2 Ways Your Eyes Will Deceive You

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I never saw it.

Most everyone in my family and pretty much all my friends did, or at least they claim they did, but I remain convinced that they’re all in on an elaborate hoax at my expense that was first perpetrated way back in the mid 1990’s. That’s when the latest fad was the 3D holographic prints. You might remember these things – maybe you also were a victim of the cruel joke where everyone unfocuses their eyes, stares blankly at a repeating pattern, and then in awe in wonder claim they see a different image suddenly popping out at them.

“It’s a rocket!”

“It’s a grasshopper!”

“It’s a panda bear!”

It’s hogwash. Or at least that’s what I told myself. Though it became a big joke around my house at the time, the truth was I was a little unnerved in thinking that there really was something there, but my eyes, for whatever reason, just couldn’t see it. The reason that was concerning to me was that I didn’t like the idea that I couldn’t trust my own eyes. That there was some reality right in front of me that for whatever reason I was unable to see. That, to put a fine point on it, my eyes were lying to me.

As disconcerting as that thought may be, that’s exactly what the Bible tells us is reality. We think we can trust the information provided to us by our senses, particularly our eyes, and yet God’s Word lets us know that there are at least two ways our eyes can deceive us:

1. Our eyes tell us we are too small.

I think of the story of God’s people, freshly and miraculously delivered from their servitude in Egypt, marching toward God’s promised land for them. This had been a very long time in coming – generations since God first made this promise to their father Abraham. But upon returning from scouting out the land God had already promised was theirs, ten of the twelve spies were troubled:

“We can’t go up against the people because they are stronger than we are!” So they gave a negative report to the Israelites about the land they had scouted: “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. We even saw the Nephilim there—the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them” (Numbers 13:31-33).

The deceptive eyes of the ten spies told them they were the size of grasshoppers, and therefore didn’t stand a chance against the giant inhabitants of the land. And so, despite the promises of God which compelled them forward, they convinced the people to go backward, and they languished in the wilderness for it.

Now this is not the kind of thing where we can take Scripture and interpret it to say, “God wants health, wealth, and prosperity for you! Just get up and take it!” But it is the kind of thing where we can look to the promises God has made in His Word – that He is for us, that He will complete His work in us, that He will give us our daily bread, that His grace is never in short supply – and be confident in His power to do what He said. In many of those cases, our eyes will tell us otherwise. It is not, to be specific, that we are actually greater or bigger or more courageous or more whatever than our eyes tell us, but that God’s promises defy the physical circumstances that might lay before us. The promises of God prove our eyes to be liars.

2. Our eyes tell us we are too big.

There is a warning from the book of Proverbs that goes like this:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7, ESV). 

It might be that our eyes deceive us into thinking we are too small; it might also easily be that our eyes deceive us into thinking we are too big. That we have life figured out. That we understand the nature of the universe, and even the depths of our own sinfulness, to the extent that we can captain our own ship. This is more than a overestimation of ourselves; it is idolatry and self lordship. And yet it is such an easy pathway to begin to walk down.

It starts out innocently enough – things in life are rolling along relatively smoothly, our decisions seem to be the right ones, and so we continue to press onward. But slowly we become convinced that we are incapable of making a mistake, that our motives are what we think they are, and that we cannot possibly have missed something or are not suffering under the spell of self-deception. We are then way too big, and our eyes have deceived us again.

So our eyes might convince us we are too small; our eyes might convince we are too big. What is the solution to these eyes of ours who can be so deceptive?

To stop looking at ourselves at all:

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

When our gaze is fixed on Jesus, we find that we are not actually living by sight at all, but rather by faith. Our hearts gaze unflinchingly upon Him, and we continue on in the race with confidence, knowing that while our eyes might deceive us, the author and finisher of our faith never will.

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