February 16, 2015

Spiritual Near- and Far-Sightedness

In my studies for this weekend’s ministry assignment, I have had occasion to spend some time in Isaiah 40. I think it is actually one of my favorite chapters in the Bible … particularly because of the incredibly lofty portrayal which it presents of our great God! He is incomparable – high above the created earth, nothing at all like man’s lifeless idols, never needing to consult with anyone for advice. Just take a few moments some time today and read the chapter. It is absolutely majestic!

But, as I looked back through Isaiah 40 in recent days – and listened to Iain D. Campbell preaching on v.11 – I noticed something that even adds to the beauty of the chapter.

On the one hand, human beings are likened to “a drop from a bucket”, “a speck of dust on the scales”, and as being “like grasshoppers” in God’s sight. And this is probably what I tend to remember from Isaiah 40. In light of God’s greatness (and even from His own perspective) you, and I, and the nations of this earth are absolutely miniscule. And God, more importantly, is grand, and glorious, and infinitely greater than we are!

But then, on the other hand, we who are “like grasshoppers” and “drop[s] from a bucket” are also referred to as God “lambs” whom He carries “in His bosom” (v.11). And that is a whole different picture, is it not? In verse 11 we are not tiny “speck[s] of dust”, but precious creatures in the Lord’s sight – cared for, and shepherded, and loved with all tenderness. And God, in verse 11, is presented, not so much in His awesome majesty, but in His gentleness and mercy and kindness to His own.

So which is it? Which is the God of Isaiah 40, and of the Bible? The majestic God who looks upon us “like grasshoppers”, or the one who takes us in His arms as greatly beloved “lambs”? He’s both, isn’t He? God is both great and good; both transcendent and immanent! And we are both grasshoppers and lambs!

But it occurs to me that many of us may gravitate toward one set of truths more than the others.

Some of us may be spiritually far-sighted, so to speak. We prefer to read, and talk, and hear sermons about the God who is transcendent and high in the heavens - who “sits above the circle of the earth” and views its inhabitants as specks of dust. But we have more trouble focusing our eyes on Him when He is near.

Others of us, however, are more near-sighted in our vision of God. We would much rather think and hear about the God who is near – who has a shepherd’s staff in His hand, and carries His lambs on His shoulders. But the high-in-the-heavens, transcendent God? Well, He seems a bit beyond our range of vision.

And yet both portraits are of the same God! And it is to our own detriment if the eyes of our hearts prefer to focus on only one aspect of His character! Our souls will not expand nearly as fully as they should if we do not have a full-orbed vision of God – in all His greatness, and in all His goodness (or vice versa, depending on how you are bent!).

The person who enjoys thinking primarily about the greatness of God may be quite good theologically, and when hashing through things like God’s sovereignty, and the existence of evil, and so on. And his or her praise may be quite lofty, befitting the greatness of God. But will he also be able to crawl into his Father’s lap (so to speak) when his heart is broken? And will he be able to reflect the Father’s tenderness when others are broken?

Conversely, the person who meditates mostly on the tenderness and shepherd-like qualities of God may be quite an able counselor and friend, and probably very intimate with the Lord in prayer. But what will he do when the shepherd smacks his backside with the rod, or leads him through a long wilderness before finally arriving in the green pastures? If he has not come to terms with a God whose ways are much higher than our own, he may be quite undone by some of the more unsearchable actions of his Shepherd.

And so I ask you: Which way does your eye-sight lean? Or, when reading Isaiah 40, onto which portion are you most likely to focus your eyes? God’s greatness … or His goodness? His majesty … or His tenderness? The fact that we are “like grasshoppers” … or “lambs”? It’s good that you have a keen eye for the one! But do not neglect the other! Be neither near- nor far-sighted in your vision of God. But see Him clearly, and as a whole … and you yourself will be much more whole.

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