On Earth

What is the lens through which you see the world? My freshman year of college, my roommates and I played chess regularly. It started out as a nightly study break, but quickly became an obsession as those of us who were not in the game became spectators. Before we knew it, hours would have passed. Because we were playing so much, I began to see the world as a chess game.

Every now and then, I would be standing among a group of friends having a conversation, and then catch myself thinking, “If Steve was a knight, then he could go up two and then over one and capture Nick…” Chess had become the way through which I saw the world, and it was slowly coloring little details of my life.

It’s a silly example. I no longer see the world as a chess board (now, it’s one giant iPad). For some, the vision of the world we inhabit can become downright destructive. Each of us has had that encounter with a friend or relative or acquaintance where they have let slip the fantastical conspiracy theory that holds their worldview together. Their life has become a prison, and everything they see becomes further proof that there are insidious forces at work, and that the rest of us are just lulled into a stupor, unable to see what is right before our eyes.

These are two extremes. But the underlying point is quite universal: each of us has our own lens, or lenses, through which we live our lives. It could be history, or economics, or science, or psychology; we could be pessimistic or optimistic; see life as a set of cold, hard facts, or as a place where mystery and miracle is at work much of the time. Every one of us approaches the world around us with a certain set of assumptions, most of which we do not even realize.

What is the lens through which you see the world?

I think that’s the underlying question at work in this part of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is encouraging those who listen that we ought to pray that God’s will be done on earth. We’ll finish out the phrase next week, but the point here is this: God’s will is already at work in heaven, and perfectly so. Earth, the created order, is another thing altogether.

As we talked about last week, we can fall into the trap of using “God’s will” to let us off the hook. If it happens, we reason, it must be God’s will. But the truth is that God’s power and sovereignty is made most clear in the fact that we do have choices. Only perfect parental love would let children make mistakes. The point of this phrase is that our role is to align ourselves with God’s desires, and to work to make them reality. But we, more often than not, can get in the way.

So what is your lens?

For the ancient Israelites in our lesson from the Hebrew Bible, their lens was that of nation and monarchy. If we remember, way back when they chose Saul as their king, the prophet Samuel did everything he could to talk them out of it. They came to see him, saying, “We want to be like the other nations. They have kings. Why don’t we have a king?” Samuel wisely took this request to God, the one who had led them out of Egypt and into Canaan, and God said, essentially, “This is a bad idea. In full disclosure, you should tell them why it’s a bad idea. But, ultimately, it’s their choice.”

Samuel did just that, and they clamored for a king anyway. And the people were thrilled, because Saul “looked” like a king. What excited them, it seems, was that most important royal characteristic: being tall.

Saul, it turns out, was not all that great. He was a warrior, but he was petty and paranoid. So the people are ready for David to take over. And in his time, David accomplishes some pretty amazing things, primary of which is that he unites the southern and northern kingdoms, as we just read.

But David was no picnic, either. He hungered for power, whether it was the building of the Temple or knocking off his neighbor Uriah so he could sleep with his wife, Bathsheba. While choosing a king may have given the Israelites a brief period of calm as a nation, it did little to further the cause of God’s righteousness. On earth, things looked pretty good; but from heaven, where the view might be a little bit clearer, not so much.

The lenses through which we see the world color our choices far more than we might recognize.

Paul’s worldview comes to light in his second letter to the church at Corinth. As he describes the mystical experience of someone who was taken up “to the third heaven”, it becomes clear that he is speaking about himself. It was an ecstatic experience beyond description. And it’s not too much of a leap, I think, to say that in it, Paul had a glimpse of the world through God’s eyes. Momentarily, at least, Paul takes on heavenly lenses, casting aside his earthly ones.

The reality is that our own lenses help us interpret Paul’s testimony. Was it some kind of mental illness? Do we take it at face value? Or is there something else at work here that helps us see the world the way that God sees it, some kind of clue that helps us know how it is that we are supposed to strive for “God’s will” here “on earth”?

There is, I believe, something at work in the paradox with which Paul ends his reflection. Apparently, he suffered some kind of affliction that kept him from getting too high and mighty as a result of the heavenly revelation he experienced. And that suffering has given him a unique perspective, one that leads him to say that when he is weak, that’s when he’s at his strongest; because at that moment, it is no longer Paul working through his own abilities, but making way for God to be at work through – and, even, in spite of – him.

Weakness is strength? Frailty is power? I don’t care what your lens is: that is not a straightforward conclusion to reach by any stretch. But the more we immerse ourselves in the heavenly view of things, the more we read Jesus’ parables and recognize in his very being the deepest and clearest revelation of God’s desires, the more we can begin to embrace these very contradictions that are at the heart of the faith we proclaim.

The world in which we live, the marketplace of lenses, is a crowded one. And we do have a choice in what we wear. The lenses we find in our Scripture lessons today, of nation and tribe, of power and pride, are alive and well; and they are awfully tempting. And, unfortunately, they fit pretty snugly, these earthly lenses. Even so, God can use them and work through them, just as God worked through Saul and David, bad choices, moral failures, and all.

But what is it like to see the world as God sees it? What would it be like to drop all pretense of self-importance, and acknowledge our weakness, so that God’s power, not ours, might be what shines through?

We are an inextricable part of the world, of God’s created order. And as such, we are imperfect, flawed, cracked human vessels of God’s grace. But if not for the cracks, how would we ever see the light within?