Appearances can be deceiving. This is not news to us. I’m sure we could all share stories of delusion (deliberate or not) of a product that doesn’t perform as promised, a person who doesn’t deliver as promised, or an image that ended up a mirage.
Like the time my older brother faked the rapture on ten-year-old me. I’m not even kidding; I honestly thought every believer had just fled to heaven, and I was left behind. When I reached the top of the stairs and saw my brother’s clothes laid out in “body” formation, complete with socks tucked inside pants and the sleeve of his shirt bent as if his hand was to his ear, with his baby teeth lined up in a smile—next to a beeping cordless phone—I panicked.
“No, no, I believe! I believe!”I yelled at the top of my lungs. (Obviously, my parents weren’t home.) Then after a few dreadful moments, I heard snickers from behind the couch, and my fear turned to angry embarrassment as I chased my brother around the house.
I will never forget that night. Praise the Lord things aren’t always as they seem. Yet to this day, I allocate more stock to appearances than I should. I panic when life appears to take a turn for the worse. I worry when things look out of control, and I make assumptions based solely on the things I see.
Appearances Lead Us Astray
Faith, however, is not based on appearances. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). By faith, we believe God made the universe, but we didn’t see it happen. By faith, we believe Christ died and resurrected, though we weren’t actually there. As believers, our hope is not in things that are seen, and yet, it is often the things right in front of me that so easily lead me astray.
We see catastrophic evil and destruction and assume a holy God could never let such things take place. We experience pain and loss and assume God is neglecting us. Our dreams shatter, and we assume God doesn’t care. Our prayers appear unanswered, and we assume God is not listening.
Assumptions take us off course, but God’s Word never does. Scripture is the one place we can always turn to for accurate direction. Psalm 119:105 says God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and light for our path, even when nothing is going right and life feels overwhelming.
Israel Struggled with Appearances Too
Poised and ready to take the Promised Land—even after all God had done for Israel during their escape from Egypt—the giants of Canaan appeared way too big for Israel to defeat. There’s just no way we’ll win, reported the spies (except for Caleb and Joshua). Then all of Israel lifted their voices and wept based on the assumption that God brought them out of Egypt so they could die (see Num. 13–14).
But their assessment was wrong, and we know it. Is God consigned to appearances? Is anything too hard for God? No. The Lord promised to give Israel the land, and nothing can stop God’s faithfulness. And yet, even after God gave Israel deliverance by the hand of Joshua at Jericho (along with many other Canaanite cities), the Israelites failed to believe in the power of God.
Instead of completely destroying the Canaanite nations as God commanded, Israel figured the more appropriate path included assimilation with them. However, disregarding God’s commands is never appropriate, and it cost Israel their freedom in multiple ways.
In fact, their lack of faith led to many years of oppression, slavery, and idolatry, resulting in multiple generations who knew little of the one true God. All this because they made decisions based on appearances, instead of decisions based on faith in the Word of God.
Consider David and Goliath
Another example is the story of David and Goliath. Forty days into a standstill against the Philistines, David—sent by his father to deliver food to his brothers—is more than a little surprised by the scene displayed before him. How dare an uncircumcised Philistine giant defy the armies of the living God, and how dare Israel allow him to?
Paralyzed by Goliath’s large stature, it appears Israel is in quite the pickle. But David isn’t deterred by appearances and declares to king Saul, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37).
Though David’s motivation appears evil to his brothers (1 Sam. 17:28), and Saul’s armor appears too big for David, and this young shepherd boy appears too small next to a vicious Philistine warrior—God was with David. And God is not bound by appearances. God crushed the giant with one small rock from the slingshot of an unprotected youth.
I love this story because it also exemplifies Christ’s victory over an even greater giant: sin and death and the spiritual forces of evil. By all appearances, what could Christ, a mere man—beaten and rejected, bleeding and helpless and then led to a cross for crucifixion—do for a lost and wicked humanity? So much more than it appeared.
Don’t Let Appearances Discourage You
By the looks of things today, it might seem as though God has hung us out to dry. Politics appear out of control. Righteousness appears to be on the decline. And honestly, it’s hard not to dwell on what appears to be true with our faces covered, churches not meeting, and life rapidly spiraling out of control. But God is still in control, and His faithfulness stretches to all generations.
Our job on this side of heaven is not to believe appearances—for the devil is a great deceiver. Our job is to hold fast in faith to the one true God. When hope is diminishing and the odds are stacked against us and the world looks to be winning, remember our confidence is not in things that are seen.
Our confidence is in the Lord God Almighty, whose sovereignty far surpasses appearances. God does not see as man sees. Our vision is limited; His vision is not. Trust in the Lord who sees all things, and do not let circumstances dissuade you. Life may appear out of control, but praise the Lord, with God, things are not always as they seem.