Looking Good on the Outside

Job 8:22 Those who hate you will be clothed with shame, and the tent of the wicked will be no more.” (NRS)

I began my worship of Jesus Christ yesterday shrouded in echos of hate. Some folks decided to set up camp outside the main church doors and verbally harass anyone who walked into, or even by, the church. For some, this was infuriating. Others were frightened by the use of cruel language and a video camera (even in this culture, where we record everything- from make-up tips to kittens playing with boxes- the camera felt unnecessary). When I offered cold bottles of water to the people provoking such emotions, they harangued me with questions and shouts of condemnation. It was, in a single moment, the saddest, funniest and most alarming of situations for personal safety.

As a body of Christ, we took a couple of deep breaths, had some calming conversation and laid ourselves before God. We prayed for those who singled out our house of worship. We prayed for love in the place of hate and peace in the face of conflict. Then, we relaxed.

After worship, I was outside as the police watched the shouts and milling bitterness camped out on the sidewalk. My presence drew the attention of one person who called me out by name, as he had before worship. This time, he said something that struck me funny. He yelled- as I was walking away toward the church parking lot, “You look good on the outside but you’re … on the inside.”  Struck by the unintended humor, I turned and smiled, “That’s a compliment I will take. Thanks.” Then I continued my walk into the church.

This verse from Job is a small bit of a speech one of Job’s friends shares after Job’s life falls apart. Each one has a different take on why things are so dire- was it his sin, his children’s sin, a lack of repentance- that made his children die, his livestock and servants be consumed by fire and his body to be riddled with sores. (The term ‘friends’ feels like a loose interpretation once you’ve read the entire book. ) However, Bildad, the author of this advice, thinks Job needs to prove himself blameless before God and then it will all be set right. Why? Because God will not be associated with an evildoer, reasons Bildad, and won’t reject the blameless.

Bildad and I disagree on this point. I am not a blameless person, but I’m not an evildoer; which is perhaps why that slur about how I looked struck me funny. I am an imperfect sinner leading a church of imperfect sinners who seek a Savior to shepherd and guide us. We try our best to speak love to hate and create plowshares from swords. We profess faith in a God that loved us so much that God sought a mortal life among us, and in losing that life we find redemption. Christians are imperfect. We do look good on the outside but our secret desires, fears and emotional pratfalls leave us …on the inside. The people on the sidewalk and the people in the church were the same, spare for one thing: the people in the church have hope in God’s redeeming love. That’s why we show up on Sunday morning: to pray, to repent, to support one another on the journey. In doing so, we radiate the bright light of promise and love. Maybe someday we’ll conquer sin and look good on the outside and the inside.

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