From the Pastor’s Pen . . .
Fix Your Eyes on the Horizon
“And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid . . .” (Matthew 14:29–30)
Unimaginably evil. Unspeakably tragic. Inexpressibly sad. These are just some of the words that come to mind when I think of the senseless elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 people—19 young children and two adults—dead, not counting the 17 seriously injured. This, only 10 days after the massacre of ten people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, motivated by sheer racial hatred. In both instances, the bodies were scarcely cold before some politicians, never willing to let a crisis go to waste, seized upon the tragedy to push their political agendas. All this occurs against a backdrop of vulgar, vociferous demonstrations around the nation and in the Supreme Court justices’ front yards in response to an unprecedented leak indicating that the Court might overturn Roe v. Wade, sending the question of the legality of abortion back to the individual states. Meanwhile, crime is out of control in major cities, fuel prices continue to soar, moms can’t find formula to feed their babies, there is run-away inflation at the supermarket (and nearly everywhere else), and severe food shortages are predicted by many experts within ten weeks. The stock markets (and thus folks’ 401-Ks) have experienced their longest period of decline in decades. I could go on . . . but won’t because it is clear enough our nation is caught in the midst of an intense moral, economic, political, cultural, and, above all, spiritual storm. Anyone old enough to remember when it wasn’t this way knows that life in America does not have to be this way. Every follower of Christ knows that it should not be this way. It’s enough to make one physically, debilitatingly, sick to his or her stomach.
How is a Christian to function in the midst of such storms? How can one avoid becoming paralyzed by “nausea” in a world being tossed about in this confluence of storms? As I began to think on these questions, it came to me that there is a lesson to be gleaned from a practice that novice sailors quickly learn to help avoid seasickness: as much as possible, keep your eyes on the horizon. Perhaps a word of explanation, though over-simplified, is in order here. Scientists who have studied these things have concluded that seasickness results when our senses report two conflicting signals to the brain. When a vessel on a body of water is in heavy seas, the vessel (and everyone on it) can experience rapid, seemingly random, sometimes violent and complex motions in multiple directions at once. The inner ear, our sensor for balance control, accurately reports to the brain that the body is in motion . . . lots and lots of motion. Meanwhile the eyes are reporting to the brain as well. But what the eyes see, especially if below deck or if focused on a task, is a relatively stationary picture of the body’s surroundings. Upon receiving the two conflicting signals that the brain has trouble processing, it responds by causing extreme nausea. [Why it has to be nausea and not, say, euphoria, I do not know!] By keeping one’s eye fixed on the horizon, the brain has a fixed reference point against which to measure the motion reported by the inner ear. Conflict resolved. Nausea averted. [At least in theory. In practice, sometimes even the saltiest old tars can get seasick if the conditions are right.]
So how does this help keep me from getting “sick” when the world around me is being tossed by the “perfect storm” of economic, cultural, and spiritual upheaval? In this analogy, when we experience the world around us, we realize that emotionally and spiritually we are being tossed violently about. At the same time, our faith and past experience report that what we are experiencing now is not the way things are supposed to be. As with seasickness, emotional and spiritual nausea—sometimes to the point of being debilitating—results when our soul tries to make sense of the way things are and the way we know by faith they are supposed to be. The one place that the way things are matches the way things ought to be is the spiritual horizon, defined by the truth and promises of God and His word. By keeping our eyes fixed on the spiritual horizon, our soul has a fixed reference point against which to measure our experience of this present reality—even in the most violent of the storms of life.
As in the example of seasickness, sometimes even the most seasoned of saints can find themselves overwhelmed. There is no shame there. But thankfully, it has been my observation that keeping one’s eyes fixed on the immutable spiritual horizon is far more effective at keeping the soul well than the practice’s counterpart on the sea. In these turbulent times, let’s keep our gaze fixed on the unchanging horizon that is clearly defined by the unchanging Word and unfailing promises of God. Keep your heart in the Word, and your eyes fixed on Jesus. And remember: just beyond the horizon is the “land that is fairer than day” which “by faith we see from afar.” Children of God, rest easy. Our journey will soon be over. We’ll soon be home.