The Limited Power of Observation

It’s been hot in Nashville. Hot and humid. Like the kind of hot and humid when you walk outside and it feels like someone threw a bucket of chili in your face. So I was none too pleased a few days ago when I went upstairs to our kids’ bedrooms and found that our air conditioning unit had stopped working.

My limitations in home improvement have been well documented, but nonetheless, I told my wife and kids that I would “take a look”, and so take a look I did. Armed with my trusty head lamp I went outside in the backyard to take a look at the air conditioning unit.

Yep, it was there. So far so good. I bent down and looked behind the unit and I found a 3 inch encasing of ice around the area of the back where some pipes came into the unit. When I saw the snowball at the base in the midst of the chili-like atmosphere, I had the profound thought: That doesn’t look right.

Now there were two options for me at this point, having discovered something that was clearly wrong. Option 1 involved me going to the garage, getting a bunch of tools, and starting to mess with things armed with a screwdriver, my head lamp, and my phone with which I could call up a few youtube videos to see if anyone else had diagnosed and dealt with the same issue.

Option 2 involved me calling for someone to help me.

With my own powers of observation, I was able to tell there was something wrong, but I wasn’t able to fully diagnose the issue. Further, even if I could fully describe and identify the problem, I don’t have the expertise and knowledge to know how to make what was wrong start to be right again. That’s the limitation of observation. We might be able to see something that’s not how it should be, but we need an outside source of truth and knowledge to help us not only know just how wrong something is, but then to correct it.

It’s not unlike the pattern we see in Romans 1:18:

For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made…

This is the power of observation. We can walk outside and observe some thing about God. We can see His creativity, His power, and His expansive greatness. But we can also see from observation that something is not as it should be. There is a certain “wrongness” we can observe by looking not only at a world of chaos, but also the chaotic longings of our own heart. It is wrong. We are wrong. But that’s where our powers of observation end, and we have one of two choices.

We can continue onward with the tools we have at our disposal. We can tinker with our environment, with our hearts, with our lives, and in so doing assume that we are fully capable of “figuring it out” on our own. That we have the power and the intellect and the moral capacity to create an environment that is right. This, however, is the path of supreme arrogance; it’s the path of assuming that all the answers for what’s wrong can be found inside ourselves; it’s the path of assuming that we are god, and our potential must only be unlocked.

Or there is option 2. We can recognize the limitations of our own observation and look outside ourselves for truth. We can refer ourselves to greater things, greater people, who can not only fully diagnose our issues but also provide the true pathway to wholeness and restoration.

The end of the story is that my air conditioner is now working. But it’s not working because I “observed” my way into a solution. It’s working because we called in an outside source. In the case of the air conditioning unit, we had to look outside ourselves for truth and answers, because observation can lead you to the problem but not fully to the answer. and in the case of the air conditioner, and perhaps with all of life, the core question late that night when I found the snowball was this:

How much am I willing to stake on my own abilities? Not much when it comes to my air conditioner. Even less when it comes to my soul.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:16-17).

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1 Comment

  • Vicky Whitt says:

    I love the way you write and the truth within the stories and illustrations. Thank you Michael!

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