Last fall, the ladies’ Bible study group at my church did a book study of One Thousand Gifts. What follows is the manuscript of the introduction I gave each week, designed to be a summary and a homily based on the week’s reading assignment.
from Chapters 5-6
We moved to our current home a year ago now, and it’s been Stephen’s dream to shoot a snake in the creek that runs behind our back yard. The first time that he saw a snake in the water, he hurried back up to the house to get his gun. But before he could start shooting, he had to take some cans to the back fence to “sight in” his gun. I had to learn this: before you can shoot accurately, you have to make sure that what you see through the scope is actually where your bullet is going to go. With an improperly sighted gun, you look at one thing and shoot another.
In the same way, our sinful nature has skewed our perception so that what we see is never quite lined up with what is real. When we view our lives through eyes that have not been sighted in, the world will seem random, confusing, occasionally wonderful and often overwhelming.
We sight in our eyes by beholding the glory of God, as Ann describes in Chapter 6 as she chases the moon: seeing God as that which is ultimately beautiful and desirable, by seeing his creation as a foreshadowing and a glimpse of the glory yet to come.
When our eyes have been burned by this vision, everything else comes into focus.
Let’s start with the easiest:
“Properly Sighted” eyes see God in all that is beautiful.
We are hard-wired to seek out beauty. When we drive past highway medians thick with bluebonnets, we get to the top of a hill and catch our breath at a view, we get caught up in those Disney Earth movies on the big screens that remind us how big and beautiful and majestic the world is. We decorate our homes to please our eyes, we crank up Josh Groban music really loud, we pick out the pictures of ourselves and our loved ones at our most lovely and we put them in frames. (It’s why I never get tired of watching Hugh Grant movies.)
Eyes that are not sighted in will see the beauty in the world as an end in itself. But there’s futility in this, because as we all know, those moments of beauty don’t ‘last forever, they leave us wanting more. I think that this is a lot of the appeal of the Twilight series: a plain and awkward girl meets a man who represents more-than-human beauty and perfection, and she finds herself completely loved by him, and united with him in an intimate relationship that will last forever. That’s the dream, right? But it’s a huge disappointment to close the book and come to terms with the reality that vampires do not exist, Edward Cullen does not exist, and even the greatest human passions don’t last.
Eyes that have seen God will know that when we are overwhelmed by beauty–when we “long to be united with it,” as Ann quotes C.S. Lewis– we are longing for God Himself. This idea is summarized in the quote that introduces Chapter 6, from Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain: “Every time you feel in God’s creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: ‘O my God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight, and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight, and joy art Thou Thyself, Creator of all!’”
Properly sighted eyes see God in all that is ugly
I thought it was interesting to hear that other languages actually have a term for the “ugly-beautiful.” But this is not exactly the same as seeing a puppy that is so ugly it’s cute…this is believing that the power of God can transfigure something dark into life, suffering into grace (99). As he sends Samuel to anoint King David, God reminds the prophet that eyes of the flesh—eyes that have not been sighted in—look at outward appearances. God looks at the heart, of what something or someone will ultimately become.
The cross itself is the ultimate ugly-beautiful. On the surface, it is gruesome, disturbing, the ultimate triumph of evil over good. But we wear the cross around our necks because we know its true beauty—that “the mighty cross is a tree of life to me,” as the hymn says. The ugliness and brutality of Christ’s death paid for our sins and cleared the way for us to be reconciled to God.
So on the small scale, our properly sighted eyes will look upon that which is ugly—broken social structures, broken bodies, broken families, broken hearts—and we will see an opportunity for God’s glory to shine through.
Charles Spurgeon preached, “There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health except it be sickness; and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health…It is a good thing to be without a trouble; but it is a better thing to have a trouble, and know how to get grace enough to bear it.”
Matt Chandler reminds us that sickness and pain are gifts because they are reminders to the Christian that this world is not our home.
We give thanks for the ugly because it points us to the God who redeems the broken and transforms death into life.
