Playing Games with God
Chapter 10

The Seeing Game

by Robert M. Smith

Living Water at the Oasis
Living Water at the Oasis

Playing Games with God
Chapter 10
The Seeing Game
by Robert M. Smith

One of the fondest memories of my childhood is the family's summer holiday excursions. In those days traveling for a couple of hours was a major journey. Riding in such classics as a 1957 Chevrolet and a 1964 Pontiac would be a thrill nowadays but back then they were just known as the "family car" and long distances in these vehicles would have to be augmented by games that my parents invented. In order to save my Dad's sanity and to stave off what would otherwise be an inter-galactic war between my sister and I, my Mom would do her best to get us playing "I spy". It was a little game of observation where one would say "I spy with my little eye something that is .........." and we would fill in the blank with colours or shapes. Everyone would, then, have to guess what it was. Well, everyone except Dad ... he had to keep his mind on driving.

Unfortunately this game had little hope of lasting more than 15 minutes at a time; particularly when I made it increasingly more difficult with some obscure reference from 5 miles back! That was great fun for me. The brilliance of my play, however, was often lost on the rest of my family. Trying to recall some ambiguity from someone else's experience can indeed be frustrating, especially when that person is being intentionally vague.

Not so long ago this frustration came back to haunt me as I stood staring at a "painting". I do not know what one calls them, but it was one of those images made out of a meticulous pattern and repeated over and over across the canvas. The viewer is to gaze at it until another image – locked deep within the mundane arrangement – begins to appear. Even while attempting to cross my eyes or "look beyond the pattern" – all advice from others who claimed to see something in these gimmicks – I could not envision a solitary thing. There may have been something of consequence deliberately hidden in there by the artist but I could not pull it out into the open. I, therefore, concluded that this must surely be a modern-day example of the old "emperor's clothes" trick: peer pressure and pride dictating an acknowledgment of something that is not actually there. Thinking back, however, it may be that my own handicap of colour-deficiency kept me from detecting anything other than the monotonous surface for it was virtually impossible for me to see anything of significance.

This should come as no surprise but we sometimes find it tremendously hard to, as the old saying goes, see what is actually right in front of our own noses for one reason or another. On occasion we are at fault because we are not observant enough or dedicated enough to discern. On other occasions there may be someone deliberately confounding our ability to detect something of merit. This game is played out daily and many of us do not even notice ... but, again, that is part of the game isn't it. What I would like to raise as a caution in this chapter is that we should not play this "hide and seek" with God. Vision problems, when it comes to eternal values, are not just inconveniences, they are deadly. And yet spiritual games of sight are played by most of us regularly.

I am going to quote two portions of Scripture that ought to get us thinking about our problems in perceptivity. Both of these are plucked from the earthly ministry of Christ and, though they may appear contradictory on the surface, we will at once realize that we must dig deeper to obtain the truly salient lessons within.

Then the disciples came and asked him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.' With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:

'You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people's heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn–
and I would heal them.'

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. (Matt 13:10-16 RSV)

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation." And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, "Watch out–beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod." They said to one another, "It is because we have no bread." And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" They said to him, "Twelve." "And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?" And they said to him, "Seven." Then he said to them, "Do you not yet understand?" (Mk 8:11-21 RSV)

In Matt 13:10-16 we are given the reason for our Lord's parables: God can take the inclination of a person's heart and magnify it. Here God is communicating but with the expressed purpose of differentiating between those who are receptive to Him and those who are not. In Mk 8:11-21 we see the frustration of God over the imperceptibility of the religious elite and also of Jesus' own disciples. Jesus' deep sigh for the Pharisees reveals the truth held in Matt 13:10-16 ... it doesn't matter what these individuals are given – signs, fulfilled prophecy, divine teaching – they have no intention of ever placing their faith in Him. To the disciples He gives a series of questions, however. He wants to get through to them and He wants them to see beyond the mere circumstantial evidence before them. I particularly love how the New American Standard Bible puts it all into perspective with these words: "And He was giving orders to them, saying, 'Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.' They began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, 'Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart?'" (Mk 8:15-17) To get at what Jesus was saying to His disciples and to be concise: facts don't mean much when spiritual vision is absent. Or to put it another way: Christianity, though not intellectually vacant, stands or falls on spiritual and moral ground, not intellectual ground. Chambers reveals this crucial difference: "Job discerned that truth is never gained by intellect, but by moral conscientiousness. Truth is always a vision that arises in the basis of the moral nature, never in the intellect. Immediately we are rightly related to God in moral relationships, instantly we perceive. We can always tell the difference between a man with a keen intellectual discernment and the man with moral discernment; the latter always appeals to the conscience, the former simply convinces the mind and adds no power to the moral life."[1]

