Faith Matters

Rev Andrew Watson: God looks deeper than the image the world sees

In contrast to our image-obsessed age, God isn't concerned with our outward appearance - instead, he looks in our hearts, says Andrew Watson

Rev Andrew Watson

Bearded rockers and eccentric dressers ZZ Top - whose least hirsute member's name is Frank Beard - sang about a 'sharp dressed man'; God is less concerned with such outward appearances

THE next person to say I'm looking 'dapper' may get a less than favourable response.

It's not a word I like. It rhymes with 'snapper' and other less polite terms.

I tried explaining to my wife that the 'look' I was going for with the cream jacket was 'cool' but the look on her face was not encouraging.

OK, I reasoned, if not 'cool', what about 'hot', but she laughed at that until it hurt.

'Sophisticated?' I pleaded, but to no avail. She just looked at me with sympathetic understanding - another 50-plus man in denial, which is not uncommon...

We human beings are typically obsessed with image and appearance. Never mind how it goes, just so long as it looks good; all flash, little substance - even though the magazines are full of gossip as to the sad situations which often lie behind the smooth pictures.

We know reality is complicated and sometimes messy, but we love to dress it up and call it life, or art or fashion.

When looking to anoint a worthy leader for Israel, Old Testament prophet Samuel is told: "Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

What matters more is on the inside, in the thoughts and motivations we welcome and nurture.

Jesus may have intended an echo to Samuel when He says in His Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8).

He goes on to say that the most serious sins like murder and adultery do not begin with action but with mental attitude and private fantasy.

Conditioned by an entertainment culture flooded with graphic sex and violence, are we really surprised at the incidence of rape, sexual harassment, knife crime and so on?

What matters more is on the inside, in the thoughts and motivations we welcome and nurture 

The 'image' issue had infected religion in Jesus' day with people overly concerned about appearing righteous and ceremonially 'clean' before others.

By contrast, He insists the outer rituals are less important than addressing the thoughts and passions of our minds and hearts, repeating, "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'" (Matthew 15:19-20).

So if we want to be genuine people, good inside and out, and not be found guilty and liable before our holy Creator and Judge we need to worry less about our image, and give attention to our hearts.

Thankfully the Lord is willing to help, and comes in grace by His Spirit to assure those who trust in Jesus of 'resurrection' power to change for better.

Convicted about his sins of both thought and action, the Psalmist confesses to God and prays for forgiveness, adding this wise plea in Psalm 51:

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

Amen to that.

  • The Rev Andrew Watson is Presbyterian minister in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart in Co Donegal. He blogs at

Rev Andrew Watson, minister of Dunfanaghy and Carrigart Presbyterian Churches

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