by Trevor DeVage
You see it clearly, don’t you? You know why it’s there, what’s wrong with it, why you like it or don’t. It’s obvious to you. What you see is the truth, and no one can convince you otherwise.
But if you’re looking at your object through a camera lens, what you see may be distorted. It may appear farther away than it is, smaller. Or maybe you’ve enlarged it to look for a few details that don’t appear at a quick glance. But seeing only those particulars doesn’t give you an accurate picture of the whole. The old saying claims, “Seeing is believing,” but sometimes that leads us to believe something that isn’t true.
This can be a problem when we look at Jesus. We have him figured out. We know what’s true about Jesus, and what’s wrong with how others see him. We know what he expects of us and how to obey him.
But the accuracy of those conclusions depends on what lens we’re using to view him. Are we looking at Jesus through the lens of our political views, our family values, the conclusions of our college professors, or the assumptions of our middle- (or lower- or upper-) class station in life?
The answer is yes. It’s impossible not to be influenced by our experiences and associations. That’s not so big a problem if we realize it. But too many today do not stop to consider that their perspectives on most problems and their answers to most questions are limited by the lens they’re using. Even for the Christian, it’s too easy for one’s worldview to define Jesus instead of the other way around.
I once heard Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller say, “We have made Jesus into a product in our culture.” His topic was consumer Christianity, and he described the tendency to seek Jesus only as the solution to whatever problem we’re facing at the moment. Too often we already know the solution we want. When Jesus doesn’t deliver, then we move on to another Jesus offered by someone else looking at him through the lens we prefer. Culture defines Jesus for us instead of our allowing Jesus to challenge and shape culture.
There are no easy remedies for this, but a few simple first steps occur to me.
1. STAY IN THE WORD.
But examine the context and try to discover how the Scripture you’re reading would impact those who heard it first, centuries ago. Avoid finding proof texts to support your preconceived notion.
2. SPEND TIME WITH THOSE WHO DON’T BELIEVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE.
Read books and articles from those looking at life through a different lens. Engage non-Christians in discussions about God and faith. Listen to believers whose conclusions about Scripture are different from your own.
The point of this is not to argue, but to think. Your motive is not first to convince someone else he’s wrong, but to understand a different perspective. Evaluate your lens after looking at life through someone else’s, and then go back to Point One: stay in the Word.
3. ASSOCIATE WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE THEIR FOCUS ON JESUS.
The longer we concentrate on Jesus—just Jesus, not what we’ve always been told about him—the clearer our view of him becomes. Those who will help us see him are often not the most prominent people in our church. Maybe she’s an 80-year-old widow who’s spending 90 minutes in Bible study and prayer every day. Or the 90-year-old retired minister on a cane who regularly finds a visitor and introduces him to a leader in the church.
The apostle Paul had seen Jesus face-to-face, and his description of Jesus reminds us why our view of him must be clear:
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ” (Colossians 1:15-17).
Jesus—before all, over all, in all. God, help me reject the lenses in life that distort our view of him. Help me see him just as he is.