grade. They are now respectively 15 and 18. After seeing them shoulder in shoulder, I did a little probing. So, how did this happen? The older responded something to the effect of: “Well, Tony, you see it’s how these things usually happen, we were attracted to each other.”

My spirit sighed. I then broke the unwritten youth leader rule that you should never act like an old person. I told them they were too young to be dating. I am certain there was wise counsel somewhere within, wanting to escape. I muttered with little reasoning that it wasn’t going to last, and added no more.

What I should have said, is that a relationship built solely on physical attraction is like a house built on the sand. We get this in Florida. I should have gone into Matthew 7 and explained that just as our faith must be built on a firm foundation, so also must our relationships if we expect them to last. And had I been especially filled with the Spirit, I might have gone into Matthew 19, explaining how marriage is so serious an undertaking, that the average person ought not to consider it.

I’ve been away from podcasts for a while, but I did come across this one from Ask Away and listened to it on Saturday. What I found thought-provoking, and challenging, is when Vince suggested that we as Christians, although at a lesser intensity, might be on the same trajectory as the world in the area of physical attraction. The question was posed as to whether we would even be open to considering dating someone who we did not find attractive enough. What a piercing question.

I’m not sure I can give the pious answer and say that physical attraction is not a factor, or even that it shouldn’t be a factor. I think the right question is, as has been asked here, how important is it?

When I was in college, my friends and I rated girls on the ten scale. Nobody ever got a ten, which I think demonstrates that such pursuits will always leave one wanting. What was also telling is that the ones who got nines were not merely physically attractive. In fact, a beautiful woman only has dating value when she is more than a physical form.

As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout,
So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion.
Proverbs 11:22

The physical form itself is as a blank canvas. The light of the eyes, the splendor of countenance, steadfastness of character, and possession of the peace that surpasses all understanding radiate from those who would be filled with Christ. Beauty and goodness do indeed go hand in hand. And what else is lasting? Humility and integrity are paramount. Sound doctrine. And an inclination to walk toward eternity. Love.

Vince has it right – marriage is not about receiving, but giving. Obsession with the physical is both selfish and short sighted. At the same time, physical appearance is part of this whole package we call “attraction,” and it would seem to me dishonest to deny its reality. Can we transcend this paradigm? Should we?

It’s hard not to consider it when Jo describes how Jesus offered Himself to us; that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Does not Ephesians 5:32 liken a man and his wife to Christ and the Church? Let us not forget God in these matters. Since the Father chooses the bride for the Son (Genesis 24), can we not rest in knowing that our Father will draw one to another by some certain means of attraction?

It is but for us to abide in Christ, all other things He will add to us, and no good thing will He withhold. Thank you Vince and Jo for helping the believer think.

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I’m thankful I saw this topic mentioned in an email I got recently! I had been subscribed to this podcast but somehow unsubscribed a few months back without realizing it. It was good to hear Vince, Jo, and Michael talking again! I thought they handled the topic very well!
About the first discussion question, I’d say we should look for character qualities that match up with God’s design for believers because that is what will last. So this would look like the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Expression of those characteristics is evidence that he or she is being made into what God wants us all to be. Another characteristic of lasting beauty is how that person acts. Primarily do they seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first? In short, we can look for lasting beauty in ‘being’ and ‘doing.’ Being, in that a person’s character is being transformed into maturity in Christ evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit. Doing, in that their actions reflect a desire to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness first.
Gary Thomas, in The Sacred Search deals practically with physical attraction. He made the point that physical attraction is needed at some level for what will be required of a husband and wife in marriage, but I think it was he who also made the point that, if in considering dating and marriage, a person who is evaluating another person for marriage rules that person out based on physical appearance alone, in spite of the fact that they are growing in godliness and meet all kinds of other personal standards, then they may need to examine why that person’s appearance creates a problem in their own heart.
After listening to the podcast, it was good to hear others affirm the importance of the goodness of God’s creation and the importance of godly character in considering dating and marriage.

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Jennifer, you’ve given much here to think about. I’ve read this several times and it’s hard to choose what I’d like to respond to. I like how you’ve demonstrated this progression from goodness to beauty, and from beauty to worship.

Ravi used to say something like - worship is the highest expression of our being. As you’ve suggested, worship is inspired by God’s beauty. In turn, I find it is God’s goodness that informs His beauty. In other words, God is good, which makes Him beautiful, and compels our worship of Him.

Now if we apply this to human relationships, we have a formula that looks very different than what is normative in society. What’s good is beautiful, not the other way around. Again, we remember that God called His creation good. Does a starry night sky now have a new meaning?

When we are called to taste and see, He is not merely asking us for a fleeting encounter, but is inviting us to intimacy. We don’t just look at a café breve, or snap a photo of a sunset and walk away. We sip, we savor. And we bask.

It is good. It is beautiful. He is worthy.