One of the strangest and perhaps briefest friendships in history is said to be that between Frederick the Great, king of Prussia and Voltaire, the French philosopher and satirist. Voltaire might be described as one who was educated in everything but believed in nothing. He made his way through life with wit and words.
When Voltaire encountered Frederick the Great, it was near the end of his life, but wit was still with him. Likely because of his wit, Frederick invited him to come to his castle at Potsdam and live there as long as he wanted to.
A bright sunny room in a corner of the castle was fitted up for Voltaire’s use, and an artist was engaged to decorate the walls. Working under the direction of Frederick the Great, the artist adorned the room with figures of birds and animals. It was Frederick’s singular way of illustrating the “real” and singular Voltaire.
Singular, yet meaningful.
The product was a menagerie. The artist drew figures of monkeys, parrots, foxes, peacocks and flamingos, each representing some part of his personality.
Monkeys to mock his self-admiring homeliness
(Now, don’t you think I look like a pretty good fellow?),
Parrots to symbolize his constant talk…talk… talk…
(Yes, I’m talking… are you listening?)Foxes to represent his sly, tricky nature (Watch out! I can be stealthy!
Peacocks to show off his pride
(Give me a moment… You haven’t seen it all!)
Flamingos to stand for his selfishness
(I deserve the BEST—of course!)
Most people would have been very upset by such insulting figures portraying their nature, especially when they realized where the interpretation was coming from, that this was the perceived reality! But not Voltaire. He made no effort to cower or cover. He always wanted people to be honest in expressing their opinions, hence seemed not to have minded the king’s originality. If he didn’t like it, no one ever knew, because he used the room for nearly two years.
Might it be a good thing for us to see our charaacters as others see us? Perhaps not so drastic as Voltaire, but our big concern is, how does God see us? What image does He see as He looks at us, as He sees us “heart-first”? Remember,
1 Samuel 16:7 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
One thing certain with God, He never calls evil good or good evil. He sees us just as we are.
Hebrews 4:13 13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Job said it also:
Job 11:10–12 10If he cut off, and shut up, or gather together, Then who can hinder him? 11For he knoweth vain men: He seeth wickedness also; will he not then consider it? 12For vain man would be wise, Though man be born like a wild ass’s colt.
We call ourselves “wise”? God sees the “wild colt” underneath, a colt still needing basic discipline and training.
And much more. He sees likeness to different animals in his world. Animals that must be—and one day WILL be—tamed.
The “Monkey see—monkey do” nature
Do we admire our monkey-looks in a mirror, so to speak, while others see our disagreeable tempers and find us hard to work with? Maybe some consider us ugly as monkeys, but are too kind to let us know.
Talk, talk, talk… Words, words, words…
Do we have too much of nothing to say? Do we talk because we enjoy hearing ourselves, and think other people like to hear us?—when they are merely too polite to tell us we sound like a parrot? Remember the Proverb that says,
Proverbs 10:19 19In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: But he that refraineth his lips is wise.
Maybe we are tempted to do something that we justify as “smart” or “clever,” good business, but which our neighbors see as being sly and sneaky. Fox-like. .
That strutting peacock, showing off those feathers
Do we show peacock traits, strutting around in our minds, imagining ourselves to be something we are not?
The Selfish Flamingo
Are our mouths as big as the flamingo’s, and our neck stretched out as long as we look for what WE want? What do we do with that selfish instinct that always thinks first of ME? that always want the best for ourselves? Yes, we want to appear generous, but underneath we are thinking first of MY interests, MY sacrifice, MY wants, MY time?
Didn’t Paul say,
Philippians 2:3–4 3Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
How can we turn that selfishness around and think first of the other person, THEIR interests, THEIR sacrifice, THEIR wants, THEIR time?
If the angel decorated our room with the animals that represent OUR traits, what would it look like?
Would our character be accurately depicted by peacocks, parrots and monkeys, or would they be better represented by the creatures spoken of by the Bible writers who used the ox for strength, the lamb for gentleness, and dove for purity and the eagle for the heights of spiritual aspiration?
It is worth thinking about.
We may excuse it, but God sees, and marks it to our account, even though we cover or justify it.