The Gaze of the Soul
"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)
A Tale of Twin Sisters
Once upon a time there were two, equally beautiful, identical twin sisters. As they grew into young womanhood, each girl found the man of her dreams, the one she wanted to marry. Coincidently, each young woman fell in love with a man who was also an identical twin. Both men were equally handsome, equally wealthy, and equally well mannered in every way. It was just like a fairy tale.
The whole town turned out for the double wedding, complete with matching gowns, matching cakes, and matching rings. Everyone agreed that these were the two most perfect marriages the village had ever seen. The twin brides were the envy of every teenage girl and the twin grooms the envy of every teenage boy.
After the honeymoon, the couples moved into identical houses right next door to each other. Being the patriotic sort, the brothers decided to both enlist in the Army and fight for their country. The entire county gave them a spectacular sendoff with flags, a brass band, and words of encouragement. The twin brides nervously kissed their respective husbands goodbye and watched them board the military transport plane.
The brothers fought bravely in battle and the reports from the war were encouraging. Then on the last day of their tour of duty, they were ordered to defend a fuel dump. It was considered light duty. They never actually heard the incoming shell, nor the ensuing explosion that the rocket powered grenade generated. They only remembered being blown high above the ensuing inferno and watching each other fly through the air in slow motion. But in that brief blast, the intense heat melted off every feature of their handsome faces: their noses, their eyelids, their lips, their ears, even their cheeks.
They woke up in an Army hospital burn ward, swathed in bandages and screaming in pain. They endured countless hours being scrubbed in the debridement tanks, being pushed to the limit during physical therapy, being given additional skin grafts, being operated on for vascular or cosmetic repair, and being continuously subjected to sterile dressing changes. Even after all the miraculous work, each man's face was no longer recognizable. Now their faces were only identical as garish scars.
Finally, the wives were allowed to see their husbands. Alerted to the facial damage, both women painted brave faces on and tentatively crept into the room where their husbands lay in bed. After checking the charts to make sure that they were looking at the correct husband, each slowly approached, their eyes seeing but not believing what they saw. The handsome men they'd kissed goodbye a year earlier were gone and in their place were these twin strangers.
Both husbands returned home, but encountered very different reactions from their wives. One wife nervously talked all the time, usually about how much money the rehab therapy cost. She constantly busied herself with house chores, with making the home wheelchair-accessible, and with many errands to their financial consultant. When at home she rarely sat by the bedside, rarely held his hand, and rarely looked directly at this new face.
Next door, the other wife behaved differently. She was able to finish all her housework while her husband slept, so that she could be with him when he awoke. And during his awake hours, she spent the time simply sitting quietly by the bedside, holding his hand, listening to him learn to talk again, and intently studying his new face.
In time, the talking, busy, errand-running wife drifted away from her home and finally left for good. The divorce papers arrived by courier. The reason given: "Irreconcilable differences" — the man in her house now was not the man she'd married a year earlier.
The quiet, listening, face-studying wife spent more and more time by her husband's bed. Soon the awkward exchanges between them turned into laughter and whispers of intimacy. She learned to look beyond the scared face and soon found within the man she'd loved and married a year earlier. The outer man was different, but the inner man was more handsome than ever, with a rich heart and Christlike manner.
So, one bright sunny morning she put on a simple white dress, knelt beside the bed, and asked him to marry her again — the same man, but now seen with the eyes of the soul.
The Seventh Question
The moral of the story: every person's soul has an ability to recognize the soul of another. That is, God has created us with an innate capacity to "see" that which is real, but unseen within another person. We can actually get to know the true person and recognize them no matter how life alters their appearance. This capacity is strongest in the presence of love and practice and time. You can see it manifested in the way a mother gazes lovingly at her Down Syndrome child, or in the way a brother gazes tenderly at his quadriplegic sister, paralyzed by a drunk driver, or in the way an elderly husband gazes adoringly at his wife of 60 years, now with Alzheimer's. In each example you see the ability of a soul in love to look beyond the visible externals and gaze upon the internal heart of the beloved. But where the soul is not in love, or where it is not well practiced in the art of finding the real person within, then it loses its ability to see beyond the outer shell.
