For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. II Timothy 3:2-5
When I was in school I studied a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne (he is most famous for the novel “The Scarlet Letter”). The story was called “The Minister’s Black Veil” – it tells of a preacher who wears a black veil covering his face. It is interesting to see the response he gets from the town and his parishioners. I have always liked the story because it makes me think of how most of us live – a veiled and hidden life. At the end of the story Mr. Hooper is dying and breathes these profound words:
“Why do you tremble at me alone?” cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. “Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!”
The minister very pointedly tells those at his side that everyone is wearing a veil. Let’s face it, we live in a society that encourages wearing a veil and living a veiled life. No one talks about the issues they face and they “put on” superficial glitter. Most of us are aware of this superficiality; we live with it every day. Some play into it and others do not, but it is clearly part of the accepted social norm. And looking back to the verses written by Paul to Timothy, while the long list of vices is certainly a part of our culture, I am in particular concerned about the form of godliness. This religious form of godliness plagues our nation as we continue to look and appeal to appearances instead of purifying our hearts. C. H. Spurgeon in one of his sermons had this to say about a form of godliness:
You cannot make a Judas except out of an Apostle. The eminently good in outward form, when without inward life, decays into the foulest thing under Heaven. You cannot wonder that these are called “perilous times,” in which such characters abound. One Judas is an awful weight for this poor globe to bear but a tribe of them must be a peril, indeed. Yet, if not of the very worst order, those are enough to be dreaded who have the shadow of religion without its substance.
In the middle of Hawthorne’s story the minister says to his wife, “There is an hour to come when all of us shall cast aside our veils.” While it is clear he is referring to death, I think this idea is a lot of our problem. We tend to think that on this side of Heaven we are destined to live with the plagues of this life. While we are an imperfect people pursing a great God, scripture is clear about what type of life we should lead through Christ. A very big life filled with the abundance of Jesus. “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
It doesn’t follow that Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, will live a veiled life. For the revelation of Christ is so wonderful and full of life – He is the great I AM. And through the revelatory experience of knowing Him, the sickness in our lives is exposed. Not just our sin, but hidden things we didn’t even realize – thought patterns, painful experiences forgotten, how we live out what we believe. Knowing God reveals all, nothing is hidden. And yet, this is the opposite of what we often see in our lives. If we understand what Jesus has said, then we must conclude that any life covered with a veil is not the life God has called us to. We are to open the doors of our heart and allow him to flood our soul with His abundant life, freeing us completely. The veil has been lifted.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Matt. 27:51-53)
Imagine it, at the moment Christ gave up his spirit on the cross, the veil was torn in two (top to bottom – what no man could do), and an earthquake followed. And with this dramatic event, the tombs of the righteous broke open (how would you like to see that), and after the resurrection they are walking around and talking to people. Ok, hang on to this, Jesus has come to give us an abundant life, life to the fullest. He rips the veil in two, what separates us from God, opening up a direct relationship to him. We have moved from the dead to the living – raised to life. By ripping off the veil, Christ has broken open our tombs and raised us up to live life to the fullest. But don’t miss the last part – we are to walk around (full of his glorious life) and “appear” to people (go to and fro, talk with them). This is totally contrary to living life plagued with veils – hiding our faces behind the veils of this human life. Stop denying the power of God with a form of godliness – come up out of your tomb, and appear to many people, filled with the resurrection life of the great I AM.