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Friday, February 15, 2013

The Vision Thing (12): Seeing the Past

Invariably when people talk about gaining vision, they are talking about a vision of the future. But I have argued that in addition to a vision of the future (including the far future), true vision necessarily requires a vision of the present. Moreover, vision also includes a vision of the past.

This is counterintuitive to many people, because they assume that vision is all about where you are going. But it is foolish to underestimate the impact on where you are going that comes from where you came from. It is also foolish to underestimate the difficulty in gaining a clear vision of the past. The proverb that "hindsight is always 20/20" is frequently untrue. While it may wear well as an observation about an individual's experience—especially one's reflection on one's experience fairly soon after events—it is far less true as an observation about the task of the historian. Reality is mind-bogglingly complex, and so all of us when we look at the dynamic relationships between persons (as in our families) and masses of persons (as in the world at large) inevitably make generalizations and simplifications to try to take all the data and make sense of it, reducing it to conceivable size. This isn't bad—as a matter of fact, it is a necessary part of really understanding it. But how do we know that our generalizations and simplifications are the right ones? We don't without God's vision.

God sees all (which we don't) and has the definitive interpretation (which we lack). At times he reveals his vision of history so that people can serve him more faithfully in the present. This is why so much of the Bible is composed of books of history. Chronicles is a particularly good example, because we see there that the people who could be trusted to write reliable histories were always prophets. Samuel the seer, Nathan the prophet, and Gad the seer wrote the complete chronicles of the life and reign of David. Nathan the prophet, Ahijah the Shilonite, and Iddo the seer did the same for Solomon, as did Iddo the seer and Shemaiah the prophet for Rehoboam. Later, the account of Hezekiah's reign would be recorded in Isaiah's "vision."

God sees all, past, present, and future, at once. So if we're to be graced with his vision, we will see clearly not only the future or even the present, but also the past. We need to see the past clearly to live the present faithfully and enter the future confidently.

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