What God Thinks of Us
J. R. Miller, 1909
One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves, is what God thinks of us.
One has pointed out that in every man, there are four different men:
the man whom the neighbors see,
the man whom one's family sees,
the man whom the person himself sees,
and the man whom God sees.
The community knows us only in a general way, superficially. What people think of us we sometimes call 'reputation'—what we are reputed to be. It is a composite made up of all that people know about us, gathered from our conduct, our acts, our dispositions, our words, the impressions of ourselves we give to others. A man becomes known, for example, as honest, because he pays his debts, never defrauds another, never fails in any financial obligation. Men learn to know that he can be depended upon. They say his word is as good as his oath, his simplest promise as good as his bond. Or, he gets the reputation of not paying his debts, of not meeting his obligations, of not being dependable in financial ways. One man through years of life becomes known as generous, kind, liberal, faithful in his friendships, obliging, self-denying, charitable. Another wins the reputation of being stingy, mean, grasping, miserly.
Thus the knowledge the community has of a man is only superficial. It is evident that the world's opinion about people is not infallible, is not complete, is not final. A person may be better than his reputation; his external manner may do him injustice. Some men, by reason of their shyness, their awkwardness, or some limitation in power of expression, fail to appear at their true value. The world knows only a man's outward life, and there may be good things in him which it does not know.
Then some people, on the other hand, are not as good as their reputation. Their photograph flatters them. What they pretend to be—exceeds the reality. They practice tricks which give a glamour to their lives, so that they pass in public for more than they are. They wear veils, which hide defects and faults in them, and thus they seem better than they are. Hence we cannot accept the judgment of the community, regarding anyone as absolutely true, fair, and final.
There is another photograph—what our intimate friends and family think of us. They know us better than the people of the community do. They understand us better. They see us with love's eyes, without prejudice. They know the good things in us, which only close association could bring to light. They saw us in some times of sore testing, when we showed ourselves true and faithful under difficulty or at great cost.
A woman who had been married a little more than a year wrote to a friend, "I thought I knew my husband perfectly before I married him—but I did not—I did not half know him. He had faults of which I never dreamed—-I thought he was perfect—but he was not. Then the year has also shown in him constant new revealings of beautiful and noble qualities, of which I had no conception. I knew he was good—but I did not know the thousandth part of the goodness I am now discovering in him."
Those who know us intimately find the worst in us, of course—but they also find the best. Friends ought to learn to be very patient with each other. We may not always expect our mere neighbors to look upon our faults graciously, with tolerance—but we have a right to expect our close friends to deal leniently with us. "Love is patient," says Paul, "and is kind." Especially in the sacred life of the home—should love be patient and not judge harshly.
In an English religious paper which has a department for questions and answers, this appeared:
"I live with a brother and a sister, both of full age. But we do not lead the happy life we should live. My sister has got into the habit of thinking that pretenses, subterfuges, prevarications, are not lies in God's sight, and that fidelities in common things are of little account. I get so impatient with her. Yet I do not know but my impatience with her is as bad in God's sight—as the faults I see in her. Should I just be quiet when I see it all, and leave it to God? How, then, can we have sisterly communion with this barrier between us?"
Surely this is not the best that the grace of God and the love of Christ can do or ought to do with Christian lives in the sacredness of the home. To be Christians, ought to bring us so close together that we shall never judge each other any more. Instead of one sister seeing great blots and flaws in the other—all should have that inexhaustible love which sees its own imperfections—but sees only the good things in the other. In the closeness of the home relationships, it is easy to discover faults and criticize each other. It is easy to overlook the good and the beautiful, when defects are so manifest. But the very essence of love—is to cover up mistakes and shortcomings in others, and to see everything in the light of patience and forbearance.
Even in ordinary relations with others, a loving nature should always look for the good—and overlook the blemishes. An emperor had an ugly scar on one cheek—and the artist who painted his picture so posed the emperor that the scar was not seen. So should we treat our friend, or even our neighbor. But especially at home, which is to be love's garden, should the flaws be veiled—and the lovely things be brought out in full light.
