Lessons from a Bad Haircut

I got a bad haircut the other day at one of those cheap places that hires Beauty School graduates.  I can’t believe how much a bad haircut bothers me.  It’s clearly showing me just how vain I really am.  Just for future reference, here are some signs that your hairstylist doesn’t know what they’re doing:

  • A third of the way through the cut, she asks, “where do you part your hair?”
  • Half-way through the cut, she asks, “you use hair gel, right?”
  • As she’s finishing up, she doesn’t notice the sharp cleft that makes your head look like a box (my concept of “blend” was a little different than hers)
  • When you ask her to smooth out the cleft, she doesn’t see what you’re talking about, and starts cutting the lower sides even more, further exasperating the cleft.

I miss the days in high school when my friend, Lisa, used to cut my hair.  Lisa was like the little sister I never had.  She not only cut my hair, she would provide free counselling and fill me in on the latest gossip (unlike me, Lisa was well-connected)–all this for just $5.  

My abnormal focus on my hair made me think about all the things God says about hair. I’ll bet you didn’t know He cared about hair that much.  Hair is one of those seemingly random phenomena nobody thinks about that God uses to explain things.  Just like everything around us, there is purpose for hair, a story to be told.  You just have to notice, and pay attention to those little things He mentions in His word.   

God uses hair to teach valuable lessons about His love, discipline, grace, and authority.  He demonstrates His compassionate feelings toward His people through stories involving hair.  The revelation of great mysteries and vast amounts of understanding are just sitting there on top of our head.  

Hair Glorifies the Owner

Hair glorifies you, accentuates your appearance.  Ask any hairstyler and they’ll agree.  Hair is easiest part of our body that you can change from day to day, to make a statement, alter your appearance. Often the first thing you notice about people is the way their hair sits on their head–its length, style, and color.  When you notice someone changed their hairstyle, you know it’s polite to say, “Oh, I like your hair!”  even if you think it’s atrocious.    

Just as hair glorifies, defines, and accentuates its owner, so God’s people glorify God.  The many hairs sitting on top of your head, growing longer every day, tell the story of how God interacts with His people as they live life and experience joy and hardship.  Sometimes, hair must be cut.  Sometimes it falls out.  In the same way, God’s people sometimes experience pain and inexplicable loss.  But there are also stories of rebirth and renewal, of grace, forgiveness, and healing.  If we understand this, then we can appreciate better the hair metaphors spoken by Jesus and the prophets.  Let’s take a look.

Value 

First of all, consider Jesus’ statement that every hair on your head is numbered(1).  At first glance, we waive this off as a trivial information.  God’s ability to know how many hairs are on your head is perhaps a superhuman ability, but it has little value in life.  Instead, you must view this fact through the lens of how God glorifies Himself through our hair.  If you see this verse in this light, that God uses hair to reveal His nature through interacting with His people, you can quickly see meaning in Jesus’ statement.  Every hair on your head is important.  In the church, every believer has a gift, a role, and a purpose(2).  Even though it seems like you may be lost in a sea of countless people, and that God would never have time to think about your petty little concerns, the truth is, every hair is numbered.  You are not lost in the crowd.  He knows you.  He knows your needs  God is not limited like you and I. His understanding is infinite(3).  He has the capacity of knowing, observing, and directing the everyday occurrences in your life.  

Discipline and Restoration

Secondly, seeing hair in this light gives meaning in the common haircut.  The cutting of hair teaches us about God’s discipline of His people.  In Jewish culture, it was a great shame to have one’s hair cut off.  In this way, envoys sent by David to a neighboring kingdom were humiliated(4).  It was socially taboo, an embarrassment.  God played off of that social taboo and used haircuts to further explain Himself.  Cutting of hair symbolized punishment, a casting off of rebellious people.  As a living demonstration of God’s weariness at the way His people were faithless, stiff-necked, and insolent, God had Jeremiah get a haircut, and “cast away” his hair fragments(5).  This dramatic scene should have sent a very clear message to the rebellious people of Judah – change now or things will get ugly!  Cut hair represents a separation from God’s presence for a time, an exclusion from His protection, grace, and mercy.  That is the way for us whenever we wander from God.  When we reject the truth about God, the truth that is so obvious, we exit the security of His presence by choice, and accept the consequences of separation–despair, fear, anxiety, and other forms of wrath(6).

Thankfully, cut hair grows back. God’s discipline can be hard to deal with, especially if we don’t come to our senses quickly and realize we’ve wandered.  But it doesn’t last forever.  This is the beautiful illustration of grace that we see in the life of Samson.  Samson was a Nazirite(7), a uniquely-chosen person who was called out by God to fulfill a specific task.  Nazirites were to keep their hair unshaven, essentially keeping it “dedicated”, to be cut for ceremonial purposes only(8).  In this way, Nazirites were a living testimony to the Israelites that God was working within their midst through one of their members.  We all know of Samson’s indiscretion in letting his girlfriend Delilah cut his hair and God’s removal of Samson’s amazing strength.  What happens next is perhaps not well-known.  Samson was blinded, taken into captivity, and forced into hard labor.  In this lowest part of Samson’s life, we are told, “the hair of his head began to grow again after it was shaved off”(9).  In a powerful demonstration of renewal, God empowered Samson to perform one last mighty act, resulting in Israel’s deliverance from years of oppression and slavery.  The renewal of God’s favor on Samson is a beautiful tale of love and mercy, of how God forgives and uses our failures to remind of His love for us.

Desolation

In Jewish culture, it was humiliating to be bald.  It is unfortunate for the bald person who is bald not by choice.  For the bald person, their lot in life is to bear testimony of a bad state of affairs–not necessarily for themselves, but for people in general who are suffering through some desolate time in life.  

