In my naive days I evaluated the data of life from its outside appearance. That, I discovered, was reading the world incorrectly.
Oh, yes, much of what you see is what you get. There are people like that, circumstances like that, books like that, religions like that. But there is much much more that is not.
First impressions are tricky. Depending on person or context they may indicate the true reality or not. More than once I have misjudged a book by its cover. I have either under or over-valued a person, place or thing. I’ve repented over those occasions. But the temptation to be wooed by the externals is a strong one.
Some years ago our family had some investment rental property. The next door neighbors were a fine family – two parents and three children. The father was a bus driver for the city and a strong working guy, involved in the neighborhood. The mom worked in a school cafeteria and knew everyone. The parents spent time with the kids and the family was always doing things together.
One day dad came home from work, walked from the drive to his front door, and on the way somebody emerged from the side alley and pelted him with bullets. He died where he fell.
It was a neighborhood tragedy and I remember going to the mourning house, walking through the zombie-like children and shattered mother to express, what, some consolation. They numbly regarded my gesture. I was not surprised.
How could this happen to such a family? What monster would destroy such harmony?
Maybe two months later I saw a news piece that featured this grief-stricken wife and mother. She had been arrested and was charged with conspiracy to commit murder. It ends up that she and her lover put a contract on her husband’s head to have him snuffed. She’s now in prison.
And I remember walking into her kitchen, expressing my sympathy, and she lifting her heavy eyes toward mine. “Thank you for stopping by,” she said. And I thought to myself, “How could anyone do something like this to this family, this woman?”
We are not what we seem, to ourselves or others. People are better than we give them credit … and worse. And quick judgments based on first impressions are often … mistaken.
I once read an author who asked a simple question about bringing peace and love into the world. The question was, “How can we begin to bring about peace and reconciliation to the four quarters of Jerusalem when we can’t bring peace and reconciliation to the four quarters of our own heart?”
It’s the right question.