On Not Taking Someone Else at Face Value

The typical profile of the Italian male is someone with dark skin, hair, and eyes and, according to one study, standing 174 cm (about five-foot-eight and one-half inch) tall. Such features resemble, in particular, the southern Italian, who comprised the decisive majority of Italians coming to America in the twentieth century. Southerners generally have darker traits, a smaller frame, and are shorter in stature than northern Italians. I am relatively light-skinned, burning readily from over-exposure to the sun. My hair is light brown, my eyes greenish-blue, and I stand at six-foot-three. So when I tell people I’m a full-blooded Italian, the second looks I get are understandable.

I inherited the same outlying characteristics as my dad. On the other hand, with darker features, my mom is closer to the stereotypical profile of Italians. It behooves me to carry a picture of her close in hand as proof of my ethnicity. In fact, most of my ancestry traces to the South—my dad is equal parts southern and northern, while my mom’s roots trace entirely to the South. I am tall, light-haired, and light-skinned. Yet, if one judged me only at face value, they’d miss the truth about who I am and where I come from.

The Lord’s servant, Samuel, was quick to judge in his quest to find the future King of Israel:

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:6-7, NRSV).

If Samuel took Jesse’s sons at face value, the course of Israelite history would have been much different. Instead of David, Eliab might have been crowned the next King of Israel. Although because of his brawn, Eliab appeared more suitable for kingship, God saw something beyond the surface that would one day make David perhaps the greatest king in the history of the Israelite people.

If we want to glimpse the vantage point of God for our lives, we must remind ourselves that outlying features are never the measure of one’s worth. It’s easy to judge a book by its cover, but we risk missing the truth and the vital discovery of the contents inside when we do.

Published by Paul J. Palma

Paul J. Palma is a professor of Christian history and theology at Regent University. His new book, Italian American Pentecostalism and the Struggle for Religious Identity, is part of the Routledge Studies in Religion series. Paul is a contributing writer for CBN.com and the Pneuma Review. He enjoys spending quality time with his family, whether on walks together, going to the beach, fishing, or work around the yard.

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