As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
- Matthew 11:7-11
Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
- 1 Timothy 2:8-10
“…that is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer.”
- C. S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays
The first Scripture is Jesus talking about His cousin, John the Baptist. John had a fashion statement that was more mountain man than preacher. Jesus even explains John’s attire as being that of a man of the wilderness, not the king’s palace. Odd how Jesus explained it that way. My wife always wanted the family to dress nicely for church each Sunday. Until the boys graduated high school, they wore neck ties to church, while they wore T-shirts to school. My wife would say that we were going to meet the King, so we must dress accordingly. I think my mother had said something similar to me when I was growing up.
Yet, the second Scripture is controversial in that the Apostle Paul is picking on the women, but in this case for good reason, when considering the usual attire for the first century. Men did not adorn themselves, but women did. Men were just as proud, but the men showed off their wealth by buying jewelry for their spouse. Dainty fingers that were not calloused and glittering gold rings meant that the lady of the house had servants to do the manual labor. Some cultures, even today, measure the family’s wealth by the paleness of the wife’s skin, not having to go outside and work for a living, not even to do gardening.
So, while the woman wore the “bling,” it was often the man having her wear it so that he could look good. Thus, in better context, who was the Apostle Paul admonishing?
But C. S. Lewis was using one of many metaphors in his writings that described this world as being seen dimly until we come into the presence of God, and we see things clearly. Nothing to do about what to wear to church.
And the metaphor brings back bittersweet memories. One day I was walking with friends to the cafeteria for lunch at work. One friend, who was lagging behind, asked if I had another pair of socks at home that were just like the ones that I was wearing. Since this was the first time that I had been outdoors since I arrived at work, long before the sun arose, I looked down to see that I was wearing one navy blue sock and one dark brown sock. The crowd of 6-8 other engineers laughed at my expense for the rest of the day – not great “friends.”
I went home that night and emptied my sock drawer. I had maybe one or two pairs of socks that matched. My wife, folding my socks in a dimly lit house, had mixed browns with blacks and blues. And blacks and blues were the most common combination. I said that we would have to do laundry when I was home and when the sun was up, so that I could get away from the artificial light to see the true color. My wife did one better. She threw away my socks, as many were rather old anyway, and she bought wild argyle socks instead. Almost all bright colors, but colors that could easily be matched in dim, artificial light. Odd how my so-called friends continued to laugh at me, but within six months, they were occasionally wearing argyle socks. At another workplace, I started wearing pastel-colored shirts while everyone else wore white. Within six months… I was a trend setter.
In recent years, it is extremely hard to find argyle socks, so the novelty socks have taken their place. I wore “Baby Yoda” socks to the church meeting today, the day that I wrote this.
In other circumstances, I have put my Dick Tracy hat on, and my wife has asked me why that hat? My response: “Because I am wearing my yellow shirt and my yellow, library card socks.” She would laugh and tell me to look again. I had worn my pink shirt instead. In the early morning hours, when my eyes do not focus that well anyway and the sun has yet to arise, I mistook pink for yellow.
And before you ask, I have never failed a color-blindness test.
I am just giving these examples to illustrate how C. S. Lewis’ metaphor works so well.
Just as we understand the difference between sunlight and electric light, both incandescent and fluorescent (both being different), we will someday wonder if we have ever really seen anything before, when we come into God’s presence and we see Heaven for the first time.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.