And I very much like how Philip Yancey stated this same truth, bringing it close to each of us, in his book The Bible Jesus Read: "Prophets like Isaiah had no more courage than ordinary people – their arguments with God prove that – but they did have a special vision, an insight into the 'God within the shadows.' That vision cast history in a different light. Who is really running the world? The Hebrew prophets asked. King Ahab or God? The Assyrian empire or God? (Or, we might add, the U.S. Congress or God?) With no weapon other than the sheer moral force of the spoken word, they stood against the powers of their day."[2]

From the two Scripture passages cited above we can deduce that there exists a certain spiritual sight that is common to all people; otherwise God could not justifiably condemn either the Pharisees or anyone else for not perceiving the Saviour of the world. And yet some struggle to grasp the slightest spiritual insight while others are given much. This is no different than physical sight: without my glasses and in another era I would likely be classified as "blind" and would have incredible difficulty getting many things done. I would be among the first casualties in any battle and my life would be an endless series of accidents because of my less than stellar vision. Others would fare better or worse depending upon their capacity to see properly. To be true to this example we must also consider that, given the opportunity, when in this modern world I have the tools [glasses] that can help me see at near 20/20 levels, I am consequently responsible for using them. Because I use my glasses during every waking hour I am, thereby, choosing to see. If I took them off at any time during the day I would be choosing not to see. The funny thing is that this is precisely what most of us do in the spiritual realm: we remove our spiritual glasses often when we don't want to grasp something important from God ... and then blame it on our natural blindness. In other words, in the evangelical Christian world, we often "see only what we want to see"!

But the Holy Spirit doesn't like to leave us in that state. He continually prods us to see that this world is not the true reality and that only the spiritual realm is. So we are going to embark on a brief foray into this issue and perhaps solve a few riddles in the process.

Throughout history, particularly Biblical history, we have examples that establish the contrast between spiritual sight and spiritual blindness. Among these are the very well-known stories of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, David and Saul. Some saw better than others. All were given equal opportunity to discern God and His ways but some chose to distance themselves from spiritual sight under the erroneous assumptions of "what we don't know won't hurt us" and "ignorance is bliss". Needless to say, these same attitudes exist today ... and even in the church. But it is not so in God's kingdom. Initially we are told that God wants us to see Him through the things that have been made by His hand (Rom 1:20; He has "been clearly seen ... through what has been made"). Additionally, Jesus longs for us to know Him and God the Father intimately (Jn 17:9-26). Therefore avoiding divine revelation requires willful blindness and a determined, decisive, dedicated effort to maintain our fleshly comfort zones by turning away from the evidence.

There are three areas where we have trouble seeing properly. These are progressive, so we'll start with the most elemental.

1) What do we see around us? Can we see past the materialism and beyond our comfort zones?

With even a simple and fleeting look at the teaching of Jesus Christ one can easily conclude that He taught by constantly referring to the natural world. He'd turn the physical gaze of man to sparrows, ravens, weeds, lilies, seeds, trees, foxes and more in order to turn their spiritual gaze toward God. Because all things originate with God they possessed Godly meaning and merit. Creation is never void of spiritual content ... but not the pagan pantheism of "god in the tree" but God beyond the tree; not worship the tree in order to worship God but worship God who gives such magnificent evidence like the tree; not touch the tree to touch God but touch the tree to appreciate God. During His earthly ministry Jesus was continually mining for the gold of heaven: the faith of each and every person He encountered. In heaven believers shall walk the streets of purest gold and that is such a precious picture of the faith upon which we stand. God sees faith as an invaluable commodity (1 Pet 1:7) but we need to know its Scriptural definition. And this is where we carry on with its comparison to sight. In his introduction to the "hall of faith" chapter in the book of Hebrews, the author under the direction of the Holy Spirit starts with that comparison:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. (Heb 11:1-3 RSV)

Faith and sight are inextricably linked by God, not merely in the New Testament but in the Old Testament as well. In Jeremiah chapters 1 and 24, in Amos chapters 7 and 8, and in Zechariah chapters 4 and 5, God asks this question of His servants the prophets: "What do you see?" With this simple question He is taking their faith to greater levels, He is opening their eyes of faith wider, He is ushering them beyond the temporal to a whole new vista ... and it all comes about by what they see, first physically, then spiritually. God expects man to think "outside the box" with the Holy Spirit as Guide. The amazing thing in our day, however, is that many North American Christians do not want to go there. They cannot see and do not want to see the hand of God in creation, in circumstances or in other Christians. Tozer points this out and supplies the reason for it as well, "The sum of what I am saying is that there is an illumination, divinely bestowed, without which theological truth is information and nothing more. While this illumination is never given apart from theology, it is entirely possible to have theology without illumination. This results in what has been called 'dead orthodoxy,' and while there may be some who deny that it is possible to be both orthodox and dead at the same time I am afraid experience proves that it is."[3]

