As I write this, I am waiting at Newark Airport to board a flight to Minneapolis, en route to a small town in Iowa, where two of our grandchildren live. Our grandson is four and a half years old; he knows us well, and he is eagerly awaiting our arrival. His little sister is a year and a half; she doesn’t know us as well as her big brother, and it is unlikely that she understands that we are coming to see her. More to the point in my mind is whether she will recognize me and be ready for the hug I am longing to offer.
Our grandchildren’s parents are generous in sharing their children with us via FaceTime. We eat dinner with them once or twice a week, and I have a stack of books in our kitchen, ready to read with our grandson. And while our granddaughter is always glad to see me, the question remains whether she will be able to translate the two-dimensional figure on the screen to the real-life “Grammy” who walks through the door.
As Christians, we have a similar challenge: we must translate what we learn about our Lord from His Word and His creation. And while He has given us His Holy Spirit to work His redemptive will in us, it nonetheless remains difficult to accurately conceptualize God Almighty in all of His dimensions when we are finite human beings.
C.S. Lewis helps us to catch a glimpse of this dilemma in his Narnia book, Prince Caspian. In it, Aslan, the Christ figure, appears to the Pevensie children as they hike through a much-changed Narnian landscape. But only Lucy sees Him. Later when Lucy’s brother asks her why he couldn’t see Aslan, she replies that maybe he—Peter—wasn’t looking for Him—Aslan. At the end of the book Aslan explains to the two older Pevensie children that they will not be able to return to the magical Narnia; it is time for them to know him in their own world. In other words, they need to learn to recognize Christ as they live their lives in post-World War II Britain. And in his essay “Transposition,” Lewis compares the use of pencil drawings to represent the real world to our conceptualizations of heaven:
Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like
pencilled lines on flat paper. If they disappear in the risen life, they will vanish only as
pencilled lines vanish from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out but
as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blinds,
thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun.
In our world, it is not always easy to see our Lord at work in our lives. We know him in a two-dimensional way through His Word, and we can catch glimpses of Him in our brothers and sisters as we worship and serve together. Even Christ’s disciples and followers, when confronted with the resurrected Christ in the flesh, did not always recognize Him. Mary Magdalene figured it out by His voice; John figured it out when Jesus asked him and his companions about their catch of fish after spending the night fishing on the Sea of Galilee.
My first encounter with our granddaughter was wonderful but not entirely satisfying. Her face lit up when she saw me, and she came running toward me with a grin. And then…she stopped. Her expression changed from delight to uncertainty. She recognized me but was nevertheless cautious when she couldn’t quite translate her experience with the screen Grammy to the flesh and blood Grammy. It did not take long, though, for her to merge the two images, and we had a grand weekend together.
The fact is that it is sometimes harder than we would like to recognize Christ as His resident Holy Spirit guides and directs us, as He remains very much engaged in His glorious but fallen world, and as He manifests His glory in others. As the Apostle Paul observed in his letters to the Corinthians, we see in a mirror dimly. We are busy, and distracted. We impose our preconceived notions on the Lord and often miss Him. But there is nothing more important than training our eyes, ears, and hearts to be tuned to the frequency of our Lord. In John 10, the Apostle records Jesus’s observation that His sheep hear His voice, and follow Him. The more we consciously abide under the care of the Great Shepherd, the more we direct our eyes and ears toward our Master, the better able we will be to see Him as He is and live in His joy, both now and for eternity.