You probably know the old Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby”. It was a double “A” side single that went to No.1 on both sides of the Atlantic in 1966. I stumbled on an old LP of my dad’s recently. On it was the song.
“Waits at the window, Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?”
The lyric stuck in my head. It’s something we all do.
We have different faces. The face at school or work where we have to be the right image to fit in. The face with our family. The face with our friends.
I saw different faces a lot as a kid. There was one guy in particular who alone, away from a group, was a really decent guy. But when he was with others or at school he changed faces more than a chameleon changes colour.
The greatest compliment anyone ever paid me was a couple of years after I committed to follow Jesus. Eddie, a “tough” guy at school, was a guy who respected and stood up for me. There weren’t many. It was an all boys school and my main hobby after school was Ballet. Looking at me these days you’d never believe it, but I enjoyed it.
Eddie told me “Dave, you’re always the same. Tiger in the wolves den. You don’t change your stripes.”
I wish that was still the case. It was easy at school. I didn’t fit into a group and I didn’t want to pretend to be something I wasn’t, so I just kept to myself and had as little interaction with others as possible. When I did have to engage I just stayed as myself. What you see is what you get.
As I got older I had to adapt. We all do. We grow more faces the more we’re around others and the more situations we encounter. Each one brings out a different face.
The problem is as Christians we’re supposed to be the face of Jesus.
It’s easy to forget.
It’s easier to show the angry face than the compassionate one. The disappointed instead of the forgiving. Loving instead of bitterness.
“For everything there is a season,
a right time for every intention under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1
There’s a time for everything, so says the writer of Ecclesiastes. Is there a time for different faces?
There’s place for different faces in our lives. Even God has different faces. The provider, the healer, the one who sanctifies are peaceful, beautiful images. God my Shepherd. This is a little different. In the Bible times a shepherd was not the gentle figure with a collie-dog next to him. He was rugged and hardy.
King David was a shepherd. The shepherd killed the lion and the bear to protect the flock.
This face of God is different. He is a jealous God – so He says Himself in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:5). He will defend His people but they must be His people, devoted to Him. We see over and over in the Bible that the two faces, loving and angry, forgiving and vengeful dwell in God in harmony.
Jesus was the embodiment of both. Witness Him in the Temple. He sees the money-changers stealing His children’s money. He sees the unjust scales and corrupt priests making a profit from the people coming to worship Him and the Father. So He takes leather straps. See Him sitting outside the Temple braiding them together. The disciples must have been confused – this wasn’t normal for Jesus.
Then He stands and slowly walks into the bustling outer court of the Temple itself.
The chaos must have been terrible. He throws over tables, drives out animals and thrashes the cheating money-changers with the whip He just made. Deliberate, terrible anger. But then in the middle of it we see Him stop to open the cages of the doves. Such gentility in the midst of such anger. The two faces in harmony.
The same God who cracked the whip chose to hang on a Roman Cross. The same God who placed the stars in the sky chose to walk among us clothed in flesh. The same God who will be Judge will also be in the Dock.
Eleanor Rigby may have kept a face in the jar. We do. God Himself does.
We don’t see all the faces of God at once. Usually.
Usually we don’t see them because we don’t look. It’s a case of missing the wood because the trees are in the way. The angry God of the Old Testament demanding the slaughter of all ahead of the Israelites as they enter the Promised Land is the same God who hung on the Cross and who offers His Spirit to us today.
I once heard it said that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah wasn’t sexual depravity. Rather it was that the sexual depravity was no longer considered to be a sin that so angered God that He destroyed the cities. As Ecclesiastes says:
“That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc 1:9)
Times have changed but men have not. The face of mankind displayed by ISIS is no different than that displayed by the Crusades. I know that’s a controversial thing to say, but let’s face it: if Richard the Lionheart leading the Crusade to Jerusalem had been able to use cruise missiles and C4 explosives then he would have done. That which was done is done again.
But whilst for man it’s a bad thing, we must take heart because as much as mankind repeats history, God doesn’t change. His nature is constant. He demonstrates His consistency in nature. Gravity, the speed of light, the speed of sound, the rotation of the planets all move with consistency and reflect Him to us if we will see it.
All God’s faces are unified. Our part is to reflect His face at each moment.
Don’t be Eleanor Rigby. She kept her face, her real face hidden.
Our real face is His. Be angry when God is angry and at what He is angry about. Be angry at the actions of the group murdering its way blindly across the Middle-East. But love the individuals within the group. Forgive the man with the sword but hate the action.
It’s hard. Most people can’t separate one from the other most of the time. I certainly can’t, but I try. I ask God every day to soften my heart and make it like His, strong rather than impervious. Gentle enough to take a moment to release a dove in the middle of starting a riot.
I’m a work in progress. I wear many faces and I keep them ready to change at a moment’s notice.
I long for the day that I can say I’m no longer an Eleanor Rigby.