Properly sighted eyes see God as sovereign.
The Heidelberg Catechism defines God’s providence as “The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby as it were by his hand he upholds and governs heaven, earth and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but be his fatherly hand.”
This is a really double-edged sword. Because, as Job asks, “Can we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In the days after Sam was born, we clung to our belief in God’s sovereignty. His umbilical cord had become kinked—was this an accident, an oversight? If God had dozed off while I was sleeping and my baby was dying, I could never worship him again. He’d be impotent, careless, small. I have to believe that God is sovereign, or I have no god at all. But this truth is not a comforting blanket to hold on to—it keeps God on the throne but makes him responsible for my pain. This was my first time to read Chapter 5 since Sam died, and I appreciated this quote:
I won’t shield God from my anguish by claiming he’s not involved in the ache of this world..I can cry and howl and pound hard on His heart with my grief and I can moan deep that He did this—and He did. (89)
And this one, from Julian of Norwich:
See that I [God] have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally. See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began, by the same power, wisdom, and love with which I made it. How can anything be amiss?
God’s sovereignty is only a comfort if we can believe with equal conviction that
Properly sighted eyes see God as good.
God is not like those deities we read about in mythology who entertain themselves by causing human inconvenience and suffering. Our God died to save us! He who lacks nothing made himself vulnerable to us (his fickle, wicked, flighty creations) by choosing to love us. I do not know why God took my son, but I do know that God “did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all.” And as Paul asks, “How will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
God graciously gives us what is good. Ann writes, “That which seems evil, is it a cloud to bring rain, to bring a greater good to the whole of the world? Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?” (90)
And from her blog: “We have no knowledge of good and evil apart from God. My seeing, it is not omniscient. Can I really see if death, disaster, dilemma, is actually evil? Mine is only to faithfully see His word and wholly obey him in this. Therein is the tree of life.” (www.aholyexperience.com)
When we know, not just in our heads, not just in our wall art, that God truly “works in all things for the good of those who love him” we can open our hands to receive our daily bread from God, even when it hurts.
Lastly, Properly sighted eyes will see God as ultimately satisfying.
“You may suffer loss, but in Me is anything ever lost, really? Isn’t everything that belongs to Christ also yours? Loved ones lost still belong to Him–then aren’t they still yours? Do I not own the cattle on a thousand hills; everything? Aren’t then, all provisions, in Christ also yours? If you haven’t lost Christ, child, nothing is ever lost.” (98)
James 1:4 tells us to “Count it as joy when [we] face trials of various kinds, because [we] know that the testing of [our] faith develops steadfastness.”
We are not told to persevere through trials, to self-medicate through pain, to grit our teeth and try not to lose our faith in the midst of struggle–we are told to rejoice. To count pain as joy.
This only makes sense if we are in a place where the joy of seeing God and growing closer to him is greater than any pain we can imagine. We’re like an athlete ignoring a leg cramp as we run across the finish line, or a laboring mama smiling through her pain for the joy of the child about to be born.
When God fills our empty spaces, we can hold his gifts with open hands. We can pray like Job- “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord,” and like Habakkuk- “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
We can enjoy God’s good gifts and we can rejoice in his painful gifts because we know that in Him, we have everything we could ever need or want.
How to come to this place?
We “sight in” our eyes by fixing them on God. We see Him in the beauty of creation as we chase the moon, we see Him in beauty and joy and pain as we count gifts, but the most important place to behold Him is in the Bible. As Ann says, “Without God’s Word as a lens, the world warps.”
We see her own example–as she wrestles to say grace for Levi’s spared hand AND for the neighbor’s lost child, she turns to the promises of Scripture she’s written on well-worn cards. God has revealed himself through His Word, and by keeping ourselves saturated in Scripture, we make sure that our eyes stay properly sighted. A gun requires constant use and maintenance to make sure that it stays sighted in. Likewise, our sinful eyes will distort again if we do not keep them fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.