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Open Your Eyes: Seeing beyond the material world

It was a cold winter's evening and my wife, Carol. was awakened by a pain and distress. But it was a good pain, and a long-awaited distress; she was ready to deliver our child.

We were living in Japan at the time, and as is the custom in that area, I took Carol to a small neighborhood clinic so that she could give birth. I remember so vividly, that evening. It was as if all of my senses were heightened and I simply was aware of so many things – the smell of the little delivery room, even the coolness of the delivery table –  and I could still hear the village doctor as he held up our child and with a loud voice said, "It's a boy!".

Becoming aware of something... more

On that evening, I was aware of so much more just the physical, then material. It's almost as if I had walked through a door into another dimension of reality, because – beyond  the five senses with which I normally perceived things – I was all of a sudden aware, so deeply aware, of the spiritual world that surrounded me.

In the middle of that winter's night – my wife's smile, my son's cry – led me to experience what Rudolf Otto, the German scholar, once called "the numinous", the sense of the holy that surrounds us. And I knew again that life has meaning and purpose and has a power and a presence beyond what we know in our material, physical world.

We limit ourselves to the material world

But there are many people today who deny this spiritual dimension, deny that there is something else beyond the physical. They say there is no spiritual world. There is no other real other than the material, the physical world around us. And with a certain degree of haughtiness of mind and mockery of voice, they say that to speak of God who surrounds us with his presence... [it] is only a myth, only a dream. The only real world is the physical world, the material world. And the only real meaning in life is the meaning that we construct for ourselves.

These people hold a certain philosophy of life, we can call it materialism/secular materialism/secular materialistic humanism; it is a denial that the spiritual world surrounds us. This is more than a philosophy, of course, it is itself a religion based on belief. The person who says there is no spiritual world makes that statement on the basis of faith, right? The person who says there is no spiritual world has no more scientific grounds for saying that than we who say there is a spiritual world. Both are faith commitments. The materialist, of course, would shudder to think that he or she is taking her position in faith, but it is so. 

But this materialism is a strange religion. As I held my child in my arms in that delivery room, they would say to me, "There is no mystery here, only biology." They would say there is no awe and wonder, only animal reproduction. They would say there is no meaning for this child other than the meaning we would construct in his pursuit of personal power, prestige or prosperity. 

This perspective on life that countless of people around us hold – that there is nothing more than the physical reality – is a perspective that keeps them blind to everything beyond the obvious. They have never had their eyes opened, like the servant of Elisha, to all of a sudden see the spiritual world that envelops us.

To live with one's eyes closed to this spiritual reality, to go through life thinking that the physical and material world it all there is, is a path that leads to emptiness. Utter emptiness. Material things alone cannot satisfy the longing within the human heart. There is a deep hunger for something more, for contact with another dimension of reality, for interaction with the spiritual realm – for connection and communication with God.

Although many acknowledge the material world to be... hollow.

Wise people have always known that there is a central emptiness to materialism (that there is nothing more than the physical world around us). Thousands of years ago there was a man who called himself "The Preacher". He wrote the book that we now name Ecclesiastes. And this man tried everything to fill this "void of emptiness". I mean, he followed sensual pleasures, followed wealth, followed knowledge, everything that you could think of on the physical, material plane and in the end the says it's empty – "Meaningless. Meaningless. Everything is meaningless... just a chasing after the wind."

But the fact that life lived three-dimensionally – confined to just the physical world around us – is empty and hollow, is not something that is just spoken of from religious ranks. This hollowness and basic emptiness of the human soul is revealed in novels and plays written by authors who could never be accused of being sympathetic to Christianity – Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller – they write about the emptiness of human life as we experience it today. That's the testimony of psychology as well:

  • Karl Gustof Jung (no friend of Christianity) said this, "the central neurosis of our time is emptiness"
  • Victor Frankl said the same kind of thing, "clinics are crowded with people suffering from a new kind of neurosis" – a new kind of neurosis – "a sense of total and ultimate meaningless of life."

A "new kind of neurosis" because they have denied the existence of the spiritual realm. 

And so people who live with just the approach of secular materialism are people who are walking around with a kind of amnesia. They have forgotten the great teaching of the Christian faith, that there is this spiritual realm, and so consequently, in this amnesia they ask questions like: "Who am I?", "What meaning is there to life anymore?"  They need their eyes opened – like the servant of Elisha – to be able to see that there is something more: a spiritual dimension in life. It seems clear that human beings cannot live happily within the limitations of a three-dimensional universe if there is not spiritual reality that undergirds it all. If there is no God, then there is only emptiness and meaninglessness.

There are many people who are on this quest to find meaning, to fill the emptiness in their life. There has got to be something more, they say. There has got to be something more that we can't see that somehow makes sense of the cosmos. There has got to be something more to life than the tangible, the material. And then these people begin to ask questions as they look at the universe around them. And they're waiting for their eyes to be opened – like the servant of Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23) – so that they see, so that they know. 

