A Commitment to the Unseen: Lessons from Blindness and Old Spanish Coins

old coins

As some of you who read this blog know, I am legally blind.  I have fairly extreme tunnel vision – my ophthalmologist tells me I have about “six degrees” of vision; that is not good.  As a result, I have learned that I must operate as if things that I cannot see are there and that others can see things that I can’t.  For example, I have learned that every public restroom in America has its own rubric for the proper placement of hand dryers and/or paper towel dispensers.  Although I might spend five minutes with dripping wet hands looking for their amenity of choice, I know it’s there somewhere– and I will find it eventually!  Similarly, when my wife is driving me to and fro and suddenly a truck appears “out of nowhere,” I need to remember that Kerrie saw it coming long before I did.

Too often we think about ourselves, other people, everything really, in terms that are exclusively rationalistic – by which I mean that our thoughts and opinions, hopes and fears, are all demonstrably valid in light of what we can see.  It is certainly not always incorrect to trust what you see.  However, God’s word, again and again, calls us to trust in more than we can see.  And in so doing, it calls us to remember that there are many things that we cannot see that are essential to our correct response to the people and situations that present themselves to us every day.

Consider the grounds of Paul’s joyful prayers whenever he thinks about quarrelsome people like Euodia and Syntyche (see Philippians 1:3-6 and 4:2). Again, Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  And Paul, in agreement with the writer of Hebrews, gives us the prescribed perspective of the Christian: “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Paul rejoiced over quarrelsome and inconvenient relationships because he was confident that God was at work and that work would be carried on to completion (Philippians 1:3-6).  His eyes were fixed on the unseen things that God was doing and would accomplish in the future.  Hebrews 11 recites numerous examples of Old Testament saints making radical relationship and life decisions based upon a faith that there was something going on that they could not yet see.

What about you?  Do you find that you look at your spouse, your family, your coworkers, neighbors with tunnel vision?  Are you limited by what you see?  It takes humility to be committed to the fact that you only see a sliver of what God is doing in that person or family’s life at any given time.  Yet wise and faithful conduct absolutely requires that you fix your eyes beyond the horizon of your visual field.  That you remind yourself continually that there is more going on than you can see.

In 1519, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain) changed the motto on the coins his royal mint produced.[1]  Prior to that year, they said, “Non Plus Ultra” – meaning, “nothing beyond this.”  This Latin inscription was not only on coins, but according to legend was on the pillars of Gibraltar warning sailors that beyond this land “was nothing!”  The phrase also featured regularly on maps – west of Europe was… nothing.   But in 1519, some twenty-five years after Columbus irrefutably demonstrated to his fellow Europeans that the ocean was not endless, the motto was changed.  The “Ne” was dropped.  There was indeed “something beyond.”  And every commercial transaction involving coins reminded the empire’s subjects that there was a whole New World that was increasingly significant to life in the Old World.

How limited is your vision?  Do you acknowledge the fact that you cannot, sometimes maybe even ‘will’ not see everything necessary to respond as assuredly as you often do?  We are like that – we all, irrespective of ideology or maturity have a tendency to assume that we apprehend the necessary data to pontificate on every person and subject that arises!  What is the coinage of your relationships?  Is the motto inscribed on your thoughts, emotional responses, and words, “plus ultra?”  Are you constantly aware of and demonstrably committed to the fact that there is a whole unseen world of what God is and will be doing that both begs and requires your humble acknowledgement in every circumstance of life in this world?

Your Pastor,

Bob Bjerkaas

[1] James Carson Brevoort, Early Spanish and Portuguese Coinage in America (Boston: Privately Printed, 1885), p.16.


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