Robert Burns was a Scottish poet who lived in the second half of the 1700s. You might know his work from singing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, or “my love is like a red, red rose.” Holden Caulfield famously misquoted Burns’ poem Coming’ Thro the Rye as Catcher in the Rye.
Another famous poem Burns wrote is “To A Louse.” Many people don’t know the title nor the context of the poem, but they remember the most famous line:
O would some Power with vision teach us
To see ourselves as others see us!
The context is that Burns was attending church service one Sunday, sitting behind a lovely young
lady dressed in all her finery. His attention drifted from the sermon to the lady’s hat and ribbons, as Burns became captivated with watching a louse (plural, lice) wander indiscriminately through her hear, hat, and ribbons.
The bulk of the poem is wryly suggesting that the louse go off to fine more customary living grounds, perhaps a housewife’s flannel tie, or maybe on some ragged boy’s pale undervest. But on a lady’s bonnet? Surely you jest!
The lady had dressed in all her finery and frippery that morning, and had traveled to church to see and be seen in it. She was sitting in the pew, with gloves and best dress, scrubbed and looking splendid. She was, of course, completely unaware that a louse was traversing her elaborately coiffed curls. She thought she was looking good. The man sitting behind her saw the louse that she could not. The embarrassing pestilential creature ruined the entire carefully crafted public presentation the lady had no doubt taken many pains to complete.
Burns’ finals stanza with the pertinent line, To see oursels as ithers see us! is a plea which has been heard.
1. The Lord see sees us as Burns saw the lady, except worse. He sees us as we are. He sees the metaphysical lice crawling all over us, which are the sins we preform, traversing our body like the “hair fly”. He sees the rubbish as Paul would say, the dung clinging to us in our natural state. He loved us anyway.
2. He allows us to see ourselves as He sees us, thorough the written word. The Bible is a reflection of us, in our sin and depravity, and it is a reflection of Him, in His glory and power. We see ourselves as He sees us when we go into a woman who is another man’s wife, as David did. When we murder Christians because we are a religious zealot in a false religion, as Paul was. He shows us our lice ridden selves when Peter denied Christ to save himself in his own cowardice. In Cain who murdered, in Eli who was complicit in blasphemy, in Abraham who lied.
When we do see ourselves as He sees us, we cry out, O! It is too much! I cannot stand it! I am too corrupt! perverted! deviant! degenerate! debased! immoral! unprincipled!
In truth, the lice are actually better than the natural man, ‘For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly’ (Romans 8:20a) but Adam chose to Fall.
As we would crumble into instant dust if in the natural we saw God’s glory, we also would crumble if we saw ourselves as truly depraved as we are. Sinners, all. The Bible reveals it, confirms it, shows it so any who care to look.
The cross is the place where depravity met glory. He loved us so much, He sent His Son, to live, teach, and die for sinners, who are in truth no better than the louse on the lady’s hair, though we try to dress up. With every heartbeat, love flowed through His veins.
Lord, thank you for opening your veins and sharing Your love with us.
During this week upcoming to Resurrection Sunday, please be in prayer to thank the Lord for shielding us from the true depths of our own depravity and from the true heights of Your glory, both of which if we saw in the natural, we would instantly die. And yet because of the cross, we live.