In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul refers to a veil that remains over the hearts of those who hear the Law read week after week, a veil that is lifted in Christ. What veil is he talking about? How is it lifted?
I think it is vital here that we do not make the mistake of thinking this “veil” is merely a metaphor for being unsaved, and that by becoming a Christian the veil is automatically lifted. Paul has something far more tangible and relevant in mind.
First, we need to look at what happens when the veil is lifted. “We then, with unveiled faces, behold the glory of the Lord and are transformed into that same image, from one glorious change to another” (2Cor.3). To put it another way, when we truly see Jesus as He is, it changes us. Or conversely, if we have little to no experience of on-going transformation in our life, we might want to consider the possibility that our vision is obscured in some way. A veil of sorts lies over our heart.
But there is more. The wider context of this letter to the Corinthians suggests at least two other major implications of a veiled heart. One is in regard to legalism, which will be covered in a separate post. The other has to do with “appearance” vs “substance.” Paul’s main focus in this letter is to defend his apostleship against the accusations that are being made about him, and to respond to those who say Paul is not a full-fledged apostle. Interwoven throughout his defense, Paul repeatedly sets up a contrast between inward character and outward appearances. His detractors say that he is not much of an orator, that his physical appearance leaves a lot to be desired, and that he is lacking in certain social graces. Paul’s response is that his outward appearance reflects the wear and tear of life in a fallen world as well as the assaults he has endured from being on the front lines of the spiritual war that is raging all around them. But his inward life shows the power of God, and the grace of God, not to mention the fruit of his life which ought to be proof enough that God is at work through him.
In short, Paul is asking his listeners to “see with the eyes of heaven” and place substance over appearance. He wants to call their attention to the unseen realities involved in the hope that these things will be made clear to them. He pleads with them: “Ask God to remove the blinders that are keeping you from seeing what is really going on here. Do not judge me through the lenses of your cultural biases and human ideas of greatness. Do not let the veil over your heart stay there.”
We deal with appearance vs. substance all the time. Just look at Hollywood — all glitz and glamor, much of which covers a self-absorbed and narcissistic lifestyle. Perhaps you have worked for a company where a person’s skill in office politics was given priority over any technical skill at doing one’s job. When I lived in Southern California it was very clear that for many people, owning a Mercedes or other such prestigious vehicle there was considered to be more important than being a person of good character. And many of our churches teach us to hide our flaws (lest they be judged harshly) and put on our best front as we engage in “safe” Bible studies that can appear to be important, yet without creating a context for heart-to-heart substance.
When we value appearances over substance, we make the same kind of error that the Corinthians made. And a veil covers our heart. May we instead continually seek the treasure that is contained in the clay pot (2Cor.4:7), and not judge the container according to the standards of our world.