I own a pair of protective goggles and use them faithfully. I wear them when I’m cutting branches with my chainsaw or attacking weeds with my weed whacker. My goggles serve a crucial purpose: they protect my eyes. Once, I forgot to wear my goggles while sawing a branch and ended up with a spec of wood in my eye. I had to make an emergency trip to the eye doctor. From then on, I became more careful about wearing goggles because my eyes are precious to me.
Psalm 17:8 doesn’t mention goggles explicitly. But this verse does reflect an understanding of the value of eyes and the need for their careful protection. The NRSV translates the first part of this verse: “Guard me as the apple of the eye.” The original Hebrew speaks of guarding “the little one of the daughter of the eye.” Traditional English translations, along with the NRSV, use “the apple of the eye” (KJV). These peculiar expressions, in both Hebrew and English, refer to the pupil of the eye, that which is essential for vision and most in need of protection.
The Eyes and Defining Worthless Things
Psalm 101:3: “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” The term here—worthless—is a compound, literally: without profit. It is “the quality of being useless, good for nothing.” Pg.112
…The resolve to turn away from worthless things is a pointed way of asking: What really brings value, meaning, and purpose to our lives? Biblical ethics is not about simply avoiding corrupting things, but learning to see and enjoy and embrace eternal things that truly bring meaning and purpose and joy into our lives.
My conscience must be calibrated to Scripture so that I will firmly resolve not to set my eyes on worthless things. But I must also resolve to know that worthless things will allure me in those moments when I need God to act on my behalf. A V-chip embedded in TVs once blacked out lewd media.
Perhaps we now need a W-chip, to blank-screen worthless things. But such technology does not exist. It may never exist. We need God to turn our heads. Like a father gently holding his overstimulated son’s face until he can regain his gaze, God must divert our eyes in another direction away from empty things. And we have such a Father, whom we can ask to fill our hearts with what is eternally valuable.
Let us Trust Our Own Moments of Vision
I remember once near Interlaken waiting for days to see the Jungfrau which was hidden in mists. People told me it was there, and I should have been a fool to doubt their word, for those who told me lived there and they knew. Then one day the mists were gone, and the whole mountain stood revealed.
Next day the mists were back, but now I had seen, and knew myself that It was true…Let us trust our own moments of vision: what matter if there are days when the mists come down and the face of God is hidden? We have seen, and we know for ever that this is real, so real that by it we can live and die.
James S. Stewart, “Beyond Disillusionment to Faith,” in Best Sermons, 1962, ed. G. Paul Butler (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1962), 24.
Lowering the Lord Nelson Statue
At Trafalgar Square in the city of London stands a statue of Lord Nelson. Resting atop a tall pillar, it towers too high for passersby to distinguish his features. For this reason, about forty years ago a new statue – an exact replica of the original – was erected at eye level so everyone could see him. God also transcends our ability to see; the eyes of our understanding cannot discern divine features. But we have set before us an exact representation, “the image of the invisible God.” To know God we must look only at Jesus.
Made to See
In her engaging work, Teach us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel describes both the beauty and pain of seeing our own sinful nature:
It is often true that once we are made to see, we don’t like what we apprehend. Spiritually seeing, we learn who we are. We recognize our heart’s attachments. We see into our own heart of darkness. It should be of no surprise that when Jesus teaches about corollary health of eye and body, he does so in the context of teaching about money.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (v. 24). Spiritual sight gives us the frightening capacity for recognizing what we have loved and desired more than God.
Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Opening His Eyes
Alexander Schmemann, the late priest who led a reform movement in Russian Orthodoxy, tells of a time when he was traveling on the subway in Paris, France, with his fiancée. At one stop an old and ugly woman dressed in the uniform of the Salvation Army got on and found a seat nearby. The two lovers whispered to each other in Russian about how repulsive she looked. A few stops later the woman stood to exit. As she passed them she said in perfect Russian, “I wasn’t always ugly.” That woman was an angel of God, Schmemann used to tell his students. She opened his eyes, searing his vision in a way he would never forget.
Our Lives are about Seeing
In his excellent book, Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World, Mike Cosper questions the desacralizing (removal of the holy) nature of secular life. Life is divested of mystery, wonder, and holiness. In this excerpt, Cosper describes the importance of sight, or vision:
Our lives are very much about seeing. We talk about seeing opportunities or seeing a way forward. We train ourselves to see in certain ways, too, to see potential in an empty canvas or a blank page or in the raw ingredients of a meal. Athletes train to see the trajectory of a fastball or an opening in pass coverage. Once you’ve learned to see the world in certain ways, you don’t have to think about it any more. It becomes automatic.
Taken from Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Copyright (c) 2017, pp.25-26. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Reclaiming the Problem of Eye-Sin
“If your eye causes you to sin…” is one of the boldest phrases from the mouth of Jesus, appearing three times in the gospels. Our eyes not only leads us into sinful behaviors, but also to take in sinful images. We may think of our eyes as neutral or innocent receptors, but they are not. Eyes have inherent appetites and desires.
Sinful eyes rove unchecked, looking for sin. We would do well to reclaim the phrase “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16 NIV) because even redeemed eyes are lustful, insatiable, never satisfied, even susceptible to spectacles of wealth, sex, power, and violence. Instead our eyes must serve as guardians of the heart. When they fail, they leave the heart exposed and unguarded. As one Puritan said, there are no means to guard the heart if we leave our eyes unguarded.
Seeing (and not Seeing) God’s Glory
I remember taking my youngest son to one of the national art galleries in Washington, DC. As we made our approach, I was so excited about what we were going to see. He was decidedly unexcited. But I just knew that, once we were inside, he would have his mind blown and would thank me for what I had done for him that day. As it turned out, his mind wasn’t blown; it wasn’t even activated.
I saw things of such stunning beauty that brought me to the edge of tears. He yawned, moaned, and complained his way through gallery after gallery. With every new gallery, I was enthralled, but each time we walked into a new art space, he begged me to leave. He was surrounded by glory but saw none of it. He stood in the middle of wonders but was bored out of his mind. His eyes worked well, but his heart was stone blind. He saw everything, but he saw nothing.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Eyes. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!