This summer a friend from college told me about a paper he wrote on an ancient Greek term called kalopsia. I was so fascinated by the term and its definition I tried to do some research of my own on the topic. However, the internet was oddly silent on this ancient term and I only found a few dictionary sites referring to it. No scholarly articles or anything.
Kalopsia: The condition of things being more beautiful than they are.
I thought about it for a while, because initially, that sentence doesn’t make sense. I mean, how can anything be more…anything than it is?
But my friend gave me the example of a child looking at his parents. They seem perfect, impenetrable. When we’re young, our parents are omniscient and unfathomably strong.
To the child, his parents are stronger than they are.
After more thought, I concocted an even more relevant example: Lovers.
I wonder if, without kalopsia, the human race would even endure. I’ll explain:
Have you ever seen a couple and thought to yourself, How in the world is she attracted to him? I know how awful it sounds, but I imagine we all have had similar sentiments at some point. Perhaps you see an old couple who is still madly in love and wonder how they can still love each other, despite the wrinkles, sags, and medicine breath. Of course, we love to see those couples and respect and admire them, hoping to emulate their love someday, but have you ever wondered how they manage to see through the exterior beauty which is fading so quickly?
To him, she is more beautiful to him than the day they met.
She is more beautiful than she is.
But then I think back to the times I’ve been infatuated with a girl and it all makes a lot more sense. I’ve fallen hard and fast at various times in my life, and I know what it’s like to completely ignore morning breath, birth marks and little pockets of fat. And even unseen things, like social awkwardness or interests that vary from mine. It’s like I’m in another world where the atmosphere smells like lilacs and I’m 80 pounds lighter. She is the only thing I think about, and songs pour forth form me like a burst dam. She awakens something in me that lay dormant for months or years.
And have you noticed that when someone is being admired so intensely, nothing can bring them down? You can’t insult them. Their face is frozen into a perma-smile. Because when you know that someone loves you so blindly, you feel free. You feel unbreakable.
Even the film 500 Days of Summer points at this. Toward the beginning of the film, the protagonist is falling for Summer like a ball of lead, and lists off a few of her attributes. The montage is composed of soft, intimate shots:
I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck. I love it when she sleeps.
Time passes, and Summer inevitably breaks his little heart and reality flares up. The same montage, shot with harsher lighting and spoken with spite follows:
I hate her crooked teeth. I hate her 1960s haircut. I hate her knobby knees. I hate her cockroach-shaped splotch on her neck. I hate the way she smacks her lips before she talks. I hate the way she sounds when she laughs.
I feel like those in the throes of kalopsia sit on the fringes of reality, where The Shins always play gently in the background and time passes in slow-motion. Life is cinematic and the lights in the distance become soft blurs that dot the horizon beyond your lover’s head.
In the months since I first heard this word, I’ve wondered if it takes on any spiritual dimension. If, somehow, Jesus interacts with this ancient Greek term. I think the interaction is actually two-fold.
In a small way, I think Christians see something in Jesus that the rest of the world looks at and says Him?? Really?? What do you see there? Yet we, those who are on the inside of the relationship, understand. It makes sense to us to love this God-man, the carpenter from Nazareth.
Isaiah tells us that there was nothing beautiful about Him which should attract us to Him. Of course, you and I don’t know what Jesus physically looks like, but we still know Him. We see His actions and we see Him dangling from a tree on our behalf. His actions are beautiful. Who He is is beautiful to us.
The world looks on in bewilderment.
This relationship has gone too far. You’re out of His league. Don’t you know you can do better than some dude who lived 2,000 years ago?
Looking at our Savior, we are filled with the essence of kalopsia, and lose ourselves in admiration of Him.
But I think the second form it takes is far greater.
I think that when Jesus looks at us, His bride to be, He sees us as perfect. He doesn’t see us in the bathroom looking at porn, or under the covers cutting our thighs. He overlooks the anger we have at our sister as well as the times we’ve lied, stolen and cheated.
Jesus is infatuated with us.
To Him, we are more beautiful than we are.
Just as a lover pursues a girl despite her flaws, and she reciprocates by ignoring his boyish immaturity and weaknesses, Jesus has perfected the art of ignoring the right things.
I would go so far as to say that He has blinded Himself to our flaws.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul lists off a handful of terrible things people could be. He writes that many of us were slanderers, sexually immoral, thieves, greedy people, and so on.
“But,” he writes, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Do we still have sexually immoral longings and greed in our hearts? Of course. Yet Paul tells us that in the eyes of God, those things do not define us anymore. We were cleaned by Him because He loves us and sees us as spotless.
It is only the devil that wants us to think of ourselves as dirty and shameful. Jesus is too filled with kalopsia to worry about our past sins and shortcomings.
May we be those who see ourselves as madly beloved by a God who is too blinded by kalopsia to hold onto our sins. And in this kalopsia, delight, rejoice, and be freed from the guilt and shame which drive us back to our sin in the first place.
I love that you tied Jesus and (500) Days Of Summer together. Brilliant.
I had never heard this word before, but I love it–the perfect word to describe how God sees us! How in any relationship, unconditional love causes the lover to view the loved. It’s something to ponder, look for, strive for, and be intensely grateful for.
Thank you for giving me the best good-morning-waiting-for-my-coffee read I’ve had all week.
Beautiful. As I was reading this, I couldn’t help but think about how kalopsia also captures how quickly we latch onto dreams, expectations, things, people, and make them more beautiful and wonderful than they are. Like, in Lewis’ The Great Divorce, when each of the characters are holding onto something they thing is vastly better than it really is – and those who can see clearly are urging them to let go of it. Paul is also getting to that truth in 1 Corinthians, by listing the things we held onto and still hold on to, that Jesus’ resurrection makes new.
Glad I stumbled on this today – Thanks for your beautifully written wisdom!