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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.