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The lady and the cockroach

November 2012 | by John Thornbury

Pastor Holmes Moore tells the following story. The famous Scottish poet Robert Burns once attended services in a beautiful cathedral. After he was seated, a fine, aristocratic woman entered the sanctuary and very proudly and slowly made her way down the aisle, until she took her seat just in front of him.

Every eye was fixed upon her in admiration, which seemed to be exactly what she desired by her late arrival. As the service proceeded, the poet could not help but notice a cockroach crawl out from the folds of this woman’s dress and make its way up her elegant garment. It perched on her shoulder for a while and then made its way back to its hiding place. The highborn lady never knew how completely her proud demeanour was spoiled by this vermin’s appearance.

After this experience, Burns went home and penned those famous words, ‘Oh for the gift to see ourselves as others see us!’

Spiritual bugs

This curious incident reminds us that so often we do appear differently to others than we do to ourselves. This is true not only in regards to our physical appearance, but morals as well.

So blind are we that we cannot see, as others, how arrogant and selfish we are at times. Wicked words and deeds creep out of our hearts, like the cathedral cockroach, shocking and disgusting those around us. Others are usually more tolerant of bugs on the garment than obnoxious attitudes and conduct.

What God thinks of us is even more important than what others think. If sinful people here on earth are keenly aware of the sins of others, how terrible human depravity must be to the holy God of heaven.

Speaking of God, the prophet Habakkuk said, ‘You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness’ (1:13).

God hates sin so much that he sent his Son to die on the cross to pay the debt for it. God hates sin so much that he warns that sin, if unconfessed and unforsaken, can lead to eternal death.

Those who trust Jesus Christ for salvation have spiritual bugs crawling on them. The difference is that they are aware of them and seek forgiveness through God’s mercy. The self-righteous person is on a dangerous course, for he does not trust Christ’s shed blood to cleanse him.

John Thornbury