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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Vision Thing (28): What Keeps Us Going

A true vision from God cannot but entail hardship.

Every person in the Bible who saw a vision of God and a vision from God suffered because of it. All were hated by someone. Some were cast out. Some were even killed. All had to give up something comfortable and familiar as a result of what they saw and step into the air where only God could support them.

Amos the Prophet is illustrative (Amos 7:10-17). A priest at Bethel, where Yahweh was worshiped in golden-calf form, vigorously opposed the prophet for his doom-and-gloom messages. "Leave, you visionary!" he said. "Run away to the land of Judah! Earn your living and prophesy there!"

Amos, the visionary, replied, "I was not a prophet by profession. No, I was a herdsman who also took care of sycamore fig trees. Then the LORD took me from tending flocks and gave me this commission, 'Go! Prophesy to my people Israel!' " Amos' vision impelled him out of an ordinary life into a world of hostility.

But the vision that drives us into suffering is the very thing that keeps us going through the suffering. What we see ahead is what makes it all worth it. Paul's magnificent exposition of the implications of seeing the glory of God in the face of Christ bears this out. "[W]e are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen," he writes mysteriously. "For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). It is this vision of the invisible that compels us to endure "momentary, light suffering"—which in Paul's case, as he describes elsewhere, included severe floggings (five times with the lash, three with the rod), stoning, shipwreck (twice), hunger, exposure to the elements, muggings, and rejection and disgrace from all directions—because it "is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (v. 17). So "we live by faith"—vision of and from the invisible God—"not by sight" of this world (5:7).

All the heroes of the faith did this. Abraham lived and died a nomad, seeing the eternal city promised him in the distance (Heb. 11:13-16). Moses "regarded abuse suffered for Christ," who was to come far in the future, "to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward. . . . [H]e persevered as though he could see the one who is invisible" (vv. 26-27). And finally the climax of this train of visionaries, Christ himself, "endured the cross, disregarding its shame" because his eyes were fixed on "the joy set out for him." Therefore, as we keep our eyes fixed on him, we too "may not grow weary in [our] souls and give up" (12:2-3).

Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus that, because "the eyes of your heart have been enlightened . . . you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe" (Eph. 1:18-19). That enlightenment, God's opening of our heart's eyes so that we can see his glory, the glory coming for us, drives us inexorably into conflict with this dark world and into suffering at the hands of its human and angelic powers. But it also keeps us going, driving ever onward, ever upward into the glorious rest that is himself that our heart's eyes have beheld and can't be torn away from.

True vision is not a light thing. It is not a buzzword; it is more than a diagram on a napkin, though those things might in a humble way exhibit it. True vision compels people to sacrifice everything. But the same vision assures us that the suffering it requires is worth it. Oh, yes—it is so worth it!

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