The Continuing Problem of Vision

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One of the most striking features of the Gospels is the frequent response of the Disciples after the resurrection of Christ: doubt. I have always been sympathetic to the doubts and hesitations that accompanied their ministry during the ministry of Christ. They are almost endearing in their inability to grasp what Christ is all about. However, the same inability to grasp things after the resurrection seems to carry with it all kinds of difficulties. What was it about the resurrection that they could not or did not believe? A man dies and is buried. Then he is not buried and is no walking corpse but manifests and entirely new form of existence. Call it resurrection or what have you – but apparently Christ had mentioned this coming reality more than once before it happened. What is the problem?

The problem seems to go to the very heart of things both then and now. Had the resurrection belonged to the classification of events that everyone can see, measure, study, and reach “scientific” agreement, there would surely have been no trouble. But the resurrection does not belong to some general classification. It is sui generis, its own classification.

There are many who want to speak about the resurrection as if it was a car wreck down at the corner drugstore. Whatever it was (is) it is very much more, even, indeed, something completely different – not like anything else.

And it is here, that the continuing problem of vision is made manifest. Orthodox Christian writers are wont to utter things like, “God will save the world through beauty” (Dostoevsky), or “Icons will save the world” (recently in First Things) all of which makes some people want to run out and complain. But at their heart, such statements are trying to say something about the nature of the resurrection and its action in our world.

The resurrection of Christ is something completely new. It is a manifestation of God unlike anything we have ever known. It is Truth made manifest in the flesh – not the truth to be found in an average living man. I am 54 and I look very unlike what I did at 10. I look decidedly unlike what I will in another 100 years (you probably wouldn’t like to see that). Thus we never see anything in an eternal state. But the resurrection is just that. It does not belong exactly to the classification of “things created,” for it is the “uncreated” before our eyes.

And thus the Church paints the things that pertain to the resurrection in an iconic fashion – not like portraiture or the “truth” that lies before our eyes. Icons paint the Truth as it appears to the eyes that behold the resurrection. By the same token, the Church does not write about the resurrection in the way we write abuot other things, for the resurrection is not one of the other things but a thing that is unlike anything else. Thus the Fathers of the Church said that “icons do with color what Scripture does with words.”

And both have something to do with vision. The Gospel tells us: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” I am not pure in heart but I think I may have encountered such a person. At the least I have read stories about such a person and I know that such persons see what I cannot and they see in a manner that as yet I do not.

But this goes to the point of salvation. Salvation is not how to get people like me (or like you) into some place safe from the fires of hell. That is a transportation problem at best, or a legal problem, at worst. The point of salvation is how to change people like me (and you). It is about changing us such that seeing the resurrection becomes possible.

In this sense, God will indeed save the world through Beauty. The problem is that so few if any of us have ever seen Beauty. If you had seen Beauty, then you would not disagree with the statement. It’s obvious character would be, well, obvious. That people want to argue with it (or with icons) only means that they do not or cannot see. And neither do I, most of the time.

If I could see as I am meant to see then my eyes would not see enemies nor the like. Not that others might not intend to be my enemies or want evil for me – but there are eyes that see beyond all of that and see the Truth of a person. Had I the eyes to see love would not be an insurmountable problem but as tangible as the Resurrection itself.

And so we draw near to the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity. Every heart should prepare Him room. More than that, every heart should beg to see the Beauty, to read the Icon of the Gospel of the Nativity, to see what daily escapes our vision and leaves us blind – leading the blind.

10 Responses to “The Continuing Problem of Vision”

  1. mrh Says:

    Beautiful post again Father.

    May I question this bit: “f I could see as I am meant to see then my eyes would not see enemies nor the like”?

    The psalms are full of references to enemies. The gospels speak of loving our enemies. When we are pure in heart will we really not see enemies, or will see enemies as enemies and love them anyway? When our Lord was on the cross did he see the soldiers and the pharisees et al as his enemies and love them anyway? When St. Stephen was being stoned and prayed that his killers would be forgiven, did he still see them as his enemies, and love them anyway?

  2. bríde Says:

    mrh –

    Your question reminds me of the following post on my friend’s blog. In it, he quotes St. Isaac of Syria quite extensively. You might wish to read it.

    I, for one, found it illuminating.

    Here’s the url – http://woq.blogspot.com/2007/12/saint-isaac-syrian-on-love-and-hell.html

    I hope it’s helpful!

  3. David Says:

    CS Lewis writes that if we only could see each other as we will be in that day, here and now, we would be sorely tempted to worship such a vision.

    We are becoming beautiful by His Grace. I am thrilled at the though of seeing you 100 years from now Father. I am humbled that I might have such a privilege.

  4. hughvic Says:

    Actually, all three of your posts are beautiful!

    Is it correct to say, Father, that doubt deepens faith, and is as inevitable as sin, with which it is however not to be mistaken?

    I had occasion, some years ago, to consider this in the context of my own journey, and more recently as a result of the revelations of Mother Theresa’s guilt-wracked doubts, which doubts I suspect God found most trusting and loving, and touching. This seemed to me not so much a doubting, as a pining.

    As to depictions of the Resurrection, objective or otherwise, I think it would be interesting to consider sometime what Calvin would make of the idea of such a rendering. Then there’s the Roman take. I spent an afternoon perusing the Vatican exhibit about 25 years ago, and searched in vain for a single reference to the Resurrection. I once heard a Stanford student present a gloss on his dissertation, for his terminal degree in Art History, on Renaissance depictions of the Resurrection, of which, he said, there were four.

  5. William Says:

    Perhaps if we saw as we were meant to see, we would see “enemies” with compassion, as brothers who stray in blindness who know not what they do. We might be aware that they seek to destroy us, and thus might be able to refer to them with the word “enemies,” in the sense that they are in enmity with us. But we would not be in enmity with them.

    But these are lofty ideals, and I’m far from them.

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    Oddly, my wife asked questions when she read my first draft and I made some changes to help clarify. Apparently not enough. I believe that if we saw correctly our compassion would overwhelm anything else and my enemy would be seen in his Truth. Which is not always the most joyous of things to see, but enables us to see with compassion and not fear.

    I believe God can use anything, but I believe it is mostly a modern myth that doubt is good and useful. I belive that doubt is a product of our sin, and though God uses it, sin is not good in itself.

    There is no list for the doubters in the beatitudes. I’d rther go the route of the pure in heart. We will not arrive at a surer sense and awareness of the struth by doubting, testing, etc. It’s not science that saves.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Church awaits me shortly.

  8. Meg Says:

    No, your comments were very clear to me, Father. I only wish I could live up to them. But then — that’s what this life is all about, “becoming,” not “being.”

  9. hughvic Says:

    Yes, Father, I continue to agree with everything here, except your suggestion that you were unclear. On the contrary, you were so clear that I for one circumambulated the implications of your point, for they are just as William says, lofty, while I am in the van of sinners.

    A stray observation which you might wish to put in a more learned and faithful context than I could manage. Rabbi Yeshua unmistakably categorized enemies, as well as neighbors, as inevitabilities. His meaning seems much degraded by any notion that we get to choose who they respectively are. In this way they are like our natural relatives; they are our supernatural relatives.

    There’s an old British saying: “Friends are God’s apology for relations”.

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Hughvic,

    I don’t want to be lofty in any sense that I have arrived at such a place, but I don’t want us to theologize as though the fullness God has for us is any less than it is. St. Nicholai of Zicha’s Prayer for My Enemies does a great job of treating the ironies involved. But I know that as long as I have enmity within me, I am far from the Kingdom of God. I don’t want anything less.

    The British saying is good.

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