Sight will clarify

There is a pattern in the earlier chapters of the book of Revelation that is about ‘hearing’ being clarified by ‘sight’. The latter chapters are sight, sight, sight… and not a few strange sights at that: apocalyptic literature in its fullness!

Here are some examples in the early chapters:

  • 1:10 I heard voice like a trumpet…
    1:12 I turned to see (saw lampstands) then came clear one standing in the midst of the lampstands
  • 4:1 heard a voice…
    4:1 come up here and I will show you… then description of sight 5:1 saw, 5:5 saw, 5:11 Looked, 6:1 saw
  • 6:1 heard leads to 6:2 looked, followed by that pattern being repeated
  • 7:4 I heard… leads to 7:9 After this I looked

And in the midst of the Rev. 5 passage, John hears a well known Scriptural image – the Lion of the Tribe of Judah… he turns and he sees a Lamb slain.

The last example is very key. Scriptural imagery that we can recite, but greatly re-interpreted. Without that re-interpretation it is not possible to ‘see’ the book of Revelation, those chapters and that sight re-shaping what was understood being so central.

At a wider level, we hear so much, we can repeat so much that we have heard, we rely on what we have heard / been taught. The hearing interprets what we see. But Revelation has a significant pattern of what we see interpreting what we have heard. This can be at a transcendent level. We receive revelation that challenges the past; or at an imminent level and what we see does not fit what we have heard.

Sight might come in an instant, or it might come in stages (John – lampstands –> one walking in the midst of the lampstands)… or it might come as we persist and refuse to let go of the dissonance between what we have heard and what we see.

Fresh sight is to break. That was one of the emphases that John Robinson had about our understanding of Scriture. (Robinson was the ‘pastor’ to the pilgrims who travelled to the Americas).

I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.

I wrote to someone this morning after he sent me an article on Artificial Intelligence. OH my are we challenged, and what will the future hold, and what about my book Humanising the Divine?! We have also had some correspondence regarding those who are holding to the same line as the Reformers on virtually every approach (cross, predestination, election, hell etc.). They might be right (did I write that? Surely not!) but an insistence on that momentous era of the Reformation being the, more or less, end of our understanding is troublesome. We are so clearly at the end of an era… The biggest financial crisis is on us, food crises, fossil fuels, climate etc. Could we simply be at an end, or could we be at the beginning?

I don’t know how we respond to the AI direction. All accept a chip and become super-human? Resist it and find that we repeat the errors of how progress has been resisted in the past? Yes there is Babylon / Babel in there, but wonderfully we know that Babylon is never a finished work.

In it all, I have no idea how we respond… but surely there are aspects in this new time that we as believers can press into. Jesus at the centre, but maybe what he is bringing will have a surprise or three. I am thankful (yes, even for so much of the Reformation, and for the early church writers) for the past… but there is a new era here.

More than meets the eye

The eye… what one looks at, or more precisely ‘how’ one looks at ‘someone’ is important for us all. A central element in Paul seems to be that something has already happened, for

… if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor. 4:17).

That is pretty comprehensive: ‘there is… everything… everything.’ The preceding verse states that ‘we regard no one from a human point of view’. Sight has changed, how we view everyone. That is a challenge beyond a challenge. Vladimir Putin is included? I guess so, for when Paul said no one, he had to be including Caesar and that particular one who raised the sword against him – Nero, the person who sparked the ‘antiChrist’ theme of Revelation (666 / 616 both being how his name was numerised).

Now to a Jesus’ text on how we see.

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28).

Sight…

In John 8 we read of the woman ‘caught in adultery’ and of course we do not read of ‘the man caught in adultery’. Patriarchal world-view, let’s pin the blame where it belongs… and enough in Proverbs to back this up biblically. So Jesus saying ‘but I say to you’ is not simply going from action to the heart (via the eyes) but is also going against the flow of biblical patriarchy (yes I did write that). If we only had Jesus we would be reading the ‘man, and only the man is guilty’.

We have then a wonderful correction to patriarchy. We see the same thing with his statements with regard to divorce where he (unlike the culture of his day) gives equal rights to women as to men.

The purpose of the ‘look’ is central to what Jesus is saying, interestingly the word ‘lustfully’ does not actually appear. It is the Greek word, epithumeo, the same word that Jesus said when he spoke to his disciples that he desired to eat the Passover with them (Lk. 22:15), and is the word used to translate the 10th commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife (Exod. 20:17, LXX).

