It is important to have good eyesight. I remember my first pair of varifocal spectacles. It took me at least eight weeks to get used to them because not only did they provide three layers of vision (catering for reading, piano, and distance), they required one to adjust ones whole way of looking at the world. In order to see clearly, I had to learn to turn my head precisely in the direction of the object of my gaze. No longer could I trip blithely down the stairs, relying simply upon an occasional glance through the lower edge of the lens. That way lay disaster. No longer could I see out of the corner of the eye so useful in the street when you do not wish people to know you have spotted them. Having said that, once mastered, my varifocals proved their value, offering a full range of vision without the need constantly to change glasses. Yet most of us would agree that just as important as physical eyesight is mental perception. Shakespeares Beatrice and Benedick have in common a generally sharp and shrewd understanding of what is going on. Says Benedick, "I can see yet without spectacles", while Beatrice boasts, "I can see a church by daylight". In a comic world packed full of deception and mistakes, they have a remarkably acute sense of reality. But even that is not sufficient. The believer in Christ needs something more a spiritual vision, the ability to see not merely from a natural but from a heavenly perspective. And whereas our physical sight tends to deteriorate with age, spiritual understanding should increase with spiritual maturity. The eye salve of the Word, properly applied, keeps our outlook unclouded.
All this came to mind the other day as Choice Gleanings brought me to the sad end of the book of Genesis. It has long been noted that the whole book moves downhill from Gods perfect creation where all was "very good" to conclude sombrely "in a coffin in Egypt". The difference between the first and last chapters underlines the terrible consequences of sin in the human race. Nevertheless Joseph remains, even in his old age, a model for us all. Whether looking to the past, the present, or the future, he is amazingly positive. Some folk have a distorted recollection of what has gone before, always dredging up and dwelling upon their misery. Jacobs summary of his life to Pharaoh was hardly upbeat: "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage" (Gen 47.9). Others are constantly depressed about the present. Heres Jacob again, on another occasion, understandably distraught: "Jacob their father said unto them [his sons], Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me" (Gen 42.36). Once again, others are permanently anxious about the future, "saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" (Mt 6.31).
But Joseph is a real tonic. What about the past? Lets face it, he had received a raw deal from his older brothers, and they knew it. Once their father was dead they became terrified that Joseph would turn against them. And it must be confessed that they fully deserved his vengeance, for had they not in his youth callously sold him into slavery? I imagine they wondered whether, during those long years in the prison house, he had been carefully nurturing his bitterness. Someone once gave me a cuddly pink gorilla (I cannot think why), which I immediately named Grudge and bound up with bandages so that I could bring him out at meetings as an illustration of the dangers of "nursing a grudge". Had Joseph been cherishing his grievances? Here is the scene:
"When Josephs brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him. And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying, So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him. And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants. And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive" (Gen 50.15-20).
Instead of concentrating on secondary causes and becoming eaten up with resentment, Joseph saw the hand of God in it all. Later in the Old Testament the Psalmist gives an overview of the patriarchs life: "He [the Lord] sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the Lord tried him. The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his substance: To bind his princes at his pleasure; and teach his senators wisdom" (Ps 105.17-22). Of course, language like "he sent a man He made him lord" probably makes us think of the One whom Joseph faintly pictures. But the practical point is this: nothing in the believers life is arbitrary, for all is organised by a God who works everything after the counsel of His will.
As to the future, Joseph obviously knew all about Gods covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that their seed would inherit the land of Canaan. Although he would not live to see it, he had confidence in the perfect fulfilment of Gods word: "And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Gen 50.24). Was he thinking of the great promise to Abraham that "thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full" (Gen 15.13-16)? Had he worked out that the familys sojourn in Egypt might well become that predicted 400-year period in a foreign land? Well, whatever he may have understood about the fulfilment of Gods purpose, this he knew God keeps His word. We too rest in the promises of God. Although we may not be the generation which will be alive when Christ comes for His church we can be certain that we shall be raised up to join Him (1 Thess 4.13-18).
And what of the present? We cannot do anything about the past, nor can we infallibly predict our actions in the future, but the present is ours to invest for God. And for Joseph it was to be a present life of active benevolence towards the very people who did not deserve it: " fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them" (Gen 50.21). He was going to use the remainder of his time in helping his brethren. So should we.
Wearing Biblical varifocals sharpens our vision to see past, present, and future as part of the grand design of God for His people.
To be continued.