The Tyranny of Observation
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How hast thou purchased this experience?
By my penny of observation. – Shakespeare
There have been times over the years (not recently) when I thought about abandoning Christianity. But each time I thought about what I would replace it with I would come up empty. Before I became a Christian I’d already spent years reading astrology and other occult themes. I’d already checked out different forms of Eastern religious expression. I’d already gotten drunk and high and stumbled through that field of self-abuse called the dating scene. So every time I’d come up with the same answer Peter did when he said Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
There were different reasons I’d come to that point, mostly my own stupidity and over dependence on sight. It’s funny how many things we can find to convince ourselves that Scripture doesn’t take into consideration the special circumstances of our lives. But once we’ve come to our senses and pay attention we see that nothing special overtook us that wasn’t common to the human race (1 Cor. 10:13).
This world has a way of wearing you down with a constant spiritual vexation. If we depend on observation, we’re defenseless because things don’t often appear to be going our way. But the kingdom of God doesn’t come by observation (Lu. 17:20). It never has.
God didn’t choose the Jews for their great number. They were the fewest of all people (Deut. 7:7). The Hebrew slaves had a hard time recognizing Moses as anything but trouble. Moses came the unpredictable way of being raised as an Egyptian. Puny David was chosen over Jesse’s firstborn son. The prophets always found themselves going against the grain of society. Everything Jesus did, though in direct fulfillment of the very Scripture supposedly held sacred, offended the expectations and observations of those who saw but didn’t perceive.
And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. – Isa. 6:9
Paul, having previously been completely possessed by the spirit of strict interpretation, described himself as one being born out of due time as the last one to see Jesus after His death and perceive Him.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. – 1 Cor. 15:8
The words, out of due time, as near as I can tell from the Greek mean Paul was born like an aborted child who should have died, as one who had no time. He was not nurtured and instructed like the rest of the apostles but was transformed instantly by grace. So whether grace comes through and over time as it did to Christ’s disciples and as it does to us, or out of time, as it does to those whom God chooses to cause to make a complete and sudden turn all at once, it’s all of grace.
This world is in love with observation because it is easy to dismiss what can’t be observed even though what we observe is made of unobservable things. (Heb. 11:3). But long ago Solomon set upon an experiment to see if he could understand how everything worked by applying the great gift of wisdom God had given him. He found out that, despite his wisdom, it didn’t matter how much he observed. His eyes weren’t capable of taking it all in.
All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. – Ecc. 1:8
Moreover, he couldn’t tell exactly what God was doing by observing what happened to the righteous as opposed to the wicked.
For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knows either love or hatred by all that is before them. – Ecc. 9:1
Observation without perception locks us into a very narrow range of vision. Even in the natural world we see only one kind of light, but not infrared, x-rays or ultraviolet. Scientists tell us that most of the matter in the universe, dark matter, is invisible. So we see very little of what’s in the natural, let alone the supernatural.
To depend on observation is to live in a visual ghetto. Without vision we perish (Prov. 29:18). But the “vision” Proverbs speaks of means revelation. Don’t get that word confused with the misguided “God told me” folks. Revelation is part of the package for every true Christian. And unlike those who claim to have special revelation all the time, the fact that every true Christian has the spirit of Christ makes revelation something woven into their lives.
But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. – Rom. 8:9
That revelation doesn’t come with observation since it is part of the kingdom of heaven. It’s a kind of second sight we have in Christ that enables us to endure because we don’t depend on natural vision alone but, without really knowing how, see the invisible with revelatory eyes.
By faith he (Moses) forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. – Heb. 11:27
Nobody is strong enough to make it on observation alone. It would drive me to madness to believe that what I see in the actions of human beings is the substance of things (Deut. 28:34). Endurance must come from the perception of the invisible to counterbalance the tyranny of the visible. To cater to the eye is too feed a tapeworm. As Solomon said, it is never satisfied.
The French essayist Montaigne once said, “When I was young, beautiful ancient statues were castrated, so that the eye might not be corrupted.... Nothing was gained, unless horses and asses had also been castrated.”
To peer through eyes dependent on observation without perception is like mistaking a map of California for a visit to the state. As Samuel Johnson said, “Objects imperfectly discerned take forms from the hope or fear of the beholder.”
Our hopes and fears are poor substitutes for the endurance that comes from perceiving the invisible; an endurance without which we can’t finish the race set before us (Heb. 12:1).
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