A good read for the summer? – a reflection from the Archdeacon of Northampton

I wonder if you are the sort of person who loves to get stuck into a book or two over the summer. “Well, choose carefully because you can’t judge a book by its cover” – that’s what I was told as a schoolboy. A rapid glance at my bookshelf will confirm that theory – Power, Corruption and Pies is nothing to do with sinister ambitions in the catering industry; Has Keele Failed? is not an account of shortcomings at the motorway service station; You Can’t Play the Game If You Don’t Know the Rules does not even mention lineouts, rucks or mauls.

Actually, I’m always rather relieved that you can’t judge a book by its cover. All of us at some stage put on a front, and most of us have moments that we are really not proud of – private and locked away from public viewing. But God knows us as we are. He sees the cover and reads the book. He writes the preface … witnesses our introduction … pays close attention to every turn of the page … accompanies us into every new chapter … and is still engrossed by the epilogue and the bibliography. In other words, he is our unfailingly close companion from cover to cover.

To our shame, we sometimes never get further than judging the cover. Samuel (in the Bible) rightly observes that “men and women look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. What a relief. God sees us as we are and still loves us. Like the patient and long-suffering father in the story of the Prodigal Son, God knows that there have been times when we have messed up and pushed him to one side, but still he longs for our homecoming. He runs to meet us when we are still a dot on the horizon. He’s read Volume 1 and longs to start Volume 2.

Take a leaf out of God’s book – don’t judge by the outward appearance. He is unfailingly patient as we blunder through the pages of our story, so let’s take that same attitude with those around us. I heard a missionary tell the story of the time he arrived at a church carrying his motorbike helmet and showing a shaved head and an arm-full of tattoos. He was coming to speak to a church gathering. He did not immediately introduce himself but asked the person who was welcoming people at the door whether he was in the right place for the event. “Yes, there is something on this evening,” she replied, looking at him suspiciously, “but I don’t think it’s for people like you.” Ouch! In the Bible, we are (thankfully) forbidden from judging others. Leave it to God. He sees the cover and knows every word of the book. Meanwhile, let’s have the patience and the grace not to judge a book by its cover. Happy reading!

Richard Ormston
Archdeacon of Northampton

3 Responses to "A good read for the summer? – a reflection from the Archdeacon of Northampton"

  1. Terry Phillips   June 18, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    There’s another saying, “If a book is worth reading once, it is worth reading twice.” I wonder how this saying applies, if at all, in relation to your article. (I’ve just read a book that I bought in 2009 for the fourth time.)

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  2. Bill Elkington   June 18, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    Thank you Richard we are all prone to judge on first impressions, not always correctly. Your story of the biker vicar reminded me of when we went to church in Billericay many years a go with a young family. We were warmly welcomed but asked if we were new to the town. Our reply was that we had been living there for a few months. The question came back “then why haven’t you been before.” Yes it did upset us and we found another church, perhaps we should have tried again.

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  3. Rosie Rushton   June 19, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    Thank you so much for that reflection Richard. As an author I always give thanks for the fact that God allows me to amend the first and the second and the third draft of my life and indeed to keep on amending it even when there’s no way it’s going to be worthy of publication and he loves me all the way through it!

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