The Nearsightedness of Faith

Ponder this: for 1,000s of years people thought the stars were tiny dots in the sky. The sun was a fiery marble. The moon, a reflective dime. It’s not that people did not admire, even worship, the celestial lights, but even if they were majestic, they were small, smaller than the trees, the hills, and the hungry children that were in plain sight. What no one could have imagined is that in truth that brilliant marble, the sun, did not only dwarf the mountains, but could swallow the earth. Those pinpricks we call stars, were not just awesome because of light and order, but also because of their size. Planets and moons circled them like swallows in the void.

If our species in the past suffered a kind of cosmic near-sightedness, something similar is true of Christians today. Although we hallow the doctrines of our faith – the sovereignty of God, His mercy, His covenant fidelity, the promises of eternal life and new creation – these truths all too often appear to be small in our gaze, much smaller than last month’s electric bill, the diagnosis just given, or the toppling demands of a crest of paper on a worktop. In the midst of daily trials, we forget the sheer magnitude of what we believe, and consequently we become more aware of the next to-do than the presence and promise of God.

This is not a new phenomenon. God’s people have struggled with this as far back as the Israelites, tucked against the Red Sea, decided to focus on Pharaoh and his armies instead of the God who had brought them out of Egypt. Therefore, one of the basic disciplines of the Christian life is to take the most fundamental truths of our faith, doctrines like the sovereignty of God, and to meditate on them until they digest through the mind and pass into the heart, finally being assimilated as convictions of living faith.

One gospel truth worthy of being chewed on like a thick piece of steak is the refrain of I Cor. 3:21 ‘All things are yours’. Paul uses this truth to address the scavenger mind-set of young Christians at Corinth. Like a pack of hyenas, these Christians were jealous for the scraps of life, fighting and bullying each other for power, status, identity and pleasure. Living in a competitive world defined by money, charm, and social influence, they had brought this mind-set (‘wisdom’ verse 19) into the church, and were living, if not in professed denial, at least in practical denial of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Into such a setting Paul lobs a grenade of gospel truth, the reminder that in Christ ‘all things are yours’. His point is that no Christian should be governed by the mentality of a vulture, hyena, or any other scavenger. In Christ, we don’t have to scrape the bones of life, divide into tribes of suspicion and hate, or bully the weak for a second helping of control or respect. To act in any of these ways is to forget our identity in Christ. In Christ, we are not paupers but princes, not serfs, but sons, not orphans, but heirs. Since God is our Father, we ought to have absolute certainty that everything is working for our growth, maturity and good. So Paul claims, ‘All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s’. The claim is astonishing in breadth: even death is a gift for the Christian bringing about the good purposes of a gracious and sovereign God.

Although most contemporary people are aware of the basic measurements of stars (that they are really, really, super big), we still struggle to feel this is on a Monday. The scale of the universe matters little to us as we sit in traffic, wondering how life on earth will go on if we are late for work. The same is true for our faith. In spite of the immeasurable riches of the gospel, these riches seldom affect us as we scavenge about for meaning, purpose, identity, peace, comfort, and value, blind to the grace and hope that dwarf the pressures of the moment. How do we overcome this spiritual near-sightedness? The answer is to get a better perspective on what is true. We must meditate on the gospel until it finally shapes our convictions, worldview, identity and feelings about life. Only then will we settle into the peace that, just as the earth revolves around the sun, so we revolve around God, and if He is at the centre, all things are in order.

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