Seeing as God Sees
I taught for many years, fourteen of high school with another nine of elementary. The majority of those years teaching writing and literature. Point of view was one of the most important lessons I could teach in either of those subjects. For a writer, identifying one’s point of view—often called “voice”—and developing that perspective was the key to powerful writing. In literature, the personal perspectives revealed in the books were key to understanding the themes of the works. Who saw something and said something was as important as what they saw and said. The novels An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce and The Bridge at San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder are key examples of the role perspective plays in a work.
Perspective is not just a literary device. It is not only the writer who reveals the role of perspective. All art derives its power from the unique perspective of the artists. And the greatest art engages the viewer in such a way as to break down the barriers that individual perspective erects. It is no accident that Bierce and Wilder used bridges as the central location for their explorations into subjectivity. Art is that which bridges the gap between subject and object, and most importantly, between the often competing perspectives of the different subjects who engage in art.
More simply put: each of us sees the world from our own perspective. These perspectives are inherently shaped by the unique experiences of our life. What art in the modern, and now the post-modern world, tells us is that the time of shared perspective is gone. No longer does language, national identity, religious belief, education, occupation, place of origin or any other identifying feature of humanity guarantee that two people will agree and share a common experience. We can search for root causes of this, but in the end, it is fairly simple. Mass communication and a highly mobile culture means that we are all able to encounter people who are different from us rather easily. I remember talking to a former parishioner in Vienna, MO. Until she got married at the age of 25, she never had travelled more than 30 miles from the farm she grew up on. She and her husband went on a honeymoon to St. Louis. Once she came back home, it was another 25 years before she left the county again.
A generation of people who stayed at home all their lives haven’t been with us for quite some time. It is well over a hundred years since the population of the United States became more concentrated in the cities than spread out in rural areas. Couple mobility with the incredible rate of technological change that happened in the 20th century and you can get some idea of just how fast things changed and how even more mixed together we became as a nation.
Time and and rapid change is not the only thing that creates gulfs in perspective. Sin always starts out with something good. The first chapter of Genesis says that it was so. Our good nature gets corrupted. Who we are as unique individuals, called by name by our Lord God, is a divine gift. That individual perspective can lead to sinful pride, a self-centered arrogance which denies the value of another person. The inability to respect and honor the dignity of another person has led to unimaginable suffering and death. Our perspective then becomes our privilege, a right that we hang on to for all our might, even to the point of denying the mere existence of a voice that might sound contrary to our own.
For the past week, the perspective all of us have on our nation has been severely tested. What we hold as true and right and just does not seem to prevail. We are shocked, angered, and even fearful that what we value is endangered. This time it is not art or literature which opens our eyes to a new perspective. It is the violent death of an unarmed man. It is the angry voices in protest of the great inequality that exists in our nation. And it is the senseless and lawless destruction that drowns out the righteous voices crying for justice.
What is the remedy to sin? Christ has shown us. It is the path of mercy. It is the cross of sacrifice. It is emptying ourselves of all the false supports of position, power and influence. It is letting go of the perspectives we hold so tightly and instead to embrace the perspective of Christ as he preached the Sermon on the Mount. This is the teaching where Christ upended the perspective of man and revealed to us the Divine Perspective of God: blessed are those who have lost all earthy status and gain, for they are the ones who truly can see as God sees.