There are many on this religious quest, like the Hindus and the Buddhists, who would tell us that if we are to find this spiritual realm we have to negate the physical. In order to find the spiritual realm you've got to denigrate the physical world.  Christianity says that is absolute nonsense. Christianity does not call us to leave or reject the physical world, but only, like the servant of Elisha, to have our eyes opened to the fact that the physical world is not the sum total of reality. The physical world is good! God created it. God loved this physical world so much that he took on physicality himself. In Jesus Christ he took on our humanity "and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory..." – in the flesh, in history.

Men and women who are honestly questing, honestly looking, for a sensible description of life, for a meaning and purpose that holds it all together, have to open their eyes to see the truth of the spiritual world – that all things are held together... in Christ!

The value of Christian day schools

Now, from my perspective, one of the great contributions of Christian day school education, is the systematic way in which our eyes are opened to the reality of the spiritual dimension – the Kingdom of God – that is behind every aspect of our physical world and every part of our daily life. In the public school system, for example, we are taught about the physical world, right? If we're studying weather patterns, we will learn the scientific basis of it all. We will learn about the formation of the clouds and the function of the wind and how hail comes to be. But we are never taught to look beyond these things, behind these things, so that the whole science of weather – taught from a materialistic perspective – just hangs there with no context to give it meaning. Now, in the Christian day school, we're taught exactly the same things about the weather, right? We're taught excellent science, but, in addition to the science, we're also taught to open our eyes to the spiritual dimension. And so we learn, that the weather itself, can, in fact, give glory to God. We begin to talk like the Psalmist who talks about the lightning and the hail and the snow and the clouds, who talks about the stormy winds that do God's bidding. And from the perspective of Christian day school education, our eyes are opened, then, to this whole context of the physical world, so that we grasp, as the Apostle Paul put it, all things were created by Christ and for Christ. 

So, Christian education, when done well, teaches all subject matter in such a way that our eyes are opened to the spiritual reality that is the Kingdom of God. Just like the servant of Elisha, our eyes are opened to see the depth dimension – the depth dimension that gives context and reason and purpose and ultimately gives glory to God. And then the world becomes a place of awe and wonder, a place of meaning and purpose.

Now, can our children have their eyes opened to this wonder of the spiritual dimension of the Kingdom of God, behind the physical world, apart from Christian day school education? Well, of course they can! Of course they can. Some parents live in areas where there is no Christian day school. Some parents, quite frankly, cannot, with all of their efforts, come up with the tuition payments required. Some parents believe, that, for missiological reasons, their children ought to be in the public school system in order that they can be an effective witness there. And some parents, for other solid reasons, select home schooling or charter schools – we respect those choices. 

But, it is primarily the parent's responsibility to make sure that their children's eyes are always and systematically opened to the spiritual world. And when it's not done in the classroom, then these parents have the added responsibility of supplementing or correcting a materialistic worldview that has its eyes shut to the reality of the Kingdom of God behind every subject of learning. 

The blessing of Christian day school education is the systematic, consistent reinforcement of the Biblical perspective that there is this spiritual dimension in Christ that under-girds all of reality.

So, I invite you to open our eyes. To become very intensely and intentionally aware of the spiritual realm that surrounds us at all times. That, like the servant of Elisha, all of a sudden we see and are cognizant of the fact that the angels surround us in this place – all done with the eyes of faith. 

Open your eyes! Ask God to have them opened so that this week you can see and you can sense and can rejoice in this spiritual reality that enfolds us. 

Now, if you are a new Christian, and just beginning to investigate the adventure of Christianity then I want to stress to you the wonderful joy and excitement of having your eyes opened to this other dimension of reality, the other reality of a God who loves you and is always there to care for you. Remember the servant of Elisha in the story we read earlier, remember how afraid and anxious he has become when all he does is look at the material reality. When all he sees is the forces of Aram surrounding him, he's in panic. And then his eyes are opened. And he sees the angelic hosts. And peace floods into his soul because he knows God is there. God is in control. God will care for him. 

When we are not aware of the spiritual realm, when we don't have our eyes opened, then like the servant of Elisha we too can become overwhelmed with our troubles and we wonder: What are we going to do with our aging parents? What can be done because my marriage is coming unraveled? How can I pay the bills, at the end of the month? And we get distracted and concerned and anxious... open your eyes. Open your eyes and know that God has forces of angels around you and that you are in God's care.

On that winter's evening in Japan, when I held my newborn son in my arms, I saw, for a moment, with extraordinary clarity, the spiritual realm. I didn't have a vision like the servant of Elisha where I actually saw angels in the delivery room, but I felt God's presence in a remarkable way. 

It is my hope and my prayer that all of our children will live their lives with their eyes wide open to this marvelous dimension that surrounds us and may it be that, behind all aspects of our physical world, they learn to discern the presence of God's angels and the essence of God's love. 

Source: Pastor Phil DeJonge, Seymour CRC