HEART: HOW WE SEE IS WHAT WE SEE
When I started out in ministry I was based in Durban and my supervisor was Rev. Ray Light. For one of our meetings, Ray took us to Umdloti to do some crayfishing. Debs and I had bought our equipment a few months before because we thought snorkelling and crayfishing would be fun. The only problem was, I had never seen a crayfish, and so I was never able to catch one. On that day I was amazed as Ray kept pulling crayfish out of the ocean – because, as far as I was concerned, there weren’t any crayfish in that water. But, then Ray took me and showed me the characteristic long antennae peeking out from under a rock. And he grabbed hold of them and pulled, and out came a crayfish! After that everywhere I looked I suddenly saw crayfish antennae. I still wasn’t able to catch any, but at least now I could see them.
But, for a moment, imagine that someone, whom I trusted more than Ray, had told me that crayfish could not be found in the waters off the KZN coast. Then it is quite possible that even when Ray showed me the antennae, I would have denied that they belonged to a crayfish. It’s also entirely possible that when he pulled the crayfish out from under the rock I would have said, “Well, that’s amazing, but it’s not a crayfish. Maybe it’s just a really big prawn. Or a small lobster. Or a weird looking crab.”
Richard Rohr is right when he says, “How you see is what you see.” And, if we are to navigate this world effectively, we need to see clearly. Without clear sight – and I’m not talking about how good your eyes are – we cannot do relationships well, we cannot navigate our own personal health and growth, we can’t care well for our planet, and we cannot address the huge challenges facing our society. How you see – the frame of reference you use to understand the world – is what you see.
But, there are two additional elements to this equation that must be added. Firstly, we need to know what shapes how we see – and I believe that how we see it shaped by whatever is most important to us – what I call our God. So, we can say this: “How we see God is how we see.” Our God shapes how we see everything else.
But, there is also something that flows out from these truths. How we see God is how we see. And how we see is what we see. And, finally, what we see is how we live. The way we understand the world, directs how we live in that world. If we view the world as a “dog eat dog” place where it’s every person for themselves, we will live one way. But, if we view the world as a place of beauty and wonder and goodness, with some stuff that still needs to be worked out, we will live another way.
So, here is an essential set of truths to guide our lives – and especially our lives as we seek to live in faith:
How you see God is how you see. How you see is what you see. What you see is how you live.
HEAD: THE SEEING BLIND MAN AND THE BLIND SIGHTED PHARISEES
At the heart of John’s Gospel is a central story – of a blind man who receives his sight, and of Pharisees who think they can see, but are blind.
Let’s start with the blind man. He begins in blindness and because he is blind he is seen as rejected by God. And because of that his family has broken down. He is in a darkness so deep, there is no light, no hope, no life, and no God. Just imagine what God looked like to him, and therefore how the world looked. But, then he receives his sight and it changes the world because he now knows that he is not condemned by God.
But, then Jesus shows him who he is and he recognises the glory of God in Jesus. Now he’s not just a believer, he’s a follower – and he knows that he is sent (Siloam) to reveal the glory he has seen to the world.
But, the Pharisees? They have made up their minds and they’re not interested in the truth. They claim they can see, but they have chosen their blindness. They can see there’s been a healing, they have all the evidence and testimony they need, but they refuse to accept it. Yet even so, they also insist that Jesus is a sinner for doing work (healing) on the Sabbath. They contradict themselves in their quest not to see what’s right in front of them. There’s none so blind as those who WILL NOT see.
How you see God is how you see. How you see is what you see. What you see is how you live. Look at the difference between the blind man and the Pharisees. Who really saw clearly? The man born blind? Or the Pharisees who thought they could see? Who really experienced the glory of God? Who really saw the face of truth? And what difference did it make not just to their lives, but to the world?
HANDS: SEEING CLEARLY AND LIVING IN GOD’S GLORIOUS TRUTH
So, how can we learn to see clearly? This story gives us three simple things to do.
Firstly, we need to change how we see God. If our view of God is flawed, incomplete, or unworthy of God, everything in our lives is negatively affected. That’s why we need to work on constantly growing our relationship with God, our vision of God. The best place to begin is by looking at how Jesus saw God.
At the start of the story the disciples ask a question – who sinned? In their world everyone believed that disability was God’s punishment – except Jesus. For him it’s not about sin, it’s about revealing God’s glory. He sees differently because his relationship with God has taught him that God’s glory is revealed in love and compassion and justice – not doctrinal purity, or elaborate religious ritual. So, let’s let Jesus show us to see God more clearly.
Then, when we have begun to expand how we see God, we can let that change how we see and what we see in our lives. The Pharisees failed to recognise God’s compassion, and so they were rigid and compassionless. They did not notice suffering, and they could not recognise God’s glory when it was under their noses. But, Jesus saw glory in unexpected places and people – in a blind man, and lepers, and prostitutes, and tax collectors. He saw beauty where others saw ugliness. He saw hope where others saw only despair. He saw life where others only saw death. And he saw God where others thought God would never be. And because he saw differently, his world was filled with glory and joy.
Finally, once we have begun to allow how we see God to expand, and once that has changed how and what we see in the world, then we can allow all of this to change how we live. A significant word in this passage is the word “sent.” In verse 4 – we must carry out the tasks of the one who sent us. In verse 11 – wash in the pool of Siloam (which means “sent”). When we see clearly, God sends us to reveal God’s glory to others.
Truth is not an idea, it’s way of living. We think of truth in terms of facts, but Jesus thinks of truth in terms of action – like an arrow that flies true and hits its target. And he reveals what a true life looks like. It’s a life that confronts all that is not true – like the corruption and dishonesty of the Pharisees – especially in our own hearts and lives: our need to be right, even when we’re wrong; our twisting of the facts just enough to make ourselves look better; our need to control and get our own way; our harsh judgement of others when they hurt us, and our desire for understanding and forgiveness when we mess up.
But it’s also a life that embraces all that is true, good and beautiful. That celebrates the joy and achievements of others; that fights for the dignity of all people; that refuses to judge others based on assumptions or gossip; that seeks the best in every person and every situation.
How we see God is how we see. How we see is what we see. What we see is how we live. Jesus saw so clearly and so he lived in a world of glory – of love, compassion, connection, joy, abundance, and peace. Let’s allow him to open our eyes so that we can see just as clearly and find glory as he did, even when we least expect it.