Chaplain’s Corner: Vol X

“Beauty is Only Skin Deep”

This familiar proverb is attributed to Sir Thomas Overby, who coined it in 1613 as a way of describing his wife. Mrs. Overby’s response was not recorded. But we may presume Thomas ate leftovers by himself that evening.

As it turns out, a number of things that people seem to care about a great deal are only skin deep.

Your skin is the largest organ in your body. And it’s the only organ that will not fail you. Your heart may stop, your lungs may keep you from taking a breath, and your liver may malfunction. But your skin will keep growing and flexing as long as you live.

Human skin is essentially a two-layer cake composed of the dermis, which is interior and the epidermis or outer layer. The outermost layer of epidermis is entirely composed of dead cells. It’s a bit unnerving to grasp that the “you” that everyone sees is essentially deceased tissue. Researchers estimate that the average person sheds almost a million fragments of dead skin every hour-most of which ends up on that fine layer of dust on your flat screen TV.

When popular non-fiction writer Bill Bryson was researching his 2019 book, “The Body, A Guide for Occupants”, he described his encounter with British surgeon Ben Ollivere as one of the most unexpected events. Dr. Ollivere gently peeled back a “sliver of skin” about a millimeter thick from the arm of a cadaver. It was thin as to be translucent. Then the surgeon said, “That is where all your skin color is. That’s all race is—a sliver of epidermis.”

It’s extraordinary that such a small facet of our composition is given so much importance. Yet many people have been enslaved or hated or lynched or deprived of fundamental rights through history because of the color of their skin.

When it comes to race, history is a debris field of bad science. And that has led some to incredibly bad consequences.

Some American preachers (thankfully not all of them) taught their congregations that Africans brought to our shores by slave traders were morally and spiritually flawed.

The O.T. sage Samuel, when called to anoint the next king of Israel was almost waylaid by first impressions. God set him straight.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7). The King Samuel ultimately anointed that day was David, whose royal line led to Jesus.

Racism is skin deep. Character is heart-deep.

By God’s grace our call in every area of life is to look beyond the epidermis.


Ron Naylor, Chaplain