In his day, he was called an “ape.” He was considered ugly by most and his voice had a Midwestern nasal twang. He only had one year of formal education. Edwin Stanton first met Abraham Lincoln in Cincinnati, where Lincoln had been invited to assist in an important civil case. Stanton described him as a “tall, rawly boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end.” After Lincoln introduced himself and suggested, “Let’s go up in a gang,” Stanton decided to have nothing to do with him. He even refused to invite Lincoln to dine at his table. Stanton would later serve in Lincoln’s cabinet as Secretary of War.
Lincoln was elected president in 1860 with less than 40% of the popular vote. When he delivered the Gettysburg Address few listened. The Chicago Times panned it stating, "The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances."
He is now regarded as perhaps our greatest president. Every year millions visit his Memorial that overlooks the mall in Washington DC. And the speech that the Chicago Times called "silly and flat” is memorized by most students of American history.
By contrast, in an open and free election on March 29, 1936, Adolf Hitler received 98.8% of the German popular vote. His spellbinding oratory inspired and mesmerized an entire generation. He was proclaimed the German messiah and savior of Germany. But beneath those appearances lurked a sinister hatred that would exterminate approximately 20 million people including Jews, the mentally ill, the infirm and the elderly. Today, Hitler’s name is synonymous with evil. References to him have been virtually erased in Germany, except for the Document Center in Nuremberg, preserved as a reminder of the nation’s darkest days.
Describing Christ eight hundred years before He was born, Isaiah wrote, “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:2-4).
Image and first impressions are often deceiving. What truly matters is that which resides within the heart. The Bible says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Whether in the media or on the street, we must learn to look beyond the manipulated image and the first impression to discern the hearts of others. At the same time, we must cultivate what is within our own soul. Jesus made this point plain: “You clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. … first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” (Matthew 23:25-26).