How to “see through” the world

How to “see through” the world

This past October I took my 10-year-old daughters to the state fair.

I had mixed feelings about it.

One the one hand, it would be great to see the various exhibits, to pet the farm animals, try out various foods, etc.  On the other hand, all the rides, games, shows, noise, etc.–that’s just isn’t really me (and, wow, is it expensive).

But the girls had never been before, and they were really excited.  And it actually ended up being truly a good time, because all three of us actually learned something.  Yes, at the fair.

Here’s how it happened.

I went with really low expectations, thinking, “What is there of any real value here?  It’s all just one big frivolous distraction.  Is it even a good idea to expose my daughters to this?”  But the girls went with really high expectations, thinking, “Rides, games, food–this is going to be awesome!”

But our experience didn’t match either of our expectations.

Mine proved to be too low.  One of my daughters simply loves horses, and we had a great time petting and feeding all the various kinds of horses, talking to their owners and watching them ride and interact with their horses.  We laughed.  We learned.  It was wholesome.  It was good.

But if my expectations proved to be too low, the girls’ proved to be too high.  Again and again.  Just after they got off the rollercoaster, the look on their faces said it all:  “That wasn’t really that enjoyable.”  Even the enjoyable rides and the fun games lasted only a couple of minutes at best, and then it was over.  Further, they are both aware that their dad isn’t exactly wealthy, and they were conscious of how expensive the rides were.  We left.  On the way home one of them said, “Thank you so much for taking me, dad–I really appreciate it.  But I don’t need to go again for a while.”

I had come to the fair with too much hesitation.  They had come with too much hunger.  We encountered what was genuinely good and yet what could not satisfy.

Christians often look at the world with too much hesitation.  In fact, we can be downright suspicious of it, demonizing alcohol, sex, fashion, music, government, education, etc.

And yet at other times we can look at the world with too much hunger.  In fact, we can place all our hopes in it, deifying popularity, power, productivity, other people, etc.

How are we Christians supposed to see the world?

Over the several posts we have been meditating on the following exhortation from King Solomon:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4.23)

As we’ve said, the heart is often the Bible’s way of speaking of our deepest affections and allegiances–what (or whom) we desire, fear, or trust in the most.  The heart also describes the way in which we humans are constantly evaluating, prioritizing, and focusing in on what we think most important to us.

So when Solomon says, “Guard your heart”, he is saying, “Be careful about what (or whom) you will desire, fear, or trust in the most.  Think carefully about what you prioritize, focus on, and regard as most important to you.”

We then asked, “How do you guard your heart?” and we’ve discovered two steps so far.

1.  Seek God’s help with all your heart. 

We saw how Proverbs 2.3-5 (along with James 1.5-6) urges us to do the following:  with passionate faith regardless of our past faults, cry out to God for a wisdom that will enable our hearts to desire, fear, and trust Him the most.

2.  Store up God’s ways (i.e., his attributes and actions) in your heart.

We then discussed Jesus’ statement that “the good person brings good things out of the good stored up in their heart.”  Jesus calls us to “store up” good in our hearts, so that good will come out.

The “good” that we are to “store up” includes both the goodness of God and the goodness of his world.  We focused last time on how to store up the goodness of God, providing two examples–the supreme goodness of Jesus’ welcome and the supreme goodness of Jesus’ wisdom.

But this leaves unaddressed the goodness of God’s world.  What are we to do with that?  How are we to avoid seeing his world with either hesitation or hunger?  How are we to guard our hearts?

The book of Ecclesiastes speaks brilliantly to this, giving us a third step for how we are to guard our hearts:

3.  “See through” God’s world to His heart.

The author of Ecclesiastes betrays a deep hunger for the world.  Indeed, he tells of personal experiences in which he has treated the world like a buffet, looking for fullness.  But, not too surprisingly, he is left empty.

But what is surprising is that this doesn’t lead him to any hesitation, much less suspicion, regarding the world.  The emptiness and enslavement of this world’s fair do not turn him into an ascetic.  Nor is there even a hint of fundamentalism, legalism or over-protectionism (“Don’t drink, smoke or chew, or go with girls who do”).

Rather, in place of either enslavement or asceticism, he commends the enjoyment of an ephemeral (and often inexplicable) world as a good gift from the eternal God–our Creator and Judge.  Listen to this amazing advice, given to the young:

“You who are young, enjoy yourself during your early days.
Make your heart glad in the days of your youth.
And walk in the ways of your heart
and according to what your eyes see.
But know this: 
for all of these things God will have you give an account.
Remove frustration from your heart,
and cast off trouble from your flesh,
for youth and one’s early days are short-lived.
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth….”

And earlier he states:

“I know there is nothing better for people than to enjoy themselves and to do what is worthwhile [or pleasing] during their lives.  Further, that anyone can eat and drink and find pleasure in all their labor–this is a gift from God.”  (3.12-13; see 5.19)

For the author of Ecclesiastes the world is pleasing but passing.  The pleasing yet passing nature of the world calls him to “see through” the world in two important ways.

First, because the world is passing, he “sees through” it, discerning that it cannot provide us with any lasting identity or security.  It is utterly foolish to look for these from anything or anyone in the world.  In the present passage he discusses youth (with its beauty and brawn, vitality and vigor, and all the potential associated with these), which is undeniably passing.  One can’t but laugh when we recall Uncle Rico from the cult classic Napoleon Dynamite, who would do anything to go back and be the football star he should have been.

But, second, because the world is pleasing, the author of Ecclesiastes “see through” it to the One who created it.  How can the world be so pleasing?  Why is it so good?  Because it is a gift from God, given precisely for our enjoyment (not for our identity), for which we are to give great thanks to God, whose heart is pure goodness.

The apostle Paul gives us a great example of this when he speaks of wealth:  he neither demonizes or deifies it; there is neither hesitation nor hunger in his perspective, because he grasps the passing yet pleasing nature of God’s creation and how it points to God’s heart of goodness.  So he warns against finding identity and security in wealth yet still welcomes finding enjoyment in God’s abundant provision:

“As for those who have riches in the present age, command them [1] not to be conceited [no identity], [2] to put their hope not in wealth [no security], which is so uncertain [i.e., it is passing], but in God who gives us all things richly for our enjoyment [i.e., it is pleasing].” – 1 Timothy 6.18

So how are we to guard our hearts when it comes to the goodness of God’s world–from victuals to vocation, from relationships to recreation?  We are to “see through” them, discerning that they are inevitably passing yet undeniably pleasing and, thus, pointing us to our Creator, the Source of all goodness.

 

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