Keeping Your Eye Off the Ball!
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
We are a visual people. How great is the gift of sight…and how debilitating is our reliance upon it. We live in a world in which we allow that which is seen to govern our thoughts, our desires, our “truths”, our judgments, and our beliefs. We see and so we assume; we assume and so we expect; we expect and so we act; we act and so others see. It’s human nature …and that, in itself, leaves us with two strikes against us before the first pitch. Human, strike one. Nature, strike two.
We find our earliest batters playing at “The Garden” more than 6,000 years ago. First to bat was Eve. She, in true “pre-fallen” female fashion, showed up early for the game…to make sure everything was in order. Then, with time on her hands, she decided to get in a little extra batting practice, but what could she swing at? Hmmm…if only there was something firm, hand-sized, and partially spherical lying (or hanging) around. She spotted a pinecone; too fragile. Then, she glanced at some grapes; too splattery. The pomegranate…that might work…but then, from far out in leftfield a vendor suggested another fruit. It appeared to be the perfect “bet I can hit it a mile!” fruit. And, in her humanness, she reached for it…strike one; and because nature appeared to look so good, she tasted it…strike two.
Human nature. We have it; we are it. And, while all of our senses can work against us, I think the sense of sight trips us up more than any other. God knows we need to keep an eye on our vision and He warns us to be careful of what we see: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matt. 5:29); of how we see: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3); and of why we see: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (I Cor. 13:12).
Another example of man’s faulty reliance upon sight is found in Exodus 32. The ballpark, Mount Sinai; the inning, bottom of the ninth; the batter, Aaron (though he’s a stand-in for the whole Israelite team). The game has been postponed because the coach is absent. Well, actually, he’s having a meeting with the team’s Owner somewhere on Mount Sinai. But as the players wait, as they circle the outfield longing to hear the crack of the bat, the smack of a catch, the cheers of the crowd, and longing to smell the aroma of popped manna, it’s what they don’t see that lands them in foul territory. Until a couple weeks ago, Moses had been within view…along with Jehovah. Now, Moses’ presence was missing and the Pillar of Cloud/Fire hovered over the mountain instead of in front of them. For months, the people had seen God work through Moses. They saw His partiality through the ten plagues; they saw His power through the parting of the Red Sea; they saw His provision through the manna, and they saw His protection through the Pillar of Cloud (by day) and the Pillar of Fire (by night) that led them through the wilderness. There was always a place for their eyes to land; a fixed point to keep them steady in a world that was spinning wildly. They wanted something tangible, something visible. But, with nowhere to cast their vision, they followed their human nature and cast a golden calf. It seemed like a good idea. The calf was visible; it had substance, it had weight, it cast a shadow (oh, what a shadow it cast!), it was…present…it was…real. And, because they saw no harm in what they had done, they looked at the calf and had a feast unto the LORD (Ex. 32:5).
In the past, I’ve had a hard time understanding why the children of Israel asked for an object to worship. After all, at this point, they hadn’t been in the wilderness all that long (comparatively speaking…though a three month camping trip would leave most of us with a short supply of reason and an overabundance of human nature) and they had seen such amazing sights…how could they become excited over a golden calf? But then four words jumped out at me and I knew, and I understood: “feast unto the LORD”. In verse 4 of Exodus 32, Aaron presents the golden calf as a god, little g; in verse 5 of the same chapter he says the next day they will have a feast unto the LORD, all caps. Little g and big G just sentences apart…just thoughts apart…just innings apart? How could it be? But then I thought about our human nature and our desire to trust in the seen more than in the unseen and I understood. It became clear because I too want a God I can see…I gaze upon…I can, dare I say, move about. Don’t we all? Aren’t we all prone to trust in the seen more than the unseen, believe in the image more than the substance, worship the calf more than the Creator? Amazing. Audacious. Autonomous. Absurd. Yet, that’s what we do when we allow our human eyes to look with their earthly nature. We scan, and gaze, and peer; we assess, and assume, and assert. We think we see so we follow our thoughts until we cast our own vision, until we cast our own calf. Batter up…batter out.
So how do we overcome this visual and spiritual disparity? How do we hit the ball out of the park with only one swing at bat? We close our eyes. We step up to the plate, raise the bat, pull our arms back…and we close our eyes. Then, with everything in us, we swing. Crack! We don’t have to drop the bat because the force of the impact has knocked it out of our hands. We open our eyes and we run, and run, and run…all the way Home.
Romans 10:17 tells us that “faith comes by hearing”; not by seeing…but by hearing. Hebrews 11:1 reminds us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that the “eyes of [our] hearts may be opened that [we] may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” In John 20:29, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” to which I echo the words spoken in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” (All italicized phrases are mine.) So we learn that God teaches us to listen with our ears and to look with our hearts for He makes Himself known through our hearing, He makes Himself visible through our hoping, and He makes Himself available through our believing. Poor eyesight? Not a problem. Blind as a bat…or as a batter? Even better! All we need to see, spiritually speaking, is the substance, not the form. God’s substance is holiness, love, mercy, and grace. These attributes can’t be seen unless they are done, so we see God in these qualities and through these qualities as He reveals His substance, though not His form.
It’s game day. The stadium is packed, the players are in place, and it’s your turn to bat. You have two strikes against you, but that’s okay. You only need one pitch, one swing, one hit. So close your eyes and swing…and run, and run, and run…all the way Home, where your faith will become sight and you will know [and see], just as you are known [and have been seen], (I Cor. 13:12).