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!
Archdeacon of Northampton