In Oscar Wilde’s classic book, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian, handsome beyond compare, sits before an accomplished artist for his portrait.
Upon its completion, he laments that while it will always reflect his youthful vigor, he himself will physically deteriorate over time. In a fit of pique, he pledges to give his soul if only he can remain forever young, keeping his vitality, while instead, the portrait will bear the bane of aging and decay. Dorian gets his wish along with something else he didn’t bargain for: All of his soulish corruptions will henceforth be recorded in the painting itself.
As the years go by, he pursues a life of self-indulgence and vanity, and his soul progressively unravels. And though his body indeed never ages, the portrait—now secreted in an upstairs room—has degenerated into a grotesque and twisted semblance of a man. Later on, when an acquaintance threatens to reveal the truth of the painting, Dorian stabs him to death rather than risk having his soul exposed. In the end, Dorian can no longer endure the sight of the distorted portrait and with the same knife attempts to destroy it before collapsing to the ground. His servants rush in to find the portrait has reverted back to its original uncorrupted state, while Dorian himself lies below, aged and decayed, with a knife plunged into his own heart.
In a society obsessed with making judgments based on image and outward appearance, it is all too common these days to look at someone who is attractive or who has a winsome personality and thus conclude they are living a charmed life. But much like Dorian Gray, people often present only what they want others to see. Eventually, time will prevail, the outer package will decay, and what lies hidden in the soul will be revealed before God.
Such revelation is a most unsettling thought. For the truth is we all have areas in our souls that are unflattering to an embarrassing degree. Yet those who belong to Jesus have nothing to hide. Our old, marred portrait is actually long gone, and the Master Artist, Himself has painted an imperishable masterpiece—Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27b)—in its place.
So let others look upon us and judge the outside as they will; even as we are honest with ourselves that inside, in our souls, we are deeply flawed. But most of all, let us realize that neither view represents our deepest or final self.
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:50-52).
Merciful, merciful God, thank you for the portrait you have painted.
I hope you feel encouraged by this message.
Have you ever experienced the fear that others might judge you? How did God help you through that fear? If you feel called, share in the comments below.
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