Another aspect of faithlessness/blindness comes out in our desire to have every detail of life plotted out for us, every "t" crossed, every "i" dotted, every option considered, every step analyzed, every message from God defined to the hilt ... with all the onus placed upon God before we budge from our tight little corner. "Unless we see every trifle uncovered before our eyes – in triplicate – we're not moving!" The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of that attitude and so can we. It is the complete antithesis of faith and obedience as Oswald Chambers indicates: "Avoid definitions as you would avoid the devil. Immediately your mind accepts a definition you will learn no more about that thing until the definition is smashed. Definition and human authority are the two things that kill faith; with Jesus Christ there are no definitions at all. Jesus Christ always taught vaguely; in the beginning of our Christian life we think He teaches definitely, and we get hold of trite definitions until we find the marvelous life of God is not there at all."[4]

2) How do we see God? Can we see His hand in things?

I believe that it is imperative, when considering this question, to first be looking for the one, true God and not some personal fulfillment of some kind. We are told in Scripture that "He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb 11:6 NKJV). He is more than ready and able to compensate any person who truly wants to know Him, so through the Holy Spirit He "draws" (Jn 6:44) people toward Himself. For our benefit a vast array of Scriptural references declare this truth [in these verses men and women are encouraged to "seek" the Lord]: Deut 4:29; Ezra 6:21; Ezra 7:10; Ezra 8:21-23; Ps 9:10; Ps 22:26; Ps 27:4 & 8; Ps 34:10; Ps 40:16; Ps 69:5-6; Ps 69:32; Ps 70:4; Ps 83:16; Ps 105:3-4; Ps 119:2; Ps 119:45; Isa 26:9; Isa 51:1; Isa 55:6-7; Isa 58:1-2; Jer 29:13; Jer 50:4; Hosea 3:5; Hosea 5:15; Hosea 10:12; Amos 5:4-8; Zeph 2:1-3; Zech 8:21-23; Mal 3:1; Matt 6:33; Matt 7:7; Lk 11:9; Lk 12:31; Acts 17:25-27. This would add up to a heinously cruel joke if the Lord could not be found or if a man could not seek!

Do you really want to see God? Many people had the opportunity of meeting God incarnate almost 2,000 years ago. Many simply watched Him pass by. Others listened for a while before walking away. Some were so enraged by His revelations that they sought to kill Him. Still others – like Zaccheus and blind Bartimaeus of Jericho – refused to be deterred; they wanted to meet Jesus so badly that nothing could stop them. Do you want to see God that badly? Much of North America's spiritual blindness is self-induced. We haven't learned what Tozer claims, "The Bible was written in tears and to tears it will yield its best treasures. God has nothing to say to the frivolous man."[5]

Upon settling the desire for God in your heart, make one other thing abundantly clear to yourself: do not predetermine how God will show up. Let God be God! He is not subject to the limitations of human whims. He delights in surprising us, like He did to Moses, to Elijah, to the Magi, to the Apostle Paul and to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos. Some are grand entrances, the vast majority are not ... in all cases, however, He is the One who decides, not us. "Our Lord comes in the most casual way, and we will miss Him unless we are prepared in our nature to discern Him. The most amazing evidence of a man's nature being changed is the way in which he sees God, to say 'God led me here'; 'God spoke to me'; is an everyday occurrence to Him."[6] I can recall a meeting, long ago, with a group of elders within a church gathering: I was seeking the guidance of God regarding an important decision I had to make so I revealed that desire to them. One of them piped up and asked "Do you actually expect God to tell you outright?" I responded with an enthusiastic "Yes" which was met with considerable consternation and doubt. To me this scenario embodies the greatest hindrance to North American evangelicalism in the twenty-first century: we do not see God primarily because we do not expect Him to show up! We have given ourselves over to an intellectually understood gospel ... and we leave it at that!

We don't see God standing in the doorway of our hallowed halls because we don't want to and because we have also defined Him out of existence. We are more concerned about winning arguments over doctrine than submitting ourselves to His will, about hearing Phd's more than the God of the universe; about patting ourselves on the back more than getting a stern admonition [that would be an "admonition to the stern" as one dear old friend of mine used to say]. These are the mindsets that must be broken and disposed of if we are to see God. No more games.

3) How do we see ourselves? This is so vital to spiritual health and yet it is avoided like the plague.