This is the theme of the seventh chapter in A.W. Tozer's book, The Pursuit of God, which he titles: "The Gaze of the Soul." And, as with the previous chapters, it too puts forth a key question to the reader: Chapter 1 — Do you want God more than anything else? Chapter 2 — Do you understand that God extends a special welcome to the "poor in spirit?" Chapter 3 — Do you have anyone or anything between you and God? Chapter 4 — Do you know how to lay hold of a God who is spirit? Chapter 5 — Do you live as if you know that God is all around you? Chapter 6 — Do you have open ears to hear God's speaking voice? And now, Chapter 7 — Do you possess the unveiled eyes with which to gaze upon God all the days of your earthly pilgrimage?
In Chapter 6 Tozer taught us how to listen for God's speaking voice. In this chapter he turns to the metaphor of sight, challenging us to a new kind of seeing. It is not the kind of seeing that is content to simply identify or occasionally recognize his Presence. Rather, it is the kind of seeing where we are encouraged to develop the lover's gaze — that unmistakable look of a soul that has completely lost itself in another person. This is the chapter that teaches us to forever fix our eyes on the One in whom our faith originates and culminates.
The person who reads the Bible with an open mind soon discovers that one of its prominent themes is that of faith. It seems that every page contains an encouragement to use our faith in seeing the unseen God. In Psalm 34:5 we read, "They looked up to him and were enlightened. And their faces were not ashamed." Or in Psalm 123: 1-2 we read, "To you I lift up my eyes. O you who are enthroned in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look to the Lord our God for He is gracious to us." Or in Hebrews 12:2, the verse Tozer selects for this chapter, ". . . looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith."
As Tozer says, "Faith will get me anything, take me anywhere in the kingdom of God, but without faith there can be no approach to God, no forgiveness, no deliverance, no salvation, no communion, no spiritual life at all." Faith is the indispensable "must" in the pursuit of God and everything that pleases God is always related to it. But the "must" has little to do with a precise definition of faith. In fact, in Scripture there is little effort made to define the nature of faith outside of a brief statement in Hebrews 11: 1: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." As Tozer notes, this is more a functional definition of faith than it is a theological definition: ". . . it is a statement of what faith is in operation, not what it is in essence." So, we understand that faith operates in the "not yet" and in the "not visible." As the writer of Hebrews goes on to say in verse 3, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible."
Even science confirms this truth from Hebrews 11. Everything that appears to be solid turns out to not be solid at the atomic level. It actually consists of whirling fields of mysterious energies and forces. So that everything that is seen is made up of that which is not seen. For example, Einstein's most famous equation tells us that energy (what we don't see) and mass (what we do see) are equivalent. That is, they consist of the same basic stuff, but in different forms. Matter is simply slowed-down energy or compressed energy. And when matter is accelerated at the speed of light squared it becomes energy. And what is energy? No one knows. It seems that every time we learn something new in science we encounter something else far more mysterious. A healthy faith is needed in science too.
Returning now to Hebrews11:6, we not only read that, "Without faith it is impossible to please [God]," but also that he who comes to God must believe two things: (1) ". . . that he is," and (2) ". . . that he is a rewarder of those who seek him." The rest of the chapter tells the stories of the men and women who exercised their faith by pursuing the "unseen" and the "not yet" above the things that are "seen" and "now here." As verse 13 says, "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." In Alexandre Dumas' classic "The Count of Monte Cristo," the final two words in the book are "Wait and hope." That's the theme of Hebrews chapter 11: "Wait" — the future is going to be better than you can possibly imagine. And "hope" — the future is in the hands of our trustworthy God. That kind of faith has 20/20 vision.
The Look of Faith
In the book of Numbers (21:4-9) we see this kind of faith in action.
"Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. And the people spoke against God and Moses, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loath this miserable food.'"
The interesting thing to note is that the more the children of Israel complained the more they came to idealize Egypt. Of course God had done the exact opposite. They had been in slavery and were now being brought into a "land of milk and honey."
The story continues,
"And the Lord sent fiery snakes among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So, the people came to Moses and said, 'We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that he may remove the serpents from us.' And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.' And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived."
