Why does God make things beautiful and then tell us it is sinful to value beauty?
How is it that when God makes creation beautiful to the eye it is considered godly but when we value beauty to the eye, it isn’t considered godly? (prov 31:30, 1st peter 3:3) Or when God wants to build an entire city, New Jerusalem, with diamonds and gold ( revelations 21) it is considered godly but a christian who would like just his/her car to be made out of gold isn’t considered godly. (Rich man parable, 1st timothy 6:10). It seems on one hand God values gold and beauty but on the other hand He hates it when we treat it with higher value than “normal” things. (what I mean by normal is that clearly he values gold material over rocks etc too.) He makes these things exceptionally beautiful or valuable but then warns us not to value them. It almost seems cruel. Is there a better way to interpret this?
This is a reasonable question. In interpreting any passages, we should consider all scriptures on a particular subject. In a sense, that is what you are trying to do here, and finding it a bit confusing. I can see why that could happen. A good principle is to ask what is the fundamental truth, and what truths are also true, but secondary.
First of all, I believe the fundamental truth is that beauty is a good, not a bad thing. In Genesis 1:31 we learn that everything God made is good—very good. Clearly, God made many things beautiful because beauty is good. Almost everything which God made which is good can be used for evil by sinful humans who choose to corrupt what is good. Sex between a committed husband and wife is a good and beautiful thing. The book of Song of Songs celebrates the beauty and good of this relationship. Yet, people clearly abuse sex and turn it into something corrupted and dirty. The same can be said for beauty. Something inherently good (for example the beauty of nature or the beauty of an individual animal or person) can be turned into something evil by human beings who abuse and corrupt the beauty. For example, when a man looks at a beautiful woman he is not married to and uses it as an opportunity to lust and view her as a sexual object of pleasure, that is bad. When a woman flaunts her beauty and uses it to flirt with men in inappropriate ways, again a thing of beauty is corrupted and becomes evil. The problem is not the beauty of the woman, but what we do with that beauty. The fact that heaven is beautiful is a good thing. Gold and precious jewels are not a bad thing. God made them beautiful. But if we value these things over and above God, then what was good and beautiful becomes corrupted and evil. I believe this dichotomy is what can explain what you are seeing as a potential contradiction in the scripture.
For example, Proverbs 31:30 should be understood to mean that beauty is fleeting (true—we all know that), and when it is flaunted by woman as a means to charm and manipulate men they are not married to it is not a good thing. It is not the beauty which is evil but the misuse of that beauty. Besides, spiritual “beauty” is more important than physical beauty. About 1 Peter 3:3, let me add a word or two to the passage to help explain it. Your beauty should not come [principally] from outward adornment such as braided hair and wearing gold jewelry [although such things are not evil in and of themselves]. Instead it should be [principally] that of your inner self…. I do not mean to add to God’s words here, but if we understand the passages which give praise to God for making women or nature or etc. beautiful, and also the passages which condemn the abuse of these things, we will have a more accurate understanding of how God views beauty.
To want a car made out of gold is to be selfish and greedy. Liking nice things is not sinful, per se, but recklessly spending massive amounts on conspicuous wealth and display is clearly not a Christian way to behave. Balance in such areas is required and, for a Christian, our balance should be on the side of avoiding displaying wealth. Generosity and willingness to share with those in need is an extremely important trait of godliness, which would explain why it would almost certainly be sinful to spend 10 million dollars on a jewel-encrusted car. I think you “hit it on the head” in your question when you notice that it is valuing physical beauty above God and above spiritual “beauty” which is the problem, not the admiration of what is beautiful. I do not believe that it is cruel that God made the world beautiful. Gluttony is a sin, but eating good-tasting food is a pleasure which God has given us because he loves us. The fact that people cannot control themselves does not invalidate the goodness of beauty.