“Hi,” the contractor said cheerfully. “Here to pull up the floor.”
I let him in. I’d come to terms with the sewage water leak that had damaged a closet, the ceiling, and the floor. Things seemed to be progressing nicely, and this was the last act of destruction: pulling up the hallway hardwood to replace it.
To be honest, for as bad as the plumbers said the drainage leak was, the closet didn’t look terrible. Smelled fine. I could see the pipes snaking up the walls, gleaming white. The inside of the closet, stripped of drywall, looked clean.
As I sat at the table nearby, the contractor started popping up the hardwood boards. I concentrated on writing and tried not to cringe at the ripping sounds. And then the smell hit: the unmistakable scent of raw sewage. I glanced up. “What on earth–”
The bottoms of my gleaming, shiny hardwood boards were stained black. Filthy. The contractor made a face and kept ripping them out. Board after board, worse than the last, stained and oozing wet, and foul. Despite the fact that the leak was a contractor issue and not our fault, I was mortified. I apologized to the hardwood guy, and he just laughed. I guess he’s seen worse.
Still, it blew my mind. Four days ago I’d been walking all over those boards and had no idea there was filth festering beneath them. There wasn’t so much as the hint of a scent, no indication of the rot underfoot. I found it hard to believe that something so nasty had been growing and puddling under our own feet without our notice. Or anyone’s notice! Just a couple of weeks prior – when the leak was very much happening, and very bad – my mother-in-law had complimented the “fresh paint new home smell” of the house.
But we never really know, do we? Appearances can be deceiving. And sometimes a shiny, polished exterior is enough to deceive us completely – especially when it comes to faith.
That’s because, in all honesty, it’s pretty easy to “perform” Christianity, at least in a way that will satisfy others. If someone goes to church a lot and contributes to a lot of activities, if they say the right things during studies or small groups, and if they do some charitable acts, most people will consider them “a good Christian”–sometimes without knowing anything about their salvation or the state of their spiritual walk.
As I’ve grown in my Christianity, I’ve lost a lot of my delusions about appearances as a result. There are Christian artists, writers, and speakers whom I dearly love, but if tomorrow they ended up making front-page news in some sort of sinful scandal, I’d be less surprised now than I would have been years ago. Just because someone looks like a paragon of virtue – just because they seem, to our untrained eye, very good at being Christian – doesn’t mean they don’t struggle with sin like all the rest of us.
Because we’re all a mess. And foul. And the dark things in us are even more disgusting than what I got a glimpse of on the bottom of my floorboards. To pretend that we’re not susceptible to sin is to deny the earthly nature that lives in us, and to deny that Christ is the only escape from it. So be wary of seeming perfection, or anything close to it – in the lives of others or even in your own.
A beguiling appearance can cover unbelievable rot.