Norm Abrams, Public Broadcasting’s expert carpenter (often seen on New Yankee Workshop and This Old House), used to say as he was in the process of restoring an ancient, decaying hulk: “they don’t build ‘em like they used to- thank goodness.”
You could tell what Norm meant as he tore into these ancient houses: builders in the old days didn't really know how to engineer a structure for safety and longevity, nor did they have the materials and tools we have to erect four walls that can stand the test of time. (Actually no one can, except God.)
When the White House was built, between 1792 and 1800, the builders undoubtedly hoped it would last for eternity. But by the time Harry S. Truman became president, in 1945, it was a dump. It was so structurally unsound that the floors didn't just creek, they swayed. The president’s bathtub was sinking into the floor. A leg of Margaret Truman's piano actually broke through the floor of what is now the private dining room. Ceiling plaster was sagging as much as 18 inches in some places. Century–and–a–half–year–old wooden structural beams had been weakened by cutting and drilling for plumbing and wiring. The addition of a steel roof plus an entire third floor in 1927 added so much weight that upon close inspection, engineers declared that the entire building was on the verge of collapse.
It was so awful that they recommended it be demolished and a duplicate White House built in its place. Instead, Truman persuaded Congress to appropriate funds to restore the mansion. In 1949 the Truman’s moved into Blair House while construction crews completely gutted the White House leaving only its original sandstone shell standing.
Jesus could just as easily have been talking about the White House when He referred to the Pharisees as "… whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside, are dead men's bones and everything unclean." (Matthew 23:27) The trusted symbol of authority, be it the Pharisees of old or the White House of Truman’s day, both looked solid, immovable, and everlasting on the outside. On the inside, it had almost nothing holding it up. Mrs. Truman might have brought the whole building down by simply hammering a nail to hang a picture on the wall. The same goes for the moral structures of the Pharisees, who knew God's law inside out but still couldn't tell right from wrong.
Houses can be rebuilt, thankfully, and our inner structures can likewise be repaired and replaced. Those who live in Christian-on-the-outside shells, whose internal load-bearing beams are made of greed, pride, envy, anger, lust and lies are in danger of sudden collapse into a pile of dust and rubble. “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain." (Psalm 127:1) None of us can fix or save ourselves. Only the Master Carpenter can restore us, fixing the internal and changing us from the inside out.