Thursday, January 24, 2019

Considering Covers and Contents

One of the sayings I often heard growing up was, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I was reminded of this recently while watching a remake/sequel to the film classic, “Mary Poppins.” The main character, Ms. Poppins, still delightful in every way, told the offspring of the kids in the original movie, “A cover is nice, but the cover is not the book.”

To me this serves as a wise warning to not rely on first impressions and outward appearances, favorable or not. Being the author, co-author and editor of numerous books, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of designing a strong, appealing cover for a book. Living in a highly visual world, we can all understand that a book might have great content, but if the cover doesn’t capture us as potential readers, it most likely won’t merit our time or financial investment.

On the other hand, I’ve seen books with covers so graphically compelling that I couldn’t resist picking them up. However, after reading a page or two, I couldn’t wait to put them down.

The problem with spotlights:
They don't reveal what's on the inside.
The same holds true of people. We’re probably all familiar with TV shows like “The Voice.” Some of their most memorable moments have come when someone whose outward appearance was nothing to write home about suddenly opened his or her mouth and wonderful melodies burst forth. Without intending to sound disparaging, discovering these hidden talents was akin to finding a diamond necklace or bar of gold in the kitchen trash can.

We see the opposite as well. The media takes great pleasure in hyping people with very attractive exteriors, whether it’s an entertainer, business person, athlete or politician. They give these pretty, personable individuals exorbitant amounts of coverage, hanging attentively on their every pronouncement, as if their outward appearances lent credibility to what they have to say. The problem is, many of these celebrated personages are superficial, beauty-is-only-skin-deep types. All icing and no cake. As Mary Poppins observed, a cover is nice – but the cover is not the book.

In the Scriptures we see the classic example of this in the opening chapter of 1 Samuel, after God has lost patience with excuse-making, buck-passing King Saul and determines Israel needs a new leader. The Lord directs Samuel the prophet to go to Bethlehem so He can identify Saul’s successor from among the sons of Jesse.

Almost immediately the prophet sets his eyes on Eliab, a very striking, imposing figure of a man. Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands before the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:7). We’d probably have reached the same conclusion. But God essentially responds, “Not so fast, Sammy. Let’s not go judging books by their covers. He’s not the guy. I’ve got someone else in mind.”

His actual words were, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Mary Poppins couldn’t have said it better herself.

One by one, Samuel examines the sons Jesse has assembled, but each time God declares, “Nope, not him. Not that one either. Uh-uh, him neither.” After checking out each of the seven sons Jesse had brought, the exasperated prophet asks the father, “Are these all the sons you have?” I think the original Hebrew reads, “Is this it? These are all you’ve got? That’s the best you can come up with?”

Then Jesse admits there is one other son, David, but points out, “he is tending the sheep.” As if to say, “You want him? The young one that smells like stinky sheep, sweat and stuff?” But Samuel insists, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives” (1 Samuel 16:11).

So Jesse summons David. When he arrives, the passage tells us Samuel sees a fellow who is “ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.” Not a bad-looking guy at all, but most important, he is definitely the one God has chosen to succeed Saul as king. “Rise and anoint him; he is the one,” God tells Samuel.

If you’re familiar with the story of David, you already know he turned out to be a pretty good king. Yes, he committed some grievous sins. He committed adultery with another man’s wife, then to cover up his wrongdoing, arranged to have the hapless husband to die in battle. Murder, secondhand. But he was also described as “a man with [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13:22). That didn’t mean he always did right, but when he did wrong, David was willing to own up to it, unlike his predecessor, Saul. His heart was right.

The Scriptures speak about this in many places, such as Proverbs 21:2, where we’re told, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.”  Another verse, Proverbs 16:2, makes a similar observation: “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives (the heart) are weighed by the Lord.”

These should caution us whenever the spotlight shines brightly on the latest and brightest celebrity or star on the political scene. Spotlights are good for displaying what’s on the outside, but from God’s perspective – and it should be from ours – what’s inside is what counts. Remember, covers are nice, but a cover is not the book.

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