It’s the worst kind of blindness. It’s the physical ability to see without the spiritual ability to really see what you’ve seen. It’s the capacity to look at wonders, things specifically designed to move you and produce in you breathless amazement, and not be moved by them anymore. It’s the sad state of yawning in the face of glory.
I remember taking my youngest son to one of the national art galleries in Washington, D.C. As we made our approach, I was so excited about what we were going to see. He was decidedly unexcited. But I just knew that, once we were inside, he would have his mind blown and would thank me for what I had done for him that day.
As it turned out, his mind wasn’t blown; it wasn’t even activated. I saw things of such stunning beauty that brought me to the edge of tears. He yawned, moaned, and complained his way through gallery after gallery. With every new gallery, I was enthralled, but each time we walked into a new art space, he begged me to leave. He was surrounded by glory but saw none of it. He stood in the middle of wonders but was bored out of his mind. His eyes worked well, but his heart was stone blind.
He saw everything, but he saw nothing.
Sadly, many of us live this way every day even though God has designed the world in which we live to be a gloryscope.
What does this term mean?
Just as a telescope points you to the stars and magnifies them for you to see their illuminating glory, so the earth focuses our eyes on God and magnifies his glory, so it can produce wonder in us. Every beautiful and amazing sight, sound, color, texture, taste, and touch of the created world has gloryscopic intention built into it. Every powerful and mighty thing, animate and inanimate, is gloryscopic by design. No created beauty is an end in itself. No physical wonder exists in isolation. Nothing that is, just is. Everything exists for a grand, vertical purpose.
The glories of the physical world don’t reflect God’s glory by happenchance. No, God specifically and carefully designed the physical world to reflect him, that is, to be the gloryscope that our poorly seeing eyes so desperately need (Ps. 19:1–4; Isa. 6:3; Rom. 1:19–20).
Fighting Our Forgetfulness
We can also be so incredibly forgetful. We learn things that soon become distant memories, having little effect on the way that we think about ourselves and live our lives. People do wonderful things for us, but we forget their kindness so quickly that we even fail to email them a simple “thank you.”
We learn things about our family heritage, things that explain who we are and why we do what we do, but we soon fail to recall this history and ask the same questions of ourselves that had previously been answered.
We forget old friends.
Events of the past fade from memory.
The concerns of the present so dominate our minds that we have little mental energy left to remember what came before. In fact, many of us have totally forgotten an incredible identity-giving story that defines not only us but everything about life.
So we live wandering, disjointed lives, or we work to be the authors of our story, trying to make our personal narrative turn in the direction we would like it to turn. And in so doing, we attempt what we cannot do and want what we will never get.
Because of our forgetfulness, God has created the physical world to be mnemonic, to help us daily remember that we are not alone, that we are not at the center, that life is not primarily about us, and that there is a grander story than the little stories of our individual lives. Physical things are meant to remind us of the grandeur and glory of the One who created all those things, set them in motion, and keeps them together by the awesome power of his will. These constant little physical reminders don’t just happen either. God has carefully planted them in creation to protect us from our amnesia.
- The earthly father is a God-given mnemonic device to remind us of the glory of the heavenly Father.
- The shepherd is a mnemonic device to remind us of God’s care for his own.
- The snow is a mnemonic device to remind us of the Lord’s purity and holiness.
- The storm is a mnemonic device to remind us of God’s power and wrath.
- The daily rising sun is a mnemonic device to remind us of God’s faithfulness.
We’re literally surrounded by gracious reminders of the presence, power, authority, and character of God because he designed created things to function mnemonically. He knows how quickly and easily we forget and how vital it is for us to remember, so he embedded reminders everywhere we look in his creation.
But even with all that, we still tend to be blind and forgetful. When blindness combines with amnesia, nothing good results, yet that’s just what sin does to us. It blinds our eyes and dulls our hearts. We all carry the corrupted capacity to look at the world around us and miss God. We enjoy the glories of creation, yet as we do, we fail to remember the Creator. God meant the earth to ignite and stimulate awe in us. As we encounter the physical world every day, we should be blown away by the glory of God to which it points. But we’re not.
In fact, many of us are positively bored and uninspired. We have every reason to be stunned by God’s glory, to live in life-shaping awe of him. But at street level, we tend to live as blind amnesiacs, and most of us don’t even know it. We think that we see quite well, and we think that we remember what is important, but we don’t. In our blindness and amnesia, we lose our vertical awe, and so our capacity for awe gets kidnapped by other things.
So here’s the bottom line: when you are blind to the stunning, expansive glory of God, when you fail to remember his infinite greatness, you will live with an atrophied heart. Rather than your view of life continuing to expand to the size of God’s incomprehensible grandeur, your perspective on life will shrink to the size of personal hopes and dreams or to the size of what the surrounding physical world has to offer. You will eat little of the true and satisfying food of God’s glory, and you will try to feed yourself on the non-nutritive morsels of the temporary glories of creation. Because you won’t be getting proper spiritual nutrition, you will be constantly hungry, your spiritual muscles will shrink, and you will be unable to live as God intended.
I would like to give you a set of directions to fix all this, but I just don’t think it’s that simple. We must begin by confessing that we have cold, fickle, and often selfish hearts. We must begin by admitting that, although God made the physical world around us gloryscopic and mnemonic, we often see and remember little of what the world points us to. We get so obsessed with our own desires, plans, schedules, and accomplishments that we have little time for meditative reflection on the awesome glory that is ours to see and remember.
We have lost our wonder and, in so doing, have shrunk our souls to the size of momentary, earthbound hopes and dreams. Because we have, we get disappointed, mad, and envious too quickly.
Perhaps we don’t need to institute another reformation program for ourselves. Or give ourselves to a new set of commitments that are more about penance than repentance. Perhaps what we need to do is fall down on our knees before the Great Physician in humility, brokenness, and grief and confess the awe amnesia that eats away at our hearts like a spiritual cancer.
Today, plead for eyes to see and a heart that remembers. Today, mourn how easy it is for you to forget God. Confess your spiritual anorexia, and cry out for a changed heart. When you and I begin to confess that we are the problem, we can run nowhere but to God’s arms of grace.
You can run from a situation, you can run from a relationship, and you can run from a location, but you cannot run from you. When you confess that your problem is internal, not external, you only have one rock to stand on, and that rock is Jesus Christ. You don’t have to live in some form of spiritual shame. Jesus didn’t come, live, die, and rise again to shame you. No, he did all these things to redeem you. Your admission of amnesia is a confession of your continuing need of your loving Redeemer.
Awe amnesiac that you may be, run to him and see what he will do through his incomparable, efficacious grace.
Editors’ note: This excerpt is adapted from Paul Tripp’s new book, Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do (Crossway, 2015).