Black-Lighting Our Imperfections
Melanie recently bought a most disturbing hygienic tool for our home: a black light “flashlight.” Imagine you are looking at your newly cleaned bathroom: gleaming tile, shiny porcelain, spotless mirror and glistening fixtures. Now turn off the light and shine the black light on the sink, toilet, walls and floor. GROSS!!! The black light illuminates all the impurities still clinging to those cleaned surfaces; everything glows with microscopic life not visible to the naked eye.
I hereby apologize to every past guest in our home. I’m relieved no one was hospitalized (to our knowledge) by stopping by for dinner or a visit. I hasten to add, this is not my dear wife’s fault. Of the two of us, I am the “neat freak” and I had no idea what was lurking right in front of me. It was – literally – an eye-opener. (Sanitizing operations are underway.)
But the state of our kitchen and bath is not the real issue. This true confession only serves as an analogy to a spiritual lesson: What imperfections are present in our lives that, for one reason or another, we cannot see?
Focus on the outward. The Pharisees – a name synonymous with hypocrisy and self-righteousness – were oblivious to their inward corruption. They focused on maintaining an image of purity rather than true, inward piety. Thus Jesus rebukes them: “Woe to you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness …” (Mt 23:25-28).
Ouch. The Pharisees just got black-lighted by the One who knew them better than they knew themselves. Thus the problem: we often don’t know our true selves, for we rationalize, posturize and sanitize for public consumption but fail to do the “deep-cleaning” that our soul really needs. Melanie nearly wore herself out after we started black-lighting the house; it takes hard work to truly cleanse ourselves either physically or spiritually.
Illuminating our imperfections. Most would probably agree in principle, uncomfortable as it may be, that we need to recognize and confront our faults. But how can we effectively do it when we are prone to distort our own self-image? Here are some ways that should help us:
1. The most important tool is scripture: the mirror (Jas 1:21-25) and the sword (Heb 4:12-13). Our connection to God’s word is vital, and we must ponder it with the express purpose of honest self-examination.
2. Additionally, a vital component of effective study is prayer. Both our personal and public prayers should echo the psalm: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (139:23-24). Our constant appeal for true insight into ourselves will help allay the anxiety that we may be unwittingly stumbling down a path of destruction, a worry recently expressed to me by a middle-aged sister in Christ.
3. The exposure and downfall of others is also an occasion for introspection and evaluation. While it is sad when misfortune befalls others, it is also instructive. “What if that was me?” we should ask ourselves when tragedy strikes or sin devastates. Scripture warns us repeatedly of over-confidence or thinking too highly of ourselves (Rom 12:3, 16; 1 Cor 3:8).
For example, I read recently that John Gruden, an NFL head coach, was fired from his $100 million job for unkind emails sent over ten years ago. This should be a cautionary tale for all of us who, though less prominent than Gruden, are living through a period labelled the “cancel culture,” a deliberate effort to destroy the influence of political opponents by exposing offensive speech. If our own private emails were made public, would we be shamed by what we’ve said about others?
4. Correction from wise counselors, though again unpleasant, can be a valuable source of personal insight. Apollos, Paul, Peter, Barnabas and the Corinthians are NT examples of those who accepted well-intentioned criticism. The OT is replete with accounts of those who did not, from the Sodomites who resented Lot to the Benjamites who nearly committed tribal suicide; from Jezebel’s murderous rage against Elijah to the princes of Judah who hated Jeremiah for exposing their corruption and political foolishness. Sometimes people do not really understand what we think or why we made a particular decision, but other times friends and family may see us with greater clarity than we see ourselves. There will always be cranks and critics, and they should be justifiably ignored. But when trusted, close associates risk our ire to help us see a blind spot, perhaps it would be good to put our ego aside and listen to them.
Clean up and prevention. But just seeing our faults is not enough. Only then can the hard work of change and improvement begin. The great blessing is that God, in His grace, allows us to do this. Though we have disappointed His ultimate plan for us, He is willing to accept us as reclaimed, restored children who, though occasionally weak and wayward, still love Him and attempt to honor Him as our heavenly Father and Creator. Thus life becomes a journey of potholes, wrong turns/course corrections, wet roads, anxiety and other hazardous, debilitating conditions.
But analogous to Jesus’ scorching of the Pharisees, it is not enough to just wash and wax the outside of our vehicle. The tires must be replaced, dents repaired, oil changed – we must spend the time and money to keep our car in tiptop shape. If we don’t, it will eventually break down, perhaps stranding us in a dangerous place or costing us a fortune to repair.
A practical outgrowth of becoming impure is learning how to prevent it in the future. How far does God expect us to go in ridding ourselves of all that defiles us? We may not like His answer any better than His rebuke of the Pharisees: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you …” (Mt 5:29).