September 30, 2010
by Patrick Lafferty
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Imagine a slide-projector screen just a bit too far away for the image it’s displaying to be clear. That’s a crude picture of what it’s like to have myopia, that malady of nearsightedness diagnosed in over 850,000 new people each year in America. I was diagnosed with it in seventh grade and have been squinting ever since.
As with most aberrations of the body, myopia is now attributed to the confluence of both genetic perturbations and environmental influences. Though the smoking gun still remains a mystery, whatever its cause, myopia occurs when the axial length of the eye increases, creating more distance between the lens and our retinas. Since our lenses cannot adjust their focus like that now archaic slide-projector, they cast the image either a few millimeters too short (or too far) of the region that transmits said images to our brain. Aunt Edna from thirty feet now looks vaguely reminiscent of some intriguing rock formation in Utah.
All kidding aside, the degree to which myopia impairs our perception is no laughing matter. “Myopes,” as they’re called, can’t make out what they need to see even a few feet beyond them. Considering how many large things in this world move at blistering speed, one lives in great danger unless one dons corrective lenses or submits to surgical procedure. Even when it’s not dangerous, unaided visual perception leads to premature and misinformed choices.
Just as our physical sight can become myopic, so our spiritual sight can suffer similarly. We are susceptible to present circumstances filling our field of vision, and obscuring more distant, but no less true realities.
One could say that when the Lord Jesus faced His passion He was tempted with a spiritual myopia. If He failed to see beyond His immediate circumstances toward the ultimate and glorious objective of His suffering, He might’ve chosen any number of options that would’ve meant our doom.
Rather than suffer the indignities done to Him, He could have retaliated against the sinful, self-seeking men responsible. Or He could have quite legitimately reneged on his original plan to provide a sacrifice for our intrinsic hostilities, since he was under no real obligation to do what was gracious—that’s why they call it grace. Still another possibility: He could have simply run away, letting those anguished utterances at Gethsemane usher Him from the vestibule of despair into its great hall.
And yet, Hebrews tells us, Jesus fixed His gaze upon the joy set before Him. He endured the pain so that you and I who see so dimly—so myopically—might see Him by faith now and know Him one day with perfect clarity (I Jn 3:2).
All of us are acquainted with rejection to some degree. Whether you were the last guy picked on the grade school kickball field, or one of the mealy-mouthed girls trying not to look like the wallflower you were at the 7th grade dance; whether you struck out in asking for her number, or received the one-page condolence letter from the university—this world knows how to inflict rejection with surgical precision. To our point, there’s nothing like rejection to narrow our field of vision to what is immediate.
The challenge in facing most encounters with rejection lies in responding in a reputable way. But when rejection comes on the account of our faith, the stakes are higher—the temptations are perhaps more profound. In those moments, retaliation feels like a delicious rejoinder, even though it discredits us and defames Him who warned us there’d be days like these. Reneging on our covenant to take Him wherever we go or running away in fear or despair might seem the only way out of the fires of others’ fulminating—yet playing the shrinking violet forever defrauds you of the joy of seeing faith withstand confrontation. Whether retaliating, reneging, or running, they all betray a spiritual myopia that can no longer make out the sharp contours of the end for which we were made and re-made.
As it was made clear to us last Sunday, if we’re ever to face rejection without succumbing to myopic responses, we’ll have to fix our gaze on Jesus. He establishes the pattern and inspires the emulation. But more importantly, He both validates the reasons for enduring rejection and exposes the flimsiness of our reasons not to. So seeing Him is key to having a clear eye amid rejection.
To go one step further, the heart humble enough to face rejection in a holy way is the one that’s always learning how to pray. As learning to pray starts with reading and reciting texts, it matures as it recalls and reflects on who God is and what He is like. It enunciates and declares to Him (and our own hearts) what He has done, may be doing, and still promises to do. Like the patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists, we pray as if we’re almost reminding God what He can and must do—not because He has forgotten, but because we must learn to speak with the importunity that reveals our sense of the significance of what we ask and Whom we’re asking.
Is your vision of your purpose and future clear enough to refuse spiritual myopia when rejection stares you in the face? While Jesus prays for you, He also invites you to renew your vision by praying in His name.