Whatever the world's judgment upon men may be, is it not time that the friends of Christ should cease to deal unfairly, unjustly, unrighteously with each other? Yet the judgment of even the truest, closest friends is not final.
There is a third tribunal—our own conscience. There is the man WE ourselves see. Paul could say, "I know nothing against myself." That was a great thing for him to say. Many of us do know things against ourselves, things that others do not know. We are conscious of faults, which even our nearest friends do not see in us. When others are praising us for something we have done—we know that it is over-praise they are giving us. We are not as good as those who love us think we are. Few of us would like to see our thoughts written out on a white page, to be read of all men. We are aware of evil in ourselves that others, even those who know most of us, do not suspect.
On the other hand, when people blame us, say evil things of us, charge us with doing wrong—it is a comfort for us to know in our own hearts, that the things they say are not true. It gives peace to our spirits to be able to say we know nothing against ourselves.
But there is another man in us—the man GOD sees. And this is most important of all. We do not know all the secret things of our own hearts. There is an Eye that sees deeper than ours! We may claim to be without fault—but we must know what God has to say. Paul says, "I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he who judges me is the Lord." Even conscience may err. Paul knew this by terrible experience. It is before God—that we are really living our life. It is pleasant to have people commend us, when we have tried to do our duty. It gives us great joy to have the approval of our own hearts. But if we do not have the commendation of the Master, human praise and self-approval amount to nothing. "What does God think of you?" is always the final question.
Someone may say that since God is so holy, and sees into the depths of our being, and perceives every blemish—it is impossible for us to win his commendation. But as holy as he is—God is also merciful, gracious and compassionate. He accepts our service not for itself—but for what it means in the way of desire and intention.
It is easier to live for the eye of God—than for the eye of man. David, when the Lord gave him the choice of three penalties after he had sinned in numbering the people—seven years of famine, three months flight before his enemies in war, or three days pestilence; answered, "Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord; for his mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man."
Men are cruel. They judge often harshly. They know only part of the truth concerning us. They are not patient with our infirmities. But we are safe in the hands of God. He knows the worst in us, and our deeds—but he also knows the best.
Christ has been tempted in all points as we are, and has suffered, being tempted; he understands, therefore, the power of temptation and can pity us in our weakness and faintness. He knows when our repentance is true, and when we really love him—though we have so grievously sinned. Peter, when the question was put to him after his fall, "Peter, do you love me?" could make his appeal to his Master's infinite knowledge: "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." We may safely make our plea before God himself, rather than before man.
We may trust our lives, therefore, to God's judgment, even if they are full of defects and flaws. He knows all, and will bring to light all the hidden things.
Many of the most beautiful ministries of love, are hidden. We scarcely know that we are of any use in the world. We sometimes think that when the King comes–that he will have no reward for us–that we have done so little for him. We do not begin to know how many lovely things we have done. We have wrought humbly, quietly, obscurely. We sometimes think our efforts have failed—we do not see the harvest—but some day all these hidden things will be brought to light—our dreams of good which have missed fulfillment, the things we wanted to do—and were not able to accomplish, the kindnesses shown to people almost unconsciously. Not one of these things is lost! The Master will say to this and that lowly one, in the great day of revealing, "I was hungry—and you fed me."
Paul assures us of praise from God. "Then shall each man have his praise from God." Think of having God praise you, "Come, you who are blessed of my Father. You have been faithful."
There are some faithful Christians who do not often get a word of praise from human lips for what they do. They hardly ever hear a sentence of commendation. Nobody ever brings them a rose. Nobody tells them they are doing good in the world. In their own lowly way, they make countless lives better and happier, their burdens lighter, and yet they rarely ever hear a "Thank you." It will be very sweet, in the day of revealing, for these plain, humble ones who give out their lives in love, and scarcely know they are doing anything for Christ—it will be very sweet, when, before all the universe, the secret things they have done shall be brought out and they shall receive their praise from God!