When John records the story of Jesus' interchange with Nicodemus in the third chapter of his Gospel, he recalls this event in Israel's history. Jesus says in verse 12,
"If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one has ascended into heaven, but he who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up; that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
In John 3, Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus how he can be saved. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, is having a difficult time with the concept of being "born again." So Jesus points back to the familiar illustration of the brass serpent on a pole and connects it to saving faith. Thus, Nicodemus would come to understand that to look and to believe are synonymous terms. As Tozer puts it, "'Looking' on the Old Testament serpent is identical with 'believing' on the New Testament Christ. That is, the looking and the believing are the same thing. And he would understand that, while Israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I think he would conclude that faith is the gaze of the soul upon a saving God."
There are three Latin words that can all mean faith: noticia, assentia, fiducia. Noticia simply means that you saw something or took "notice" of its existence. Assentia means that you acknowledged or gave "assent" to the truth of something. But it is the third word that represents biblical faith: fiducia. This is a word that simply means to "trust." We must think of biblical faith as more than an intellectual notation, more than a cognitive assent; it is placing one's trust in truth. And because propositional truth in Scripture always points beyond itself to the author, we see that trusting a certain truth is grounded in our trust of the Truthgiver — we are to look to him who is the Author of our faith, the One who has written everything from the introduction to the conclusion. Therefore, faith is choosing to believe that the Bible is true regardless of any feelings or beliefs to the contrary. Faith always involves a choice of the will and an intention of the heart.
This is exactly what Jesus did; he kept the inward eyes of his heart upon his Father. When he asked his Father to raise Lazarus from the dead, he raised his eyes toward heaven and prayed. When he fed the 5,000, he took the five loaves and two fish and looked up toward heaven and gave thanks. And even as his followers stood "gazing intently" as their resurrected Savior ascended into heaven, they soon learned how to run the race of faith by "fixing their eyes on Jesus." Throughout his whole life Jesus himself demonstrated this continuous and uninterrupted gaze of the soul in the direction of his Father. Likewise, he calls us to intentionally aim our hearts toward Jesus.
Tozer goes on to say that,
". . . this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart's intention to gaze forever upon Jesus. God takes this intention for our choice and makes what allowances he must for the thousand distractions which beset us in this evil world. He knows that we have set the direction of our hearts toward Jesus, and we can know it too, and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that a habit of soul is forming which will become, after a while, a sort of spiritual reflex requiring no more conscious effort on our part.
Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied on the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves — blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do."
Most of religion tinkers with your soul, forever trying to figure everything out and get everything right. But you must get your eyes off of all that nonsense and get your eyes onto Christ because when you do, he'll take over the care of your soul.
A Simple Faith, But Not An Easy Faith
But someone might object that this skillful kind of faith is too simple. Tozer responds, "It would be like God to make the most vital thing easy and place it within the range of possibility for the weakest and poorest of us." It can be accomplished without the need for special religious paraphernalia. It can be done from any posture, whether standing, kneeling, or lying down. It can be done at any time, in any season. Every day is a day of salvation. It can be done from any place — simply turn your heart toward him. And every one of us can do it, whether child or adult, whether ignorant or educated, whether clergy or laity.
"Many have found the secret of which I speak and, without giving much thought to what is going on with them, constantly practice this habit of inwardly gazing upon God. They know that something inside their heart sees God . . . . Let their attention but be released for a moment from necessary business and it flies at once to God again."
Tozer references Nicholas of Cusa to illustrate this sweet language of experience. Tozer writes of Nicholas: "His conception of eternal life, for instance, is beautiful in itself and, if I mistake not, is nearer in spirit to John 17: 3 than that which is current among us today. 'Life eternal,' says Nicholas, 'is
nought other than that blessed regard wherewith Thou never ceasest to behold me, yes, even the secret places of my soul. With Thee, to behold is to give life; 'tis unceasingly to impart sweetest love of Thee; 'tis to inflame me to love of Thee by love's imparting, and to feed me by inflaming, and by feeding to kindle my yearning, and by kindling to make me drink of the dew of gladness, and by drinking to infuse in me a fountain of life, and by infusing to make it increase and endure.'"
So how would you honestly answer this question: When your mind is free to think about anything, what does it think about? The minds of some gravitate to the worries, fears, and concerns of their everyday life. Some minds default back to coveting the lives and possessions of others. And the minds of others drift back to their incessant pursuit of success or significance. But whether your mind is trying to wish something away, or trying to wish something into existence, or just wishing for more of what it already has, our minds and our hearts always return to where their treasure is. That's why in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that, ". . . where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Whenever given the chance, your mind and your heart will always follow the treasure-trail to that which is truly loved the most. For either the treasure of your heart is the Creator or it is something in the created order. And treasuring anything other than God is idolatry. You were never meant to worship or serve anything less than God.
