Valley of Vision
The most preeminent book ever written about vision is the Bible. From the opening words of Genesis to the final chapter in Revelation, we read of God’s plans and promises for humankind revealed by His messengers. The Bible tells the stories of men and women who understood vision and who openly spoke and wrote about their visions. These were people who, like Pilgrim written of by John Bunyan, had their own “Valley of Despair.”
For example, there was Noah. He was surrounded by a culture gone wildly secular. Life and times were about the here and now. In that twisted society, God found Noah and spoke to him. He told him that there would be a flood which would cover the face of the earth. Noah had never been in a flood. He probably did not perceive the extent of the flood he was predicting. But he did two things that tell us he believed the vision God gave him: He warned others about the flood, and he built a large ship to weather the storm and its consequences. Yet remember, not only had he not experienced a flood, he had never seen such a ship.
John the Baptist was a man of vision. He was a lonely visionary—a voice in the desert. When he saw Jesus of Nazareth, he proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” John also was a preacher of righteousness. He went up and down the River Jordan proclaiming to his listeners, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He saw and understood what was shortly to be unveiled, even though his nation was firmly under the rule of the Roman Empire. His vision pierced through time. He saw the eternal.
The list of people with vision is lengthy. We could summon Daniel, Deborah, Rahab, Ruth, David, Jeremiah, John the beloved disciple, Joseph with his beautiful coat and many others to testify. These individuals were cut from the same material as were the sons of Issachar. It was the“men from Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do . . .” (I Chronicles 12:32).
These were people who, within the context of events and circumstances of life, had the vision to see what others were not seeing. Others, while observing, could not connect what they saw to the future; they only saw the immediate. They had no depth perception. To them, life was a single dimension: Right now! How different were these people with vision.
Isaiah: A Vision Man
One of these visionaries attracts special attention. Through his life and writings we can begin to grasp how certain people got their “vision” ability. As he introduced his book, Isaiah left no doubt: “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, king of Judah.” (Isaiah 1:1). Right away, we see he had historical perspective. As we go along, the dates of the reigns of these kings of Judah will become important to us because of the content of Isaiah’s writing.
Later on in his book, Isaiah spoke about a Valley of Vision: “The Lord, the LORD Almighty, has a day of tumult and trampling and terror in the Valley of Vision, a day of battering down walls and of crying out to the mountains.” (22:1, 5, 6). What about this valley?
Would you choose a valley as the place to see a vision? Unlikely! Nonetheless, Isaiah holds out the valley as that kind of a place. As he wrote, he contrasted the valley with two classic places one might select as a place to look from—a wall and a mountain. Standing on either of these would put you above the landscape: you could observe the surrounding area. In contrast, in a valley you are closed in by mountains; behind a wall, your view is blocked. But the vision Isaiah was talking about ignored the walls and went over the mountains.
We soon realize why. Who was speaking was supremely important to Isaiah. He calls on everyone within earshot to do one thing: Listen! Pay attention! The Lord, the LORD Almighty has spoken! That should be enough to grab our attention. But before proceeding, let’s pause to look at some examples of vision from the New Testament and from our own experience to sharpen our focus.
During the temptation of Jesus, Satan took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, some 15 stories high. From that point, Jesus was far above the walls of Jerusalem. He could see the crowds below. Were He to cast Himself down from that height as Satan suggested, the crowds would see the angels protecting Him. (Matthew 4:5). Satan then took Jesus to a high mountain so He could see “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (4:8). In both cases, Satan’s purpose was to provide a picture for the mind—the visible, the physical, the present. Jesus’ perspective was completely different.
Satan’s strategy with Jesus was similar to a practice common during ancient and medieval times. Cities were constructed with walls and towers to enclose them. In that way, inhabitants could observe the movement of hostile armies and thus defend and protect themselves. Likewise, military lookouts were often posted on nearby hills and mountains for defensive purposes. They relied on physical sight as “early warning” for protection. Satan, too, was using the physical in an attempt to entice Jesus away from His vision of God’s will. It failed.
The premise upon which Satan based his temptation of Jesus was false. The present, the immediate, the visible, do not constitute the sum total of reality. As a matter of fact, in most important areas of life, it is the unseen which rules. For example, can you imagine the disaster of living your life on the basis of physical, immediate gratification of your impulses? Satan disguised his temptation with noble sounding consequences. