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All I Want for Christmas Is a Bigger Bust

How the incarnation helps Christians think about plastic surgery.
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Still don't know what to get that special someone for Christmas? The hot gift this year just might be breast implants. Newsweek recently reported that "more older women are getting breast surgery than ever before." What age and childbearing stole, plastic surgeons promise to restore.

With a record number of operations, you never know who's gone under the knife. Indeed, plastic surgery is a hot topic, especially among Christian women. Is it ever appropriate? If so, when and what types? One woman who participated in a roundtable for Today's Christian Woman said she would not allow her daughter to undergo an operation until she turns 21. After then it's fair game. "Talking about internal beauty is fine for a grandmother or a mentor," she said. "But what about for a teenage girl trying to attract a mate? How she looks determines what kind of husband she'll get."

It's hard to completely reject this mother's pragmatic concern, seeing how images on the television and Internet train men to objectify women. But what about her theology? How does God's Word teach us to think about beauty and our bodies? There is no better time to ask these questions than during the Advent season, which points us to the incarnation of Christ.

The Bible tells us God made man and woman in his image (Gen. 1:26-27). There are no qualifications—not "only the beautiful," "but not after 45," or "unless you've birthed three kids." We have ultimate worth and dignity thanks to the act of this Creator God. As for beauty, the Bible cuts to the heart: "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Prov. 31:30).

But not all beauty is bad in the Bible. God uses Esther's renowned beauty to put her in a position next to the king so she could save the Jewish people. Still, physical attributes can mask problems. Saul stands a head taller than any other Israelite. Physical prowess could be one reason he succumbed to self-sufficiency. Proving his point, God raised up a small shepherd boy to defeat the gargantuan Philistine. But David later resorted to murder when he lusted after a beautiful, bathing Bathsheba.

We can only guess what the central figure of Scripture looked like. One messianic passage does drop a hint. "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,and no beauty that we should desire him" (Isa. 53:2). At the same time, we know much about what Jesus said and did. And we know why God sent his one and only Son. When Jesus took on flesh and dwelled among us, God taught us that flesh has everlasting value. At the end of days, believers will worship God forever in resurrection bodies. To reject the Incarnation would lead us to perpetuate Gnostic heresy.

Yet our unique age poses new problems. We pack on the pounds thanks to sedentary lifestyles, seated in front of televisions and computers eating processed foods. Jesus didn't get to choose between walking and driving from Galilee to Judea. Nor could he stop by a Jerusalem doctor for a quick nose job. But if he could, would he?

Obviously some types of plastic surgery illustrate the healing power of medicine. Here we can think about disfiguring accidents and diseases. But elective plastic surgery has a therapeutic purpose, to make us feel better about ourselves or to attract attention from others. It values appearance but not flesh. Contrast this with Jesus' example. The crying baby in Bethlehem grew up and sweat tears of blood in Jerusalem. He gave his body as a sacrifice to save his people from their sins. Likewise, God calls us to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1).

With every passing year, the mirror tells us we can't win the war against aging. Yet in the weakness of our flesh, God directs us toward his all-sufficiency (2 Cor. 12:9). What the first Adam could not do, the second Adam finished. Apart from this act of the flesh there is no Christmas hope.

A Plastic Age Turns Back

Near the end of Pope John Paul II's life, a number of slightly bewildered commentators wondered why this traditional pope connected with youth. Now U.S. News and World Report finds a tradition trend sweeping across religions. "Put simply, the development is a return to tradition and orthodoxy, to past practices, observances, and customary ways of worshiping," Jay Tolson reports. "But it is not simply a return to the past—at least not in all cases. Even while drawing on deep traditional resources, many participants are creating something new within the old forms."

Kudos to the magazine for exploring this issue in much of its complexity. If this trend crosses denominations, then it emerges with quite different results. My own reporting has uncovered a return to tradition with Reformed theology, which looks quite different from how Emergent communities appropriate the past. While the former defends traditional theology, the latter uses tradition in an effort to reach new conclusions.

Quick Takes

Verse for the Fortnight

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery."
Hebrews 2:14-15

Collin Hansen is a CT editor-at-large and author of Young, Restless, and Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists (Crossway, 2008).



Related Elsewhere:

Previous Theology in the News columns and more articles on the Incarnation are available on our site.

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