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The Glasses We Wear

“Christianity” has at one time or another supported slavery, genocide, and the oppression of women, apartheid and more. We all too easily judge from the lofty position of our twenty-first century intellect and deem that those partaking in such oppressive behaviours were not really Christians, perhaps following religion but certainly not following Jesus. And that seems to certainly be a valid point, as the moral argument against the mentioned atrocities is found throughout the Bible. But is it possible that some of the crusaders went into battle firmly believing that they were extending the kingdom of God? Do you think that maybe John Newton really meant what he wrote as he penned the words to “Amazing Grace” despite his then occupation as a slave trader? Is it possible that Calvin had good intentions when he had those who opposed him burnt alive in the midst of the messy birth of the Protestant Church? To deem that all the wrong done in the name of God was the result of evil intentions is at best a generalization. Instead, maybe part of the problem was the kind of glasses that the church was wearing.

We all wear glasses. Perhaps not the kind that you can sit on and break but definitely the kind that change the way we see the world. We all have glasses on our minds. Everything that we see (including God, ourselves and the world around us) is filtered through these glasses.

A Hindu farmer in Northeast India can’t feed his children because a rat is devouring his precious rice. When he sees the rat, he sees a being that is part of the cycle of reincarnation, and therefore does not kill it. Perhaps the rat is even a relative. Now if I were in that situation, I would see the rat as a pest and would promptly take ‘dominion’ over the rodent in question or delegate the responsibility to the nearest feline. In that story, the rat didn’t change but there were two opposite responses to the rodent, with potentially life and death consequences. It was the different glasses that produced the different responses.

The only way we know if we are making the right conclusions is when we are wearing the right glasses.

“In the beginning, God … ” This majestic phrase signals the beginning of the written account of our story. This is the fundamental element of the glasses that someone puts on when joining the movement. This explains why two scientists can see the same data but reach different conclusions. Why nature can to some speak of the mysteries of the universe while to others it can say nothing at all. The written account continues. The story, which is at the same time familiar and mysterious, unfolds. Part of this story is God showing his people how to live, teaching them how to be who they were created to be. This theme appears throughout the story and ultimately in the story of the God-man who made reconciliation possible. It is through this story, the Bible, that we can see the glasses that we are meant to wear. The true glasses that show reality; that reveal truth. Paul put it this way: "Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you will know the will of your father."

Take the red pill. See the world for what it is. See who you truly are. See who you are meant to be. That is the invitation Jesus gives us. But it doesn’t always seem that simple, does it? The glasses we wear are the product of our childhood, our culture, our decisions and our education. Can we really see the world through Jesus’ eyes? Indeed, lessons from apartheid, the slave trade and the Spanish inquisition show that people have often read the Bible with their own glasses intact. Thereby formulating theology that has supported the status quo of slavery and racism instead of challenging it. So are we destined always to follow culture, to support the social reality of the day?

Luther. Wilberforce. Ghandi. Mandela. Wesley. Mother Theresa— they were individuals called by God to stand against society, to be a force for massive social change. Individuals who managed to remove the cultural glasses of the day to see enough of truth, enough of Jesus, to make them want to change the world— which they did in a very real way. How do we emulate these men and women that changed society?

The Bible is not a dead book, but is alive and sharper than a two edged sword. We’ve all had those times when we finally have understood a part of the Story after reading it for the hundredth time. Those light bulb moments that reminds us that this is no ordinary book, no ordinary story. I agree with Brian McLaren who thinks we need to stop reading the Bible and start letting the Bible read us. We might never be able to fully remove the glasses we wear, but we can begin to understand what kind of glasses they are and I think that is the key. Those of us in the west need to realize that we read the Bible through western eyes. In the same way, as I need my friends to tell me of my weaknesses that I am blind to, so does the church in the west need the church in China to show us the areas we have forgotten or perhaps never seen. To see the same story from another culture’s eyes is often to read a different story. As well as looking out for an awareness of the glasses that we wear, we can also look back – at history. Many have walked this journey before us, and we can learn from their successes and failures, and perhaps see areas we are blind to, and begin to change.

Iraq. Healthcare. Gun control. HIV/AIDS. Israel and Palestine. Homosexuality. These are all areas where the church needs to see as Jesus sees, to think as He thinks. Areas where we might need to try to change our glasses and see what the Bible really says. The church can again influence culture; can again change society. It is the Holy Spirit that will lead us into all truth, the Holy Spirit that can both reveal the glasses we wear and begin to change them to the glasses through which we see God, ourselves and the world in the way we were always meant to.

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[Mark Sampson resides on the other side of the pond, in England, and works with the factory, a YWAM ministry]

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