I finished a hospital visit and entered the elevator following an attractive blonde lady. Already in the elevator were two men. They were good sized men who appeared to have come to visit someone after a hard day’s work. The elevator was silent as we descended to the first floor. The two men allowed the lady to leave first, and then courteously offered to let me exit next.

The lady and I went one direction, and the two men exited the side door. We walked a good distance before coming to the split where I was to go one way and she the next. Before we parted, she turned to me and said, “I’m glad you were in the elevator with me.” It was obvious that big working-class men made her nervous descending the five floors in the elevator.

Many things affect the way we look at people in this world. Outward appearance is one of them as the elevator incident describes. An unshaven, burly, rough looking individual gives the impression of danger more than someone who is clean-shaven and dressed in “church-going” clothes. I’ve found that if I go someplace in my suit and tie that I am often spoken to and treated differently than wearing my golf shorts with a dirty shirt and wind-blown hair. And sometimes it doesn’t even take a change of clothes. A police officer in uniform to some speaks of security, while to others it yells fear. Attractive people receive better attention than ordinary looking people.

We are also influenced by what other people say about someone. The last two presidents have been both popular and unpopular in the eyes of the public. When asked why someone doesn’t like one or the other, the answers will be vague or just repeating what they’ve seen or read about them from some source. Opinions primarily depend on who you listen to and on whose opinion you trust. As for me, I have never met either man and sat down to have a meal with them, so I have no idea what they are like on a personal level. What we may find is that what we hear is more often than not slanted toward the initial view of the person commenting and not necessarily the whole truth.

Then there are the stars. You’ve seen them on the internet. It’s the evaluation of a product. People rate a product or company with one to five stars, with one being the worst and five being the best. So, what do we do? We evaluate the product based on what people we don’t know have to say. Many times, we go straight to the one star and see all the bad things and decide from there if we like the product or not. Even if the good comments far outweigh the bad, there is the tendency to focus on the bad.

Israel wanted a king, so Saul was chosen. Saul looked like a king! He was big and a mighty soldier. When he failed, God sent Samuel to anoint a new king from the house of Jesse. The first son to stand before Samuel was Eliab. He looked like a king, and Samuel thought, “Surely, the Lord’s anointed is before him.” However, God answered Samuel’s thought with words that expressed how God views men, “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Son after son passed until God chose a young boy named David to be the king of Israel.

God is teaching that we should not judge and be influenced by people primarily because of how they look on the outside, but what lies in their heart. Stereotypes do not tell us about the real individual inside the body that God has given them. You cannot tell what a person is really like from looks, stature, age, or any other outward view. There are many beautiful people who are evil on the inside and people who are ordinary looking with hearts full of what God saw in David.

Jesus was the supreme example of how we look at people differently. He saw the Pharisees with their fancy garments and monetary wealth. He saw their sacrifices and listened to their prayers and many times rebuked them for what they said they represented. On the other hand, he praised those who humbled themselves before the Lord, the woman who anointed his feet, the woman in the crowd, the leper who came to him, and even occasionally a Pharisee who unlike most of the others, believed in what he taught.

I ride the hospital elevator with all sorts of people. They come in all different shapes, sizes, dress, and physical traits. I don’t know any of them, where they are headed, what their life is like, or anything other than how they look. Sometimes they are laughing and in a good mood, but others are downcast with a hurt look on their face and tears in their eyes. The one thing I do know is that they are there because someone they know is hurting and they have taken the time to come and visit them. I have no right to form an opinion on the kind of people that may come merely by what I see with my eyes. However, if I watch and listen to people with my heart, I begin to learn much more about who exits in that person’s body.

Years ago there was a TV show entitled “General Electric Theater.” There is one episode named “The Patsy.” In this episode, Sammy Davis Jr. played a soldier made fun of by his fellow soldiers. They played jokes on him and enjoyed making fun of this little “soldier want to be.” One trick they play is to toss a fake hand grenade into the middle of their group and then act scared to see “the Patsy” run away in fear. As Davis began to run away, he saw the others huddled in fear. Without respect for his own life, he ran back and threw himself on the hand grenade, crying and pleading for the others to flee. The little guy who they ridiculed and made fun of showed a character that they failed to see.

Who do we see when we look at people? Who do we see when we read opinions? Who do we see when they walk in the door? Until we can look beyond the outward and look into their heart, we will never really see who they are as people.

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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