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Putting on our spectacles


Last updated 3/6/2008 at Noon

Friends have noticed me lately wearing two pairs of glasses. They see the pair on my face and the pair hanging off my sweater. “Why do you have two pairs?” The simple answer is because I’m cheap. I got them both at the 99-cents store. One sort of corrects my distance, and the other helps me read. A $1.98 solution to these 53-year-old eyes.

I had a $200 pair with graduated lenses that did everything and the frames were practically invisible, but I put them on the dashboard of my car on a sunny day when the windows were down, and when I went to make a sharp left turn, the lenses slid elegantly across the dashboard and out the passenger window onto Mission Road. By the time I did the U-ey and got back to the scene of the accident, several cars had reduced the frames to their original elements.

John Calvin had a famous line about glasses. Back in the mid-1500s when he was the towering theological genius of that century, spectacles had just been invented. Calvin said the Bible is like a supernatural pair of spectacles:

“Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.”

That’s a very clever analogy, using an illustration from technology just emerging in his lifetime. Two people can look at the same world, the same data, the same event, the same circumstances – and one can see order and the other chaos, one can see beauty and the other dullness, one is moved to praise and the other is unmoved. Why do they see such different worlds – looking at the same world?

Calvin said, our knowledge of God and his creation is a confused and meaningless jumble, because our eyes can’t see right. Paul explains in Romans 1 that human beings suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Our minds are darkened by sin. We conspire against the truth that is manifest before us.

And that’s why we need – all of us – a pair of corrective lenses. That’s what the Bible gives us – a way to look at the world that brings God into focus and shows us the purpose of life and the grace that lies all around us.

I really can’t function well if I venture out of the house without my glasses. In the same way, we shouldn’t venture out on our day without putting on the spectacles of scripture, our first pair of glasses. We need first to spend some time in God’s Word – to bring the world and our life into focus through God’s point of view. God sees the world right, and he shares his vision with us through scripture.

The second pair of glasses is faith. The words of scripture are lifeless unless we read them with a heart of faith. Faith is a personal relationship of love and trust with the living God who reveals himself in scripture most clearly and who is present with us in the everyday events of our life.

The Heidelberg Catechism (Q21) has a wonderful definition of faith: “Faith is not only a certain knowledge by which I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word, but also a wholehearted trust which the Holy Spirit creates in me through the gospel.”

We have to read scripture through the lens of faith. And we have to trust the God revealed through the lens of scripture. We need both pairs of glasses – one that is objective (the Bible) and one that is subjective (faith). “Faith” without scripture runs after every strange and fanciful notion of God and spirituality. That’s why there’s so much unfocused and oddball god-blather out there in our culture. But scripture without a Holy Spirit-nurtured faith (a vital personal relationship with God of love and trust) is just dead doctrine and religion. What a sad thing to know the Bible but not know the living God revealed in the Bible.

That’s why we should all carry two pairs of spectacles.


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