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Things that are above

It isn’t easy to find the right perspective, but it is important

Things that are above

Joseph Recognized by His Brothers by Gustave Doré (Prisma/Newscom )

My father’s garden is a money-loser. If you count the man-hours, seed catalog purchases, water usage, and petrol expended in transporting trapped raccoons out to the hinterlands, each tomato may cost 50 bucks. Dwelling on those facts could drive you mad.

Or, you can look at my father’s garden differently. You can choose to see it as a hobby that costs far less than the pastimes of the golf course and casino. Out in the sunshine you get fresh air, exercise, vitamin D—and if we’re so blessed, a few tomatoes.

Since I have settled on this latter perspective, I no longer feel the slightest anxiousness when he turns on the hose.

But what is this thing we call perspective? Is it just a lie we tell ourselves when we can’t bear the truth? Or is the right perspective very truth? When I choose the second way of seeing Dad’s garden, and reject the first, do I just foist a pleasant fiction on my mind? Or have I found something like wisdom?

To the Scriptures for the answer, as for every other thing! There’s where we must turn to learn what’s rubbish and what’s real. I for one want to live in the real.

Joseph’s brothers needed help arriving at the right view of the 20 years that led up to their meeting.

Turns out God is bullish on perspective. Not just gardens and our water bills but all the other things that make the fabric of our day are to be seen through divine-colored glasses: “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). What is this if not an actionable command?

“Things above” must be things that aren’t visible—love, heaven, kindness, the faithfulness of God to His own promises. “Things on earth” must be things that we see, which soon will pass away—“the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

What would happen to a person who adopted this perspective all the time? We don’t have to guess: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). That man—if there is such a man—who lives consistently inside the right perspective, and so moves and walks unswervingly, gains things above without losing the earthly things.

Finding the correct perspective—the perspective God enjoins that gives us peace—is not an automatic thing. Joseph’s brothers needed help arriving at the right view of the 20 years that led up to their meeting. Joseph coached them on the way to look at it, lest they sink into despair: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Wrong perspective leads to worry, as we saw in cases of expensive vegetable gardens.

Right perspective means there is no such thing as brute facts. A “brute fact” is a fact that has no interpretation attached to it, a fact that exists independently of what anyone thinks. There is no such fact in God’s created world. We must always consider what God thinks of the fact.

For example, you have trials. Trials as brute facts would be unbearable. Suffering without an explanation would be hell on earth. Therefore God is quick to tell us how to see a trial: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

This is true and not a mental trick.

Viktor Frankl sustained himself through nights and days at Auschwitz by imagining the face of his beloved wife smiling on him, answering him, encouraging him. To learn, when he got out, that there was no one home awaiting him was the ordeal he found most difficult of all ordeals to overcome. What had given him a meaning in his trial had not been real.

It is a thing that you and I, as children of the God who sees, need never fear.

Comments

  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Sun, 08/19/2018 07:21 am

    I have an agnostic friend who does not believe in facts, brute or otherwise. He would seem to agree with you, that it's all in perspective. But he denies (seems like he's claiming a fact here) there is a transcendent perspective, only perspective. In "fact," he goes a step further in saying there is no objective truth. We all play mental tricks when it comes to the truth but, by God's grace, (a fact) believers also know we have the mind of Christ (another fact). This is not a mental trick but a miracle of God's love in Christ. We carry this truth very humbly, right?

  • SonoitaMike
    Posted: Sun, 08/19/2018 11:38 am

    Very interesting perspective!

    Thanks for sharing. I have applied this very thinking in areas of my life and found it very helpful.

    Its very helpful for those going through trials. The trial looms large and the person looses perspective. This can lead to PTSD instead of Post Tramatic Growth!

    The perspective that brings me greatest cohort is that God is sovereign and He has declared His care for me!

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 08/19/2018 09:27 pm

    I disagree with Mrs. Seu Peterson that there are no such things as brute facts.  God could be said to be The Brute Fact who created all other brute facts:  the Universe exists; Earth orbits the Sun; 1 + 1 = 2; cuts bleed.  But I take her overall point well.  Our perspective limits our vision of God's purpose, but that does not keep God from working through the trials in our lives for good.  We can confidently trust God.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Mon, 08/20/2018 06:33 am

    As always there is some good food for thought here. I pondered your definition and concept of “brute facts.” I had never used, or really thought about, that term. I have often used Francis Schaeffer's "True truth" concept. But I see what you mean and like it. The reality of what we see and experience does hinge on perspective, on a decision on our part of how to attach meaning and significance to them. There are many who deny the existence of pain, disease, much of the external world let alone origins and other things that seem to us as patently obvious. But even more so, as far as things that are important from an eternal perspective, it becomes extremely important to have an eternal, divine perspective. And we get this by revelation from God's Word. Also, from God's Spirit. 

    I'm not sure why Ms Seu Peterson has to go to other books of the Bible to explore what Colossians 3:2 and "Things above" must mean. This always amazes me that we don't look at the context and let the Bible help interpret itself. The clear flow of Paul's letter tells us what the things above and the things below are. Chapter 2 and other context in Paul’s letter helps us interpret and then apply what he is writing about. We don't need to go to John or Matthew.

  • JAMES RAMETTE
    Posted: Wed, 08/22/2018 12:10 pm

    (Moderator: Please ensure that Andree S.P. sees my comment)  Thank you Andree. Today I read "Waiting Games"; then I read "Things that are above"; then, "God in three Persons."  Really, thank you for your patience in continuing to write, not knowing that the many "me's" out here first turn to your writing with each issue. With these three writings, your spirit as informed by the LORD's spirit through his Word, helped me Today to bear up under my continuing travails, to continue simply believing God for a long, long time; maintaining the right perspective, gaining things above without losing the earthly things, and being reminded that wrong perspective leads to worry.. -- that God our Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, may be glorified through our eternal salvation.

     

    "One goes to the office. One does the laundry. One gets no pat on the back and no sign in the sky that anything is coming or will ever be different or better. “Where is the promise of his coming? … [A]ll things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4).

    Abraham ... is still revered ... Yet what did he do? ... He waited...Twenty-five years he waited...Just think of the daily talking to yourself you’d have to do under these conditions to keep waiting for something humanly implausible based only on a word you heard way back when. Abraham ... simply believing God for a long, long time."

     

    "... That man—if there is such a man—who lives consistently inside the right perspective, and so moves and walks unswervingly, gains things above without losing the earthly things.

    Finding the correct perspective—the perspective God enjoins that gives us peace ... “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20). Wrong perspective leads to worry, as we saw in cases of ...."

     

    "... the gospel message is: God incarnate, Jesus, died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day as the firstborn of the resurrection that God may be glorified through our eternal salvation."

  • Xion's picture
    Xion
    Posted: Tue, 09/18/2018 07:26 am

    “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2)

    Solomon explained why we are to do this.  Because everything under the sun is mundane and vanity.  Mundane and secular are Latin for "of this world".  If one's perspective is only the brute facts of this life, then it is as meaningless and worthless as a garden after it has been eaten and passed into the draught (Matt 15:17).

    What gives life meaning is the eternal perspective, focusing on things above (the sun), i.e. heavenly things.  Temporal things are fleeting.  The treasure we lay up in heaven will endure.  It isn't futile.  Having a spiritual perspective, walking by faith and not by sight, allows us to see beyond the brute facts to the real meaning as God sees them.