Christmas may be long past, but the One who gave us His Son wrapped in strips of cloth that day is the Giver who keeps on giving. He gives the gift of seeing ourselves as others see us to His people day in and day out. The gift is hard to hang onto. Nonetheless, trusting in Christ’s promise of new life and deliverance pours the ability to abandon fixing our eyes only inwardly and lets us see ourselves as others see us. We can incorporate their points of view into the way we think and the way we experience life.
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!" wrote the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). His wish for the gift of seeing himself as others see him did not express a desire to hear echoes of praise and admiration. The inspiration for his poem was, as its title indicates, a “louse,” the louse on the bonnet of a matron as she sat in her accustomed place in church. The louse told a secret she probably did want to share with those around her. The louse stimulated Burns to think: If we could better recognize our own foibles and trim our self-appraisal to something closer to reality, it would free us, “...from many a blunder ...and foolish notion.”
But it is also true that when we can evaluate ourselves from the standpoint of others, we may solve the problem of over-estimation, of pride based on little or nothing, of a hope that we correspond to our ideal rather than the impressions we actually give others. Often, our look at ourselves only breeds pride and satisfaction because we are convinced the world revolves around “me” and thus my opinion determines standards which must be obvious to others. We often manage to trim our standards and expectations so this inward inspection will give us positive results. However, today Christians are also challenged to meet the self-estimation of those who believe they have so fouled their lives and damaged others that their own sense of worth has fallen seemingly out of reach of the reality Christ offers by becoming their Savior.
Burns was concerned with the way we look to the people around us, but ultimately, we are also concerned about the way we look to God or to our substitute for our Creator. The gift of seeing ourselves as God sees us comes from listening to His Word. His Word of Law holds up a mirror which reduces to nothing both the Pharisee in us and also the glee-filled, defiant rebel over and against God. God’s Law destroys the pretensions of a self that has something in itself on which to base life. God’s Law comes explicitly to us as we read Holy Scripture. It also comes to us in the course of daily life, cracking and crushing our feeble, flawed, failed attempts to make a case for our own self-sufficiency, to say nothing of our own nobility.
The gift of seeing ourselves as God sees us comes from listening to His Word.
Every attempt to secure life on our terms based in our own performance, achievement, and quality comes crashing down under the weight of God’s Law. For it expresses the divine design of human life. Human life was designed to center on God. Fearing, loving, and trusting in Him provides the only secure foundation for human life. Every turn of our minds and hearts from the Creator who has come to us as Jesus of Nazareth earns us the wrathful eye of Him who made us to be in a community of trust and conversation with Him. He does not spare His anger when we turn into ourselves and turn our backs to Him. But when He sees the lice of our sins on our hearts and minds, He comes with the disinfectant of the blood of our Savior. Through Christ’s resurrection He restores our good conscience by scrubbing us clean.
Thus, when our heavenly Father looks at us who have been brought into Christ’s death and resurrection, He no longer sees the person plagued by sin and death. He no longer sees someone who wants to keep Him at much more than arm’s length or a proper social distance. His own estimation of His baptized, born-again people places the highest worth upon them. When we see ourselves as unworthy of His love or the love of other people, He argues with us. He points to Christ’s cross, where our worth was firmly established by the death of our incarnate Lord. Our Creator did not make junk in the first place, and if we have made ourselves junky by trying to live apart from His plan for life, He died and rose to restore us to true life as a member of His family. Since He has concluded we are not junk, we should not disagree.
His forgiveness of all our sins means we look very good—as did Adam and Eve at creation—to our Creator once again. His gift of life and salvation means we no longer need to fret about how we look to Him. He looks on us as those who have died and risen with our Lord Jesus. We can concentrate on projecting this new image that Christ is sharing with us for those around us to behold.
His forgiveness of all our sins means we look very good—as did Adam and Eve at creation—to our Creator once again.
This means we project the love, care, and concern we have received from our Lord into the lives of others. We indeed are but pale reflections of the self-sacrificing, ever-ready openness and eagerness to help and befriend in needs of all kinds that we experience in Jesus’s own life. But reflections we are, and other people notice something of that in us. Even before we speak of Him, people perceive something different in both our peace of mind in the midst of turmoil or trouble and our readiness to listen, to support, to encourage, to aid—and even to forgive—those around us.
Being able to look at ourselves from the perspective of others, we will sense they do see the lice on our bonnets. We do not want them to think we are unhealthy folks to be near, but we also recognize the impact and value of being open and honest about the beasties which still plague our lives. This kind of courage and honesty arises from our trust that Christ gives us our substance and our worth, our integrity that drives out the sin which too readily identifies us as unpleasant associates. Trusting the Word of forgiveness, we enter the lives of those around us with the recognition that our vulnerability to temptation and to tribulations of various kinds exposes not only our failure but also God’s mercy. We neither cultivate nor flaunt our failure to live according to God’s plan, but we do not deny that we continue to be those who need forgiveness of sins and the gift of new life each day.
Those around us need to know we see ourselves as our Lord now sees us, children of our heavenly Father, the rescued and restored people who have been raised to walk in the footsteps of Christ. Others need to get at least a glimpse in our lives of the workings of our God and the awe-inspiring renewal of the life of joy and peace trusting in Christ produces. When we exercise the gift of seeing ourselves as others see us, we are enabled to pass many other gifts on to those around us, especially the gift of trusting as well as fearing and loving our life-restoring God and Savior above all else.