Life is an Optics Problem

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Certain words and phrases suddenly appear in the culture, and their presence and usage becomes widespread.  Some of these expressions disappear as quickly as they arrived, like “groovy.” Others become part of the vocabulary for generations, such as “cool.”  During the last couple of weeks, the word “optics” has gained ubiquitous usage, especially among the media. With a visit to the dictionary we find 2 possible meanings for the word optics:

1: a science that deals with the genesis and propagation of light, the changes that it undergoes and produces, and other phenomena closely associated with it.

2 plural in form but singular in construction: the aspects of an action, policy, or decision (as in politics or business) that relate to public perceptions.

For our discussion I am referring to the second entry used to define the term.  I am writing this on the 28th, the day following the Senate hearing. Leading up to hearing testimony from Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, commentators were saying, “The opticsof 11 old white men questioning Dr. Ford is a problem for Republicans.”   A side note: makes you wonder if indeed there was a real problem, or did the situation simply look bad?  I will let you figure that one out.   

I want to make a bigger point.  All of life is an optics problem.  Paul addresses the predicament in 2 Corinthians 4:18. He writes, “We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 

Paul tells us that taking the world around us at “face value” is a dangerous proposition. He cautions, things aren’t as they appear.  Much of what we encounter is a mirage. Therefore, we need to continually refocus and sharpen our vision. 

Next week I have my annual eye examination with my doctor, Dr. Gerald Ford. During my first visit with Dr. Gerald Ford I told him I thought his name was appropriate since my urologist was named Ronald Reagan.  He did not find that amusing.  Also, I sensed it was not the first time he had heard such a comment. I can predict at some point during my upcoming exam there will be a test he administers to calculate how to best assist me in seeing clearly. He will alternate between two lenses and then ask me which one provides me the better vision. This procedure is repeated and can take a long time.  Ford’s desire is not to inflict needless hardship on me.  He wishes me to see as clearly as possible.

To help us see clearly, Paul directs our attention away from the things we see (the physical world) to the things that are not seen (the spiritual world).  In the previous two verses the Apostle warns us, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).  The “outer man is decaying.”  That is reality.  You need proof of that?  Take a long look in the mirror. When the temporal is my focus, I can “lose heart.” I can get discouraged. I can feel overwhelmed. The antidote to this is for me to be renewed “day by day.”  Eugene Peterson paraphrases these three verses for us. His translation, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 The Message).

Throughout the last 38 years I repeatedly visited this passage. During the last few years I am reading, studying, meditating and applying this passage to my life even more often. Believe me when I say, “I get it.”  I understand Paul’s message. But as the noisiness from life increases I tend to let the world distract me.  That’s when I refocus on the eternal things and rest in Him. 

Do you remember the wonderful singer Mahaila Jackson performing on The Ed Sullivan Show?   I do. And I attached a part of the lyrics to her signature song. She sang:   

He's got the whole world in His hand
He's got this whole world, right in His hand

He's got this whole world right in His hand
He's got the whole wide world in His hand

He's got the whole world right in His hand
He's got the whole world in His hand

He's got this great big world right in His hand
He's got the whole wide world in His hand

He's got the little bitter baby in His hand
He's got the little bitter baby right in His hand

He's got the little bitter baby in His hand
He's got the whole wide world in His hand

“Talk” again soon.

Kyle Aulerich