It was one of those last-minute kinds of things. My wife and I had lived in Scotland for almost five years, we were living on a subsistence salary, but had managed to save up a little money. The international shippers were due in just a few days to pack and ship our belongings back to the USA.
We had a blast! In just about every stall, we found some small trinket or attractive piece that we wanted. By mid-afternoon, we'd spent most of our money.
At one of the small vendors on our way out of the building, we spotted a small wooden box with faux ivory decoration on the top that held a fascinating array of tiny figures and props carved on ivory picks. We speculated that it was used by children to create shadow plays or in small pretend theaters.
As I fished around in my pocket for enough change to finalize the purchase, my eye fell upon a pair of matching paintings in gilt frames hanging on the wall behind the cash box.
The paintings depicted two comparable scenes from the Scottish Highlands. A small waterfall tumbling over rocks with majestic mountains and scenery in the background is the subject on each canvas. The paintings were by the same artist and are the same size, obviously intended as a pair and we continue to hang them that way.
The frames are contemporary with the paintings and were obviously made for those two canvasses. The passage of time has affected the pictures and the frames. The oil paints have cracked and dried, and are dimmed by a century's accumulation of dust and grime. The frames were originally made to resemble intricately carved gilded wood, but time and wear have affected them, too.
The frieze of acanthus leaves which appeared to be carved into the wood of each frame, turns out to be a Plaster of Paris simulation. Tiny bits of decorative plaster have begun to flake away, leav ing unmistakable white spots in the decoration. Personally, I think it gives the whole arrangement character, but realistically it probably needs expert restoration.
Individual human character is often much like that. We decorate our images with all sorts of pretty facades cobbled together from whatever we have on hand, gild it to the best of our ability and it looks good for a period of time. But, as time passes, the underlying truth begins to cause the gilt to flake away and our real character begins to show through. When we recognize that God loves us without the gilt and artificiality, then we begin to experience God's loving grace and forgiveness.