My hope for you is that you would focus your mind on the Lord. Whether you're waiting in a grocery line, or waiting at a traffic signal, or waiting in an emergency room, those moments can be sweeter if you allow your mind and heart to gaze upon the Lover of your soul. As Augustine says, "You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you."
"I do not want to leave the impression that the ordinary means of grace have no value. The most assuredly have. Private prayer should be practiced by every Christian. Long periods of Bible meditation will purify our gaze and direct it; church attendance will enlarge our outlook and increase our love for others. Service and work and activity — all are good and should be engaged in by every Christian. But at the bottom of all these things, giving meaning to them, will be the inward habit of beholding God. A new set of eyes (so to speak) will develop within us enabling us to be looking at God while our outward eyes are seeing the scenes of this passing world."
One Tuning Fork, One Hundred Pianos
Tozer anticipates that some reader may fear that private religion is being magnified, that the, "us" of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish "I." He replies, "Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?" I think he is correct. If we really want to have communion together, the best thing is to stop trying to make it happen on the horizontal plane and start with the vertical plane. "So," as Tozer continues, "one hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become "unity" conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified." Having all the focus on God is not the enemy of worship or communion or community life; rather it is the dynamic of life itself.
As we look away to the Lord we carry Christ with us more and more. From this a more powerful communion of the saints occurs more readily than when we look to each other in an effort toward social action. As Dallas Willard says, many Christians try to measure ministry by the ABC's: attendance, buildings, and cash. A friend of mine suggests that success is often determined by the 3 B's: buildings, budgets, and body counts. These are just two examples of how superficial such manmade metrics are. Concerning the practices of the early Jerusalem church, Luke records that ". . . everyone kept feeling a sense of awe . . . ." There is no indication that this response was the result of any building program, year-end budget challenge, or attendance rally. It was the result of God's people coming to meet with their Lord.
It is my conviction that a church with only one hundred people, all of whom are tuned to the heart of Jesus Christ, will soon begin to manifest a greater unity, a stronger vitality, and a more powerful impact for the kingdom of God than with a church of 10,000 people who are only focused on projects, processes, and programs. Size has never impressed God. How could it? How could an infinite God ever be impressed with anything we think is big? Next to God, everything we do and everything we are is of no account. The only thing that impresses God is a heart that can't get enough of him.
In conclusion Tozer says, "The Triune God will be our dwelling place even while our feet walk the low road of simple duty here among men. We will have found life's summum bonum indeed." Through the gaze of faithful eyes, allow the Triune God to be your dwelling place. He wants the simplicity of a child-like faith that turns to him and says, "My heart's desire is to habitually gaze upon you. And even when I stray from you, I want you to draw me back to yourself as many times as it takes before I no longer want to gaze upon anything else."
The capacity to look for God is intuitive and universal — all human beings are created with a soul that seeks out the soul of another. Therefore, gazing upon God is not what good people do when they are doing their religious best, but rather what ordinary people do when they are pursuing the Lover of their souls.
But, in order for this inborn capacity to become a lifelong habit, it requires the motivation of love, the motor of discipline, and the movement of time. We need each of these three elements in order to avoid being deceived by outer circumstances and into thinking: "Wait a minute! That's not the God I committed my life to long ago. I want a better one." And we need each of these three things in order to learn to linger longer with him so that we might grow to say, "Wait a minute! Behind all the ugly scars of life I can more clearly see the beauty of my Lord." Over a lifetime, the uninterrupted gaze of the soul becomes a muscle memory of the heart.
Let's close once again with Tozer's own prayer,
"Oh Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to Thee, and be satisfied. My heart longs to respond but sin has clouded my vision 'til I see Thee but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Thine own precious blood and make me inwardly pure so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon Thee all the days of my earthly pilgrimage. Then shall I be prepared to behold Thee in full splendor in the day Thou shalt appear to be glorified by Saints and admired in all them that believe. Amen"
Related Topics: Spiritual Formation