The text is a whole lot deeper than ‘control your sexual desires’, for that 10th commandment includes coveting donkeys and animals. When we combine it with Paul I think it is informing us that our sight is important. Whether that concerns sexual boundaries, or other boundaries, but essentially it is to do with our desires of possession. If there is a new creation we can have our sight changed. Old (patriarchal) definitions have gone, indeed old creational definitions have gone. We do not ‘see’ anyone that way. Ticking the box concerning sexual ‘lust’ gets us so far, but there is much further to go. No-one is here to meet our expectations, nor to be the fulfilment of our desires. They are first seen as living in this new creation and so cannot be classified nor objectivised.

Favourite verses

You must be born again / from above (John 3:7).

That is a favourite verse… spoken to one person… but to be fair it also says ‘no-one can see the kingdom of God without being born again’. So perhaps justified as a ‘favourite verse’.

Go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor… (Matt. 19:21).

Not such a favourite verse, spoken to one person, but maybe with some justification it is not universally applied (just wiped my brow with relief right then).

It is amazing how we choose some verses over others, and thankfully maybe just about come down on the side that is OK-ish.

I was totalling up the other day who intimidates me:

Those with more money than me5%
Those who are not of my gender50%
Those younger than me92%
Those smarter than me91%
Total: thank God the battery on my calculator ran outQuite a lot

So a favourite Scripture of mine is:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor. 5:16,17).

My short list above has a left-sided column that is composed of categories ‘from a human point of view’. Not surprisingly then the right side column is not a pretty sight. ‘See’ is the command. Now there is a challenge. See there is ‘new creation’. This current one is groaning, currently visible in the Ukraine, but groaning when Martin sees with old eyes. One is visible to all via TV; the other I can keep hidden… though the fruit will be visible to anyone who approaches me.

I think maybe this (2 Corinthians 5:16,17 quoted above) is my (current) favourite Scripture. If the born again Scripture is a favourite it seemed that Jesus said the sign that we really are allowing the reality of what we favour to be true for us is that we are unpredictable. If I allow the content of the verse that I claim as favourite to transform me then my categorisations need to go. Got a lot of work to do… or find another favourite Scripture. The latter will be easy, the former… not really sure I know where to start.

Set in sight

Its me again, I get the green font which I do love. Green is life!

I’m not a stickler for traditions (!) And I know it’s traditional to reflect back on a year and tease out a word for the new one however, just this once, I’m feeling like conforming! So, to stick to a tradition, I’d like to mark time.

2020 vision. We definitely have seen a lot this year. We’ve had to look closely at ourselves, what we’re doing and how, who matters and what really motivates us. We’ve looked at our priorities and as society we’ve realised that our nurses and doctors and shop workers are far more important than the billionaires and the stock brokers. Our football heroes were idle and useless and the nameless were acknowledged (hopefully not fleetingly) for their real value.

In the last days of this sight-filled year I think we need to cast our eyes far forward. As though on a mountaintop, we have a moment now to look forward and to reset our direction. A moment to spy destination and to set the compass with a long term goal, think 10 years. The smallest of reset now, the slightest change of position, in ten years will place us in a very different place. I’m talking personally but I think the same moment is there for bodies of people, organisations and businesses where there is a niggling feeling that the traditional way forward won’t cut it.

2021 I think, won’t be so clear, down off the mountaintop and into the clouds below and the valleys but I think with direction set and with courage, we will find ourselves stumbling a bit, but making progress towards that new destination, finding new companions on the way, some unexpected delights and a whole lot of joy.

Zoom – a new world opens

I have just come off a Zoom call to Singapore… (have you noticed how ‘zoom’ is now a word in our language to sit alongside others like ‘google’?). It was very enriching and I was paid one of the highest compliments, that being that I was apparently ‘so futuristic’. If only!! But it is something to live up to for sure. Coming off the zoom I thought again about Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians. I will quote first in a new translation (ESV, a new but ‘old’ translation, with a tendency to overdo the (overdone) masculine pronouns when not necessary, nor accurate in today’s context, and ‘old’ because of the tendency to lean on comfortable concepts):

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 16-19 ESV, emphasis added).

‘He (sic) is a new creation’.

The NIV reads:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 16-19 NIV, emphasis added).

‘The new creation has come’.

Or to really impress the SBL Greek text:

ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις. τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδοὺ γέγονεν καινά.

So that if anyone is in Christ, (a) new creation. The old (things) have passed away, behold the new (things) have come.

The passage is about sight and how we view people, starting with Christ himself. If we see him from a worldly point of view (for Paul the Jewish world view and ‘messiahship’, for us maybe the ‘king of our empire’) we can only go wrong from there. We can never see the world and certainly not others rightly. Hence seeing Jesus rightly means we can never see anyone (and anyone cannot be reduced to ‘believers’) through the fallen-human lens that categorises them. If however, we are seeing Jesus differently, and that is an evolving experience, then everything has changed. Crazily Paul suggests for such people the world as we think of it as existing has passed away. At the cross, God is not reconciled to the world, but vice versa. There was an alignment of the world back to God, to his way of doing things. This is so far out there that it is not surprising that translations make the verse personal, implying the extent of the conversion is that of becoming a new ‘creature’. If the whole world was being reconciled I am reconciled; if the whole world was being made new then I am made new. My personal experience is within the global.

