THIS WAS WRITTEN AT NIGHT. NOT AT DUSK, nor in the evening, but at night. Past the bedtime hours. After the guests left. When the house was silent. While my wife was sleeping, I would slip into my storage closet converted into an office, greet my midnight mistress (my computer), and write. With the unceasing din of the city streets below and the soothing hum of the floor fan at my side, I enjoyed a nightly encounter with Light.
I’m not nocturnal by nature. Many nights a war was waged between my drowsiness and creativity. No, I’m not a late-nighter. But I’m a father and I’m a missionary and I found that the demands from those two tasks subsided about the hour when most people say “Good night.” (I tried the early morning hours, which for some reason seemed more righteous—but the tow truck I needed to pull me out of bed couldn’t make it up the stairs.)
Tonight appears to be my last rendezvous with this manuscript. God Came Near has gone through the necessary stages of feeding and grooming and is almost ready to be taken to market. Which, as you might expect, is a reason both for rejoicing and sadness. I’ll miss this companion of the night. I don’t mind telling you that more than once the impact of my late-hour ponderings took me out of my swivel chair and put me on my knees in thankfulness. We serve a wonderful God!
I recently read an insightful story that would serve as a good reminder for us both as we prepare to part ways. The story is about a group of climbers who set out to scale a large mountain in Europe. The view boasted a breathtaking peak of snowcapped rocks. On clear days the crested point reigned as king on the horizon. Its white tip jutted into the blue sky inviting admiration and offering inspiration.
On days like this the hikers made the greatest progress. The peak stood above them like a compelling goal. Eyes were called upward. The walk was brisk. The cooperation was unselfish. Though many, they climbed as one, all looking to the same summit.
Yet on some days the peak of the mountain was hidden from view. The cloud covering would eclipse the crisp blueness with a drab, gray ceiling and block the vision of the mountaintop. On these days the climb became arduous. Eyes were downward and thoughts inward. The goal was forgotten. Tempers were short. Weariness was an uninvited companion. Complaints stung like thorns on the trail.
We’re like that, aren’t we? As long as we can see our dream, as long as our goal is within eyesight, there is no mountain we can’t climb or summit we can’t scale. But take away our vision, block our view of the trail’s end, and the result is as discouraging as the journey.
Think about it. Hide the Nazarene who calls to us from the mountaintop and see what happens.
Listen to the groans of the climbers as they stop and sit by the side of the path. Why continue if there is no relief in sight? Pilgrims with no vision of the promised land become proprietors of their own land. They set up camp. They exchange hiking boots for loafers and trade in their staff for a new recliner.
Instead of looking upward at him, they look inward at themselves and outward at each other. The result? Cabin fever. Quarreling families. Restless leaders. Fence-building. Staked-off territory. No trespassing! signs are hung on hearts and homes. Spats turn into fights as myopic groups turn to glare at each other’s weaknesses instead of turning to worship their common Strength.
Mark it down. We are what we see. If we see only ourselves, our tombstones will have the same epitaph Paul used to describe enemies of Christ: “Their god is their own appetite, they glory in their shame, and this world is the limit of their horizon.” Humans were never meant to dwell in the stale fog of the lowlands with no vision of their Creator.
That’s why God came near. To be seen.
And that’s why those who saw him were never the same. “We saw his glory” exclaimed one follower. “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” whispered a martyr.3 They saw the peak. They breathed the fresh air of the high country. They caught a glimpse of the pinnacle. And they refused to quit climbing until they reached the top. They wanted to see Jesus.
I began this book with some definitions: Christianity, in its purest form, is nothing more than seeing Jesus. Christian service, in its purest form, is nothing more than imitating him who we see. To see His Majesty and to imitate him, that is the sum of Christianity.
This is why those who see him today are never the same again. Remember Bob Edens? He’s the one I told you about in the introduction who lived fifty-one years without seeing anything at all until complicated surgery gave him eyesight. Something else he said is worth noting.
“Grass was something I had to get used to … I always thought it was just fuzz. But to see each individual green stalk, and to see the hair on my arm growing like trees, and birds flying through the air … it’s like starting a whole new life.”
Getting vision can be like that. Especially getting a vision of your Maker. It can be like starting a whole new life. It can be like a new birth. In fact, the One who inspired this book said that new beginnings and good eyesight are inseparable. “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
God came near. If he is who he says he is, there is no truth more worthy of your time.
Think about that. Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll get some sleep.