But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God [sees] not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7
The modern world is visual. I don’t just mean that I look around and see things but that the modern world seems bent on capturing my eyes. Take Las Vegas as an example. The city is awash with replicas of famous structures and fountains the size of multiple Olympic swimming pools prodigally spraying water through the air to one tune or another to mark the hour. When the sun goes down the lights come up and Las Vegas transforms from an imitation international journey to a neon-bathed, up-all-night place to lose your money and sleep and, potentially, self-respect. Las Vegas is the modern world taken to almost absurd extremes. If all I saw was the imitation Eiffel Tower and pseudo-Roman architecture then my eyes would be taken in. But I see the pushy people trying to shove fliers for illicit liaisons into my hands as I walk down the street holding my wife’s hand. I don’t just see expensive cars in the traffic, I see trucks bearing advertisements for things that make me blush just to think about. These, too, are attempts to catch the eyes. If I catch Las Vegas in an unguarded moment, I realize that the whole city is a fraud sitting in the middle of the desert self-consciously trying to distract everyone who comes through about how much a waste of human time, energy, effort, and resources the place really is. And it serves as an excellent metaphor for the world in general.
That same metaphor can be extended to people. We can look great on the outside — perfect hair, perfect teeth, perfect physique, perfect job, perfect house, perfect life — but inside be as ruined as can be. Sure, we can seem to have a perfect body and hair and teeth, but we spent the time and resources to get those to the exclusion of something. What was it? We may seem to have the perfect job, but we may actually be miserable and unfulfilled in it. We may have the perfect house, but be underwater on the mortgage for it (highly likely in some parts of Southern California). We may seem to have the perfect life, but our marriages are in shambles and our kids neglected and bitter toward us and our carefully-constructed world needs only an unguarded moment for someone to see that it’s all a façade. But that moment may never come. And we find ourselves faced with the reality of what God says.
God tells Samuel not to get distracted by appearances. Jesse’s sons were tall, strapping, handsome men. Samuel looked at them and saw potential kings — men that other men would gladly follow. His eyes were in danger of being caught. God interjects: “I have rejected these guys as king. I see things you don’t, Samuel. Don’t get hung-up on how kingly they look.” God was looking at their hearts. God looked forward and saw them cowering with the rest of the Israelite army while Goliath taunted and mocked God. God saw them caught up in their pride and thinking that their youngest brother was only interested in his own glory — projecting their own hearts onto David. God looks at the heart. And the hearts He saw within Jesse’s sons were not fully devoted to Him. All except David.
This presents me with several challenges today.
- I must not let my eyes be caught. The world is full of things to delight the eyes — interesting cars, fascinating fashions, attractive members of the opposite sex in those fashions. Those things, while not sinful in and of themselves (mostly), can easily lead me into sin if my eyes are caught.
- God knows what’s below the surface. I see only the outward in most cases. God sees the innermost detail in every case. I need to seek out His wisdom when dealing with everyone and everything that looks lovely on the surface.
- I need to not be jealous of the surface of another person’s life. While what I see may look great and desirable, it is only the tip of the iceberg. There is much more below the surface.
- My goal must be to see as God sees. If I seek His wisdom enough and look steadily at Him long enough then appearances will be shown as appearances and I will not judge based on those any longer.