Whenever God speaks of disciplining His people, He always talks of keeping a remnant, of sparing some(10).  So in terms of God’s discipline, the baldhead represents an impossible, worst case–complete destruction–something He would never allow.  Nonetheless, we can sometimes find ourselves in a place of loneliness and despair. This can be the consequence of trusting in one’s own ability and neglects relying on God, or it can just be a serious period of testing(11).  The baldhead testifies to this reality of life.

Elisha the prophet has the misfortune of being bald. There is a rather odd and discomforting story in the Bible in which a mob of 42 teenagers mocked Elisha’s baldness.  It was so irritating he cursed those kids and as a result, bears rumbled out of the nearby woods and mauled the entire crowd(12).  This is one of those Bible stories that make you go, “huh?”  I really can’t think of a better moral to that story than, don’t pick on bald people!  Especially if they happen to be a prophet of God.

Submission to Authority

Any discussion of hair would not be complete unless it included the subject of submission to authority, a topic many are loathe to hear.  Paul wrote some interesting instructions to the men and women in the Corinthian church(13).  

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.”

This little passage is so controversial today, you never hear sermons preached about it. Ever. If “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable…,” then we should not overlook it or wish it away. 

This passage drives some churches to adopt rules regulating hair length and head coverings at certain times and places.  Other, more “advanced thinking” churches see Paul’s instruction only as figurative. I’m not a big proponent of rules, but I’m also very leery of quickly dismissing any scripture, especially if the only reason for doing so is that is seems archaic and culturally irrelevant. This topic was obviously important enough that Paul documented it as a “tradition”, similar to others he entrusted to the Corinthian church including observance of the Lord’s supper(14).  We pay attention to the latter, so why do we so easily dismiss the former?  If we’re not careful, our quick dismissal of this passage could be regarded as contentiousness(15).  

Paul says that “nature” teaches us that a man with long hair is dishonoring to him (16), and a woman with short-cropped hair is disgraced(17).  As hard as society tries to break stigmas and make it acceptable for men and women to “express themselves”, such appearance still sends a message.  It stirs a reaction in you, doesn’t it?  This tells me that hair length is more than a shifting cultural norm.  There is some rule of thumb that is inescapable.  In Paul’s words, short hair is fitting for a man, and long hair is fitting for a woman.  We come to expect these, and we hardly notice people who fit within these norms.  A person with different hair lengths stands out.

We always look a little harder at Sinead O’Connor, try to imagine what she would look like with hair, do we not?  I have a son who has grown his hair out.  It actually is a good look on him.  But I’m a parent and it’s natural for me to react a little when I see his long, wavy locks.  I fight it, because I don’t want to seem old fashioned, want to be accepting, regardless of hair length, color, or style.  But this message isn’t about accepting people based on hair length, nor is it a lesson about whose hairstyle is acceptable and whose is not.  Hair length has one purpose–to teach us about the authority that God has established, as well as His great interest in our response to that authority.   

Paul says there is an order in which God has established authority. Man glorifies God. Woman glorifies man. Just as a man’s long hair goes against the grain, man’s rebellion against God’s authority structure goes against the grain.  Man can fight, kick, and resist God’s authority, but this should not be “normal”.  When we see men resisting God, it should evoke a reaction in us.  Likewise, just as a woman’s close-cropped hair shocks us, woman’s rebellion against God’s authority structure (read: husband) should also shock us.  Woman can fight, kick, and resist God’s authority, but this should not be “normal” either.

Your attitude toward God’s established order is what matters to Him, and He has defined a law of nature–a “hair length” law, if you will–as a picture of what should be our natural response to that order.  Anything contrary should be different, noticeable, disturbing.  We can resist God’s order, try to argue it away, or call it culturally irrelevant.  But none of those things will change the truth any more than calling gravity “irrelevant” would make it go away.

The fact that Paul says the entire reason the woman should wear something on her head is for the angels (18) is very interesting.  There are living beings watching us.  God is demonstrating His character by interacting with us, and He does so before in a stadium full of spectators(19). This suggests that our everyday actions are important and significant.  I can be in my home, far from the public eye, but I will never escape the attention of the great crowd of witnesses surrounding me(20). Knowing this, my treatment of my wife should honor Christ, my Lord, as well as the God in whose image I was created.  My wife’s treatment of me should likewise be gracious and respectful (she is wonderful with this, by the way!).  Our treatment of each other should show the angels the power and beauty of mutual honor and submission.

So the next time you get a haircut, the next time you grab a comb and try to straighten things out, the next time you take off your hat at the ballgame when they sing the national anthem, think about the Lord.  Give Him thanks that He watches over and cares for His people, disciplining us like good parents discipline their children, and showing us mercy and grace.  Then give your spouse a kiss.  Show those angels what it’s like to joyfully and willingly submit yourself to God’s authority.  And last but not least…give that bald guy a break.

Notes:

  1. Matthew 10:30
  2. I Corinthians 12:18
  3. Psalm 147:5
  4. II Samuel 10:4-5
  5. Jeremiah 7:29
  6. Romans1:18-32
  7. Judges 13:5
  8. Numbers 6:1-20
  9. Judges 16:22
  10. Jeremiah 4:27
  11. Jeremiah 17:5-8
  12. 2 Kings 2:23-24
  13. I Corinthians 11:3-16
  14. I Corinthians 11:23
  15. I Corinthians 11:16
  16. I Corinthians 11:14
  17. I Corinthians 11:6
  18. I Corinthians 11:10
  19. Ephesians 3:10
  20. Hebrews 12:1

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