The Marks of Humanity
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7
So many lessons can be extracted from God’s creation. It’s as if God has left devotionals all around for those who prefer pictures to pages, nature to notebooks. So, when I noticed the burnt marks on the beech tree close to where I was sitting, I took a little time to see what lesson God had written there; surely there was a natural truth that, once uncovered, would be found to have spiritual roots as well.
I first thought how evident this mark was; clearly anyone who saw this tree would know that it had once been way too close to a fire. (Or, since trees can’t move, perhaps it’s more accurate to say the fire was too close to the tree!) Since the tree was on our property, I remembered the fire that had broken out years ago which, no doubt, had brushed up against this tree. Truth be told, I had forgotten about the fire. It had occurred at least ten years ago. I had been burning leaves on the hillside, giving in to my compulsively cleanly nature to, well, clean up nature, when the fire reminded me that it too has a compulsive nature. Before I knew it, the fire had jumped my well laid out (though unsecured) perimeter and the whole hillside was lit up. We did get the fire out and, until the day I saw the scarred tree, I thought no damage had been done. But there stood that tree. That blackened tree. That, “Do You Remember What You Did To Me?” tree. And yes, I did remember.
As I looked at this tree, I felt a kinship to it. I too felt marked; I too felt that what was most evident about me was what was outwardly seen. The verse God brought to mind was I Samuel 16:7 which says, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I immediately thanked God for His ability, and willingness, to look beyond the outward appearance and into the heart. I wondered how often I looked at others the way in which I looked at this tree, too quick to see what was marred yet failing to look deeper, failing to realize that the marks were not simply signs of past struggles but also reminders of continued healing. Of all the trees in the woods, the one that caught my eye was the one with the scarred trunk. Scars, by their blemished nature, attract attention. And, unfortunately, it’s not the kind of attention we desire. We don’t like the imperfect. We like the pretty; we like the undamaged; we like the unmarked. We want to see it in others, but even more we want to see it in ourselves. And, when wounds occur and scars emerge, we do our best to cover them up. But that’s not what Jesus did.
Jesus had scars. I don’t know about the pre-risen Jesus, but the post-risen Savior had scars. I know because John records it in his gospel. In John 20:24-29, we read about Thomas’ encounter with his risen Lord. Thomas missed Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples and, upon hearing his friends speak of Jesus’ resurrection, he just couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He needed to see, no…he needed to touch. For Thomas to truly believe that this “person” his friends had seen was truly Jesus, he needed to see and to touch Jesus’ scars. No one could have those scars but Jesus. Thomas needed to look at the outward appearance; for him, the scars were necessary; for him, they were the identifying marks of his Lord; for him, they were proof of life everlasting. And so it was that Jesus appeared again and, to Thomas’ amazement, He presented the scars that could be seen and the marks that could be touched.
Just think about the presence of these scars. Jesus, who had just overcome death, defeated Satan, and ascended to His Father returned again to earth in a body that was completely new. Now glorified, He appeared to His disciples and to many others in flesh that could pass through walls, in flesh that was unrecognizable until He provided the insight, yet in flesh that bore scars. Surely He could have returned to earth in an unblemished body. Surely the spotless Lamb of God could have donned flesh that was as outwardly perfect as the One it contained. But He didn’t, and for Thomas it was the difference between beseeching and believing, between paralysis and purpose, between the earthly and the eternal. For Thomas, Jesus allowed the outward scars to be visible so that the inward healing could be seen, “for man looks at the outward appearance but the LORD looks at the heart”. For Thomas, Jesus allowed His scars to become a testimony of His humanity, a validation that He was the One who became flesh and walked beside him. It wasn’t a dream, it was real; the lessons weren’t over, they had just begun.
If we truly want to be more like Christ, which is the purpose of each new day, then we too need to learn the value of scars. We too need to allow our scars to be visible just as Jesus’ were because the truth, in nature and in man, is that scars draw others to us. Scars show our humanity, our encounters with struggles and our susceptibility to sin; scars show that we too can get too close to a flame. But, because of grace, God’s spiritual Neosporin, our wounds can heal and, if we’re willing, can become marks God uses to draw others to Himself. We are all like Thomas, wanting to see the humanity along with the holiness. So let’s be careful when looking at the outward appearance of others; let’s take time to look more closely, more deeply, more Jesus-ly, but let’s also be careful to not falsely present ourselves to others by covering up our scars. In nature scars are evident, on the Son of Man they were plainly seen; we would be wise to allow ours to show as well.