We, as Christians, are told something in the New Testament that is truly remarkable and often downright bewildering:

"Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (2 Cor 5:16-17)

The question of who and what a Christian is, upon receiving salvation, has sparked a great deal of debate over the years. Unfortunately many of our own particular visions and versions of a Christian are often coloured by our own unique circumstances rather than by Scripture. So it may be a most discomforting thing to see ourselves as something special and unique when all we truly want is to be humble and of service to God. With such thoughts we disdain looking into the spiritual mirror for fear of spending too much time and effort on ourselves ... we don't want to become narcissistic about this! But we find that the Scriptures themselves devote a great deal of space to the self-examination of believers. The Apostle Paul, specifically, spent much of his time filling his epistles with self-analysis, church-analysis and Christian-analysis. He saw that there was virtually no other way to assess the impact of the gospel than through the examination of what Christians should become and what Christians have become. And one of his major contributions has been this couplet of verses from 2 Corinthians chapter 5. In them he states simply that Christians are not the same old sinners that they once were; they have become a totally "new creation". For our further benefit, Paul also wrote that we are to "reckon ourselves" [that is to consider ourselves, to look upon ourselves, to see ourselves, to realize this about ourselves] "dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom 6:11). If he stood alone on this issue we could possibly be justified in debating it ... but he isn't alone. We are told, by the Bible, what we are and how we are to look upon ourselves. We are indeed:

"a royal priesthood and a holy nation" (1 Pet 2:9)

"children of God" (Rom 8:16)

"heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17; Gal 3:29; Titus 3:7; Heb 6:17; Jas 2:5; 1 Pet 3:7)

"partakers of the Divine nature" (Heb 3:1; Heb 3:14; 2 Pet 1:4)

Christians must start to see themselves as God sees them ... enough of this false humility about "I'm just a poor miserable sinner!" That's not true humility; it's acting as if we aren't saved! To deny our "new creation" status is to insult the Son of God who died to provide us with it. To deny our "new creation" status basically and emphatically declares to Christ that He died for no reason since no transformation has taken place in us. To negate this "new creation" with an erroneously poor perception of what we have become in Christ is to insult the work of our Lord and proclaim disbelief in the salvation He offers. In short it is religiously-supported unbelief. It may sound nice and spiritual and self-effacing and meek to put ourselves down by calling ourselves "sinners" but the theological truth of the matter is that, upon receiving Christ as Saviour and Lord, we are no longer in that category.

The Israelites had the same vision problems when they were told to go into the Promised Land, but didn't. They saw giants in the land. They said that the reality was giants ... God said that true reality was trust in Him. Of a truth, that is the equivalent of a believer refusing to accept his new identity and standing in Christ. He is not – through doubt and unbelief – allowing God's perspective to become his own.

According to the Word of God, a Christian's sight is changed: he sees all things in a new and different way. All things ... even sparrows, ravens, seeds, lilies, trees, etc. Armed with the proper view of ourselves we shall reflect a true and truthful confidence in Christ because it states boldly that He has indeed accomplished what He said He would. When our vision is straightened out the whole world looks different. We start living differently; we see God the way He intended; we see others the way He intended; we see ourselves the way He intended. Then that vision begins to affect others. It becomes more and more contagious as we recognize the spiritual truth beyond the temporal wall. There is no arrogance in recognizing what we are, it is simply a matter of aligning and arming ourselves with the truth of God in order to serve Him properly on this earth.

Once again I would like A.W. Tozer to conclude for us. His thoughts on the "sacred gift of seeing" can eradicate and replace the erroneous "seeing games" that we are encumbered with, when we take his advice to heart:

"The imagination, since it is a faculty of the natural mind, must necessarily suffer both from its intrinsic limitations and from an inherent bent toward evil. While the world as found in the King James Bible usually means not imagination at all, but merely the reasonings of sinful men, I yet do not write to excuse the unsanctified imagination. I well know that from such have flowed as from a polluted fountain streams of evil ideas which have throughout the years have led to lawless and destructive conduct on the part of men.

A purified and Spirit-controlled imagination is, however, quite another thing, and it is this I have in mind here. I long to see the imagination released from its prison and given to its proper place among the sons of the new creation. What I am trying to describe here is the sacred gift of seeing, the ability to peer beyond the veil and gaze with astonished wonder upon the beauties and mysteries of things holy and eternal.

The stodgy pedestrian mind does no credit to Christianity. Let it dominate the church long enough and it will force her to take one of two directions: either toward liberalism, where she will find relief in a false freedom, or toward the world, where she will find an enjoyable but fatal pleasure."

[1] Oswald Chambers, The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2000, Page 690

[2] Philip Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1999, Page 190

[3] A. W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer – Volume 2, Christian Publications Inc., Camp Hill, PA, Page 140

[4] Oswald Chambers, The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2000, Page 522

[5] A. W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer – Volume 1, Christian Publications Inc., Camp Hill, PA, Page 61

[6] Oswald Chambers, The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 2000, Page 885

[7] A. W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer – Volume 1, Christian Publications Inc., Camp Hill, PA, Page 51

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