Illustration: When I was in college and graduate school for English, one of my favorite professors was a Shakespeare scholar. He taught classes on the Bard’s plays—the histories, the comedies, and tragedies. He taught classes on the sonnets. He taught overview courses of Elizabethan drama, of Renaissance literature, of the history of England as she fought through power plays between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. I took all the classes I could from said professor. He was gifted in teaching how history is often best understood by way of literature.
I have read a lot of books of ancient history, but when you read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, for example, history comes alive. In the play, you get a sense of the personalities of Caesar, of Brutus, of Cassius, etc. Evil is not just a theological term there; you can smell its sweat and feel its breath on your neck. Hamlet (in the titular play) originally thought Elsinore was all above board; he discovered the reality that the kingdom was shot through with evil. His father had been murdered by Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, who was having an affair with Hamlet’s mother. Caesar thought he was surrounded by friends, but he was literally stabbed by his “friend” Brutus. Even non-readers would surely know the line, “Et tu, Brute?” Appearance vs. reality.
Connections: If you are like I am, you are well past the weary stage regarding prevarications. We have been subjected to “fifteen days to flatten the curve” to going on almost two years now. My spidey sense tells me some camps are jockeying for more lockdowns. Excited yet? We have heard we should wear masks, but then see videos of politicians and Hollywood entertainers at a former president’s palace on Martha’s Vineyard where (Presto!) masks are unnecessary. They dance the night away. Masks? Bah humbug! No need for “social distancing” there.
You hear that the Taliban in Kabul are not preventing folks from fleeing Taliban terror but then you see with your own eyes images of civilians clinging to the landing gear as planes depart a nation that has once again descended into hell on earth. Appearance vs. reality—over and over again. You are told one thing but the reality is something quite different.
Scripture: In Psalm 55, David illustrates it this way via literary parallelism: “His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords” (Psalm 55:21 ESV). The false person’s speech was as smooth as butter. That was the appearance of things. But “war was in his heart.” That was the reality. Then you get a restatement of the same truth in the parallel image. The false person’s words were softer than oil. That’s pretty soft, isn’t it? Slick, smooth, rhetorically polished even. And yet … those smooth words concealed the reality that they were actually drawn swords. Appearance vs. reality.
Encouragement: It’s a theme as old as man: appearance vs. reality. In what can you trust? What source is reliable? Is truth to be found? O yes, thank God. Listen to Scripture’s encouragement: “Let God be true though every one were a liar . . .” (Romans 3:4 ESV). Remember John 3, after Jesus taught Nicodemus that God was and is the sovereign One, that man’s heart is known by God. Listen to the words near the end of John 3 and take encouragement, especially if you are well past weary of the mendacity, of the prevarications, of the distortions, lies, and all appearances that try to deny reality.
In writing of Christ, the apostle John says, “He who comes from above is above all, He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:31-34 ESV). With Christ, there is no distinction between appearance and reality. He was and is truth. His words are true. He cannot lie because then He would no longer be holy. Why would we not want that?