I’m taking a slight break from my humorous posting this time. Next week I’ll get back to making people laugh.
I SEE YOU
Bats hunt and orient themselves in caves with zero light using reflected sound waves. Dogs would rather smell something than see something, although–who knows? Maybe they can sniff a sunset. Centipedes use long antenna to touch their way through life. We humans are designed to use sight as our primary source of input. I listen to sounds of nature and enjoy the gentle rumble of waves rolling ashore on a beach and find it very pleasing. I really love the smell of a steak cooking on the grill. I enjoy the feel of a down comforter on a cold wintry night; but when all is said and done, even though I perceive and sense stimuli from multiple sources, it is what I see that has the biggest impact on my life.
Does the fact that sight is our primary source of sensory input affect our spirituality? Probably more than we have ever contemplated. In the Bible we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus: figurative speech? Of course it is a figure of speech in this instance, but what is the truth behind the figure of speech? The Gospels are full of accounts of what Jesus did, things which were observable, during his 33-year visit to earth. Jesus tended to teach via word pictures. He reminded Nicodemus about the serpent being lifted up for people to look at for rescue and how he, Jesus, the Son of Man, would in a similar visible way be lifted up. Coins, lamps, whitewashed tombs, miracles, mustard seeds and fish were some of the visible things Jesus used to teach and train his followers. And then there is the Old Testament, which is full of stories of visual stimuli, ranging from the column of cloud and pillar of fire to the artifacts in the tabernacle and the temple. Stone altars, circumcision, a rainbow, beards, and sackcloth and ashes all served as visual reminders of something else. We humans are even created in the image of God; and images are intended to be displayed, not ensconced in a cave somewhere . The God-inspired phrase “man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart” is not an unimportant throw-away statement. What we see is hugely important to us.
We who follow Jesus boldly and oftentimes proudly proclaim that ours is not a religion but a relationship. With whom do we enjoy the relationship and how does it develop? In my own life I admit I sometimes confuse a relationship with Jesus with the programmed accumulation of religious information (and please don’t tell me you don’t have the same problem sometimes ’cuz I won’t believe you) . While knowledge is not a bad thing, it is no guarantee that I will become a better person for having acquired, catalogued and archived it in my brain. Reading a magazine article about changing oil in my car does not make me a mechanic. Reading that trans fats are bad for my arteries doesn’t forcibly keep me from eating potato chips, even though I know I should shun the delightful little things. Reading about Jesus, even in the Bible, doesn’t make me a better follower of his, nor does it do anything to deepen my relationship with him, unless I obey him and do something tangible, something visible with any newly acquired truth. Just adding knowledge to knowledge about Jesus but not acting on that knowledge would be like checking into the lodge on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and then spending your vacation week in your room analyzing and comparing brochures describing the available activities at the Grand Canyon.
There is certainly a place for biblical knowledge, but it is not in a remote self-storage unit somewhere in our heads. We read that if we meditate on God’s Word, we will be successful in all our ways. We read that if we train up a child in the way he should go he will not depart from it. We read that memorizing God’s law will keep us from sinning. We read that we should study in order to become approved workmen. Increasing our knowledge demands action and that action must be more than just reading more tomorrow. An old folk phrase goes “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” We could say in regards to our relationship with Jesus that “the proof of our faith is in the doing.” There is no expectation of us merely becoming the mental equivalent of a landfill. Might we be at risk of bibliolatry, where we worship the Bible and not the God of the Bible?
If the ritualistic accumulation of knowledge is not what makes us a good follower of Jesus, what is? What are the metrics used by Jesus to determine who his good followers are? In general, Jesus measures the visible things we do to determine our closeness to him. Jesus said things like, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” Jesus indicates that unless people see unity in us they can’t know he was sent by the Father. Later on in the Bible we are told to choose our leaders based on observable character traits. We are supposed to live our lives in a way that the visible “fruit of the Spirit” can be observed. We are told that we will be judged for what we have done and that our works will be tried as if by fire. Being made right with God (Christians typically call this salvation) remains an act of faith and grace alone and is not anything earned via our good works. However, if observable good deeds don’t become a major part of our life as a result of our having been made right with God, I would suspect a major problem. Jesus will not say at the judgment, “Well learned and well memorized good and faithful student.” No, we are hoping to hear “well done, good and faithful servant.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the Evangelical Industrial Complex in America has pretty much run its course and is on its way to becoming a failed system. Never in the history of the world has there been a culture with such a massive treasure trove of Christian information; but it is a fortune squandered. We have become like the winner of a hot dog eating contest whose grand prize is another hot dog – the more we learn the more we get to learn, or as the Bible puts it “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth .” Just before this verse in 2 Timothy 3 it says the people had a form of godliness but denied its power. Was this simply accumulated unused knowledge? Acquiring Biblical knowledge is not sinful , but unless it is put to work it will come back to haunt us at the future judgment. Think about the parable of the talents. Scary.
I’m pretty sure it is 100% impossible to describe a color to someone who has not seen it before. Similarly, our relationship to Jesus can only be shared with others if they can see something and compare it with something known. With the exception of the twelve disciples of Jesus we have more theological knowledge in our heads than anyone else since Jesus walked the planet. Let’s use our vast accumulation of knowledge to generate mind-boggling amounts of visible good deeds so that more people will want to experience a relationship with Jesus. That way at the judgment we will be able to show Jesus we loved him enough to do something for him.