What do we see at this time? In the days of a total antiChrist one-world government system Paul had crazy sight. Maybe we have thought of the great new things that God was doing when we fell to the floor, and the glory was being manifest… but the biblical assessment on that would be ‘ouch that is such small sight’. The Covid-19 virus might just help be a provocation to us to come to an awareness of what we see.

The universal work of God must have a global outworking. These next two years are enormous years for the alignments God is bringing about. There has to be reconciliations because that was the reconciling work of God on the cross that birthed (then) a whole new world. This morning in the zoom call there were some great resonances (though I am sure that they would not endorse all my perspectives… I hope they don’t as I am convinced that God doesn’t endorse all of them!); they reflected back to me in their words something so strong. ‘There are kingdom friendly people who are not believers; and there are Christians who are not kingdom friendly.’

It is time to see, and to see anew. If anyone is in Christ, not simply ‘in Christ’ through ticking the box, but in Christ experientially.

Oh yes… the gospel offends not because of who it excludes, but because of who it includes.

Sent out blind

Apostle coming our way… is the caption for the above image!

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi,who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing (John 9:1-7).

Another crazy story with a sweet confrontation with the religious world at the end. The Pharisees claimed sight and Jesus, ever so gently, and ever so firmly, told them ‘hey just claim a lack of sight and you might just be allowed a little leeway.’ It starts with Jesus commissioning a blind man, maybe John is hinting that this is an apostolic sending (‘Go’; the pool means ‘sent’).

Those commissioned by God claimed sight and Jesus advised them to go easy with the claim! The blind man is sent, and is sent blind, not healed and then sent. After going, blind, he comes home seeing.

That was not an easy journey for the gentleman in question. Where are you going? ‘To the sent pool’. Who sent you… Jesus. How much easier if Jesus had just given him his sight first then imagine how more effective he could have been in his witness. He could have told so many along the way, he could have arrived at the ‘sent’ pool with all the credentials that he had indeed been sent, but no, that is not the way it happenned.

When we push out, the issue we will either ‘see in part’ or be blind. Sight is not the first element – obedience is. As with Abraham – go… and I will show you. Go leads to sight. Paul had an inward journey to make, through his three days of blindness, until he could get some sight. Three internal days. Always three, the three days of grave type experience.

I guess that there are a bunch of people who have not received sight within the religious scenario, but have tentatively heard something of a commissioning, are stumbling along without too much sight, but there is a pool, a ‘sent’ pool that has water in it. Don’t stop now.

And a little footnote… neither his parents nor he had sinned, and I do not think this was also done so that God’s power could be revealed. The clause here is a probably an ‘imperatival hina’ clause… ‘but let the works of God be displayed…’ The response to Jesus is don’t look for fault, here is an example of God’s sending!

And how do you ‘read’ that

Reading anything is interesting. Back in the day I was told ‘authorial intention’ had to be adhered to, and as a semi-writer I would be a little put out if people read what I wrote in whatever way (‘reader response’) that they wished. But…

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit (Judg. 21: 25).

At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing (The Message).

Author’s intended meaning. I strongly suspect he (and pretty sure this one is a ‘he’) is we need a king, then everything is sorted, enough of all this independence-caused chaos. Yet how challenging Scripture can be. Yesterday I was reading:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,”  be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite (Deut. 17: 14,15).

A bit cheeky! Written as if it was written by Moses and looking way ahead, yet almost certainly written in the form we have many centuries after the people had asked for a king to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8). So if Scripture can be cheeky, maybe we can follow suit with our interpretation, particularly if we also consider that there are two authors – a human one (or ‘ones’, perhaps a number of post-exilic editors?) and a God breathing author. I am pretty sure that the human author in Judges is writing as a monarchist, but I am also pretty sure that the divine author intends us to be king-free and for the people are to do ‘what is right in their own eyes’.

It has so much to do with what we see. If we see God and see people in the image of God then to do what is right is a necessity. If we see ourselves at the centre of all things, the world revolving around me then whenever I do what is right in my own eyes will be idolatrous, disastrous and full of greed. Greed, that which desires more than my share, consumerism gone mad, Paul ties to idolatry (Col. 3:5).

So I have my reading of those monarchic comments, and do not see the establishment of authority as the way forward but the opening of eyes. My eyes, and to hopefully live as if I see something different, so that others too might gain some sight.

Perspectives