“Desire without knowledge is not good.” – Proverbs 19:2
Longing for something you don’t know how to grasp will only lead to frustration.
James K.A. Smith talks about a phenomenon he refers to as “cracks in the secular.” There are times when those with a purely secular worldview find themselves cracking open the boxes they’ve encapsulated themselves in in an attempt to see if the transcendent really is there: an atheist medical doctor who prays for his terminally ill child to be healed, even though his intellect knows the child’s body will fail; the millionaire actors who sacrifice their wealth to a religion that guarantees they’ll be god over their own planet one day because they’ve had their fill of this one and know it doesn’t scratch every itch; the desperate widow who obsessively calls the psychic hotline and purchases a ouija board just to possibly hear his voice one more time, even though everyone tells her she’s crazy and deep down she sympathizes with their skepticism, but “what if…?”
C.S. Lewis, in his well-known description of the human longing for transcendence, put it well: if there are desires in us that nothing in this world can satisfy then it only makes sense that we were made for another world. The problem is convincing people that the desires they have—for meaning, purpose, significance, love, happiness—can’t be found within this world. And this is notoriously hard to do. No matter how many people who have gained the whole world complain about how meaningless it all is, we never believe them. We think we’ll be better stewards of such resources if only *we* could make the big-time. We could make the millions and the fame and the prestige work in our favor if given the shot.
And even that scenario is a haunting one that infects us all. We’re all convinced of two things: 1) there is something more, and 2) that that “something more” is attainable given the right conditions and opportunities. This is true of the impoverished and the wealthy, the obscure and the famous, the simple and the brilliant. It’s when our systems and worldviews and ideologies fail to deliver on their promises to help us take hold of the Something More that we begin to notice the cracks, and when pushed to the limits, we try and peer through them. We pray, we chant, we channel positive energy, we make vows of poverty, we swear off technology and culture, we do whatever it takes to try and tap into what lies beyond those cracks in our frame.
We long for Something, we just don’t know how to obtain it. When pressed hard enough, or when desperate enough, we can see something shining through the cracks in the secular frame we’re surrounded by, but we attempt to reach out and acquire it ourselves as if we could hold the light within our own hands. We have desire, but we lack the knowledge of how to curb it. And this is not good.
So how do we obtain this Light? The same way we experience all other light, we behold it.
Something amazing happened 2000 years ago. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”
What John is stressing is that when Jesus came into the world, those who had eyes to see saw divine glory; they saw the essence of the fullness of Christ, from which we have all received grace upon grace.
So, the pattern is this: you behold the glory of Christ, you receive grace upon grace; life-transforming grace that causes you to never be the same again. We are incomplete, we are fragile, we are weak; there is an essential part of our being that is absent that causes us to long for…Something. There are cracks in our hearts that we can peer through, and it’s not until we have set our eyes upon the glory of Jesus that we receive His fullness and are made whole.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18
We are transformed by beholding the glory of Jesus Christ. Now “beholding” is different than “looking.” You can’t take a casual half-hearted glance at Jesus and expect to be changed. The disciples were with Jesus for three years and it wasn’t until after he had been crucified and resurrected that they fully grasped the glory of the Man they’d committed themselves to follow. It’s going to take more than a mere “look.”
To “behold” means to look with consideration, with appreciation, with fixation and transfixion. Ray Ortlund explained beholding as staring at the glory of Christ until you see it. Beholding is something that you don’t have to use your eyes to do, you just hold something in your vision and let the weight of it rest on your mind and your heart.
We do this by immersing ourselves in Scripture. Particular to this subject, the Gospels and the “High Christological” passages of Scripture are good places to start (Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 1:1-4; Colossians 1:15-20). We do this by surrounding ourselves with people who have seen the Beauty of the world that lies beyond this one and seeking to imitate them (1 Corinthians 11:1; Hebrews 13:7). We do this by intentionally placing ourselves in a posture that allows us to behold, in our minds, the vision that promises to flood our hearts with the Light that we long for and illuminate our world (2 Corinthians 4:6). Since we don’t need our eyes to see this, the proper posture is one of being bowed low, eyes closed, face down, humbled, meek, and vulnerable. We call it prayer.
And as you do these things, the cracks will become wider, your vision will become clearer, and you’ll be transformed, from one degree of glory to the next.
What the Other One offers us is not some caulk to fill in the cracks of our worldviews, He offers to rend them open and allow us to fully behold the splendor that, we know, lies beyond this fractured enclosure.
A modified version of this article first appeared on Two Tasks Institute.