Keeping up Appearances
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. – Genesis 11:1-9
“It’s Bue-kay, not bucket!” So says Hyacinth on the British comedy, Keeping Up Appearances. She makes certain everyone knows she has Dalton china, a Princess slimline telephone, an only accepts first class mail. She keeps up all possible appearances of being a cultured highbrow personage. It makes for painfully-funny comedy.
Maybe you know someone like that. I do, and out of love and respect I won’t divulge that one’s identity. Let’s just say, it can wear thin on me. I easily get tired of the pretense. Could it be that I am just better at it (in my humble opinion) than that one? Could it be painful because we’ve been taken in by those who manage to keep up appearances in the face every challenge and obstacle thrown their way? Only later to discover they have feet made of clay.
The problem with keeping up appearances is the impossibility of keeping them up. Sooner or later everyone is unmasked. Sometimes it’s notorious. Epstein. Jackson. Armstrong. All have fallen from their places of fame. They couldn’t keep up appearances. Jesus says, “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed” (Mark 4:22). We can’t hide behind fame, fortune, or fashion the fact that we are fallen broken sinners.
But the purpose for which God will bring us down to reality is not to embarrass nor to shame us. John announced Jesus’ coming by quoting Isaiah, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low” (Isaiah 40:4). Mary rejoiced as she contemplated the child she was to bear saying that God had “scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:51-53).
God will not allow the people in the land of Shinar to make a name for themselves. They need him. They need his mercy. They need his provision. They need his goodness. They need his guidance. Because they suppose they will be able to make it on their own, he will not allow them to do so.
Next time your mask slips, and you are found out, don’t be alarmed. Don’t be ashamed. Be honest, humble, and repentant. Acknowledge the poverty of the fig leaves you’ve tried to sow together to cover your shame, and rejoice in the robes of Christ’s righteousness. And remember the promise: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). That’s an appearance that we can anticipate with great joy.
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