The Malaysian Plane, Sandy Hook, 9/11 and Haiti Through Another Lens


Opti­cal illu­sions are some­times fun. The pic­ture with a thou­sand dots that at first seem to form noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar until you stare through the pic­ture and not at it, or per­haps at a par­tic­u­lar point on the pic­ture. Your eyes glaze over, and then anoth­er image is evi­dent, one you did not read­i­ly see before but now can­not seem to shake. Visu­al phe­nom­e­na that oppos­es real­i­ty- or from anoth­er point of view- con­firms it, the orig­i­nal image just a holo­gram, a kind of false real­i­ty that con­ceals what’s real­ly there.

My vision dur­ing the first half of my life thus far was like glanc­ing at an orig­i­nal image, an array of mean­ing­less shapes or dots, bla­tant pro­files of faces, stair­cas­es that very sim­ply led to anoth­er floor, or con­cen­tric cir­cles that were no more than just that. What was pre­sent­ed to me, what I saw, was tak­en as truth and my actions and reac­tions sprung from this truth I swal­lowed whole.

In mag­ic, an illu­sion­ist rarely divulges his secret. But in the times that he does, a trick that seemed before so com­plex, so enchant­i­ng, becomes sim­ple and much less thrilling. When we learn what we were miss­ing before, we now see in a sec­ond per­for­mance very clear­ly. “How could I have missed that? It is very well evi­dent. The rab­bit was in the hat before the trick began, the hid­den door is in the floor, and I was much too focused on his right hand when it was his left hand that was deceiv­ing me.”

I entered col­lege with a sol­id plan for my life that quick­ly went awry halfway through my senior year when I found myself, and it was very much as if I had wok­en up one morn­ing and stum­bled upon myself, preg­nant. Still some time lat­er, I got what I believed was my dream job and my life should have been set up the way I want­ed it. But some­thing was miss­ing. Some­thing was always miss­ing. “Maybe if I had a bet­ter job…” I’d say to myself until 3 jobs lat­er I ran out of things I want­ed to be.

“What is it you real­ly want to do?” I could say this was a ques­tion pro­posed by a men­tor or a friend but real­ly it was me ques­tion­ing myself in the late night hours when I tried my hard­est to visu­al­ize my path to happiness.

“Write books. Maybe teach cre­ative writing.” 

“But what do you want to do that’s prac­ti­cal?” the ques­tion­ing continued.

“Umm… Noth­ing.” And it was true. Noth­ing else seemed to suf­fice. It all just seemed so point­less and I found myself sid­ing with the writer of Eccle­si­astes count­ing it all fol­ly. Tru­ly I enjoy help­ing peo­ple but even if I could cure can­cer, what’s all the years of work and research for if the patient will die any­way, a few years or decades lat­er. I could make a mil­lion dol­lars but still the rich man meets his grave just like the poor one. Knowl­edge of the stock mar­ket, writ­ing self help books, mak­ing a liv­ing in edu­ca­tion. It all brought me back to a sin­gle question.

Is this all there is?

Have I glimpsed all of my options? Do I real­ly live in a “what you see is what you get” kind of world? Did the infi­nite God, the one who cre­at­ed heav­en and earth stop here and go no fur­ther? Am I sen­tenced to this kind of an exis­tence for the rest of my days?

I was­n’t sad. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly depressed but sim­ply unmoved. Life had become a has­sle. I’d sit in church and lis­ten to the saints thank God for anoth­er day above ground when I was­n’t sure what the big deal was. Being under­ground seemed much…easier. If we were all REALLY Chris­tians, and we all REALLY believed the Bible and its claims about heav­en, why is it that we pre­fer to be here than there? Sure­ly I was miss­ing some­thing; I just did­n’t know what it was.

It was the opti­cal illu­sion before the reveal. I was look­ing at life…and not through it. God admon­ish­es us to keep our minds and hearts cen­tered on Him. Look at me, he says. Focus every­thing in you on me, and then you will be able to see quite clear­ly every­thing else. In an inti­mate con­ver­sa­tion one night, I lament­ed to a dear friend that I had become dis­il­lu­sioned with life. I need­ed more mon­ey, or more excite­ment, or more… something.

He said calm­ly, “God is all you need.”

I said, “That’s not enough,” through tear stained cheeks.

He said, “Then you need more God.”

And at the moment, I did­n’t know what that meant, but in the months after, it stayed with me. You need more God. If God was real­ly the answer to my feel­ings of bore­dom, then I need­ed to talk with him and find out what in the world I was sup­posed to be doing with my life. I did­n’t want sim­ply anoth­er prayer lying on my back in the moments before I drift­ed off to sleep. This con­ver­sa­tion required a face to face meet­ing. In a board room behind closed doors. I ate God for break­fast, lunch, and din­ner. I learned to find delight in sit­ting still with him, in the hours after the chil­dren were in bed. I peti­tioned him for more of his time. I need­ed God to put me on his cal­en­dar. When he did, which I imag­ined took some time because he only takes these kinds of meet­ings from those tru­ly about his busi­ness, he direct­ed me to The Great Com­mis­sion in the lat­ter vers­es of Matthew 28, and the same in Mark 16, Luke 24, and again in John 21. Four times, God had iden­ti­fied my pur­pose as a dis­ci­ple of Christ. The gospel is a mys­tery but this part was no puz­zle, not a series of hid­den sen­tences writ­ten in small print at the bot­tom of a mag­a­zine ad. He says loud and clear, “Fol­low me, and make dis­ci­ples of all nations, teach­ing them to obey all I have com­mand­ed you. As you do this, I am with you until the end of the age.” (para­phrased)

It was then that the array of dots fit togeth­er nice­ly, the illu­sion was revealed and I was amazed I did­n’t see this before because here in this resolve, the yearn­ings of my heart made sense. All else is use­less child’s play, which may be fun for the moment, but have no last­ing sat­is­fac­tion. Min­istry assigns val­ue to life. Prac­ti­cal liv­ing finds itself in the day to day, pro­vi­sions orga­nized by God. I had been search­ing about in life for sat­is­fac­tion, sus­pect­ing per­haps that my desires were too enor­mous to be filled, my crav­ings too strong for my avail­able options to nurture.

C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glo­ry, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half heart­ed crea­tures, fool­ing about with drink and sex and ambi­tion when infi­nite joy is offered us, like an igno­rant child who wants to go on mak­ing mud pies in a slum because he can­not imag­ine what is meant by the offer of a hol­i­day at the sea. We are far too eas­i­ly pleased.”

If I look at the pic­ture, and not beyond it, any and every occu­pa­tion has no real val­ue in and of itself, and God is sure­ly heart­less to allow such pain and suf­fer­ing in the world con­sid­er­ing both his will­ing­ness and abil­i­ty to stop it. If I see life in the here and now with an opaque back­drop, a peri­od at the end of our term on earth, then the miss­ing Malaysian plane, the 9/11 Attacks, the 2010 Haiti earth­quake, and the Sandy Hook mass mur­der were dev­as­tat­ing atroc­i­ties that stole lives and left behind casu­al­ties of sor­row, and no good thing.

But if instead, I look through the pic­ture to see all that is behind it, the hid­den door in the floor, and the set back­stage, I see a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. I see chil­dren relieved from the secret sex­u­al abuse they had been fac­ing at home, oth­ers spared from the suf­fer­ing they would see lat­er in life, women grant­ed pas­sage to glo­ry after their work on earth was done, and men reunit­ing with God. When I look through the pic­ture, I see stair­cas­es that lead to heav­en, con­cen­tric cir­cles that form a rose, and where before, I saw a mean­ing­less facial pro­file, I now see the face of God. It’s an image I can­not shake, and when oth­ers find it dif­fi­cult to see what I see, I encour­age them to look hard­er. It’s there. Don’t look at the pic­ture. Look past the pic­ture. As a mat­ter of fact, just close your eyes. The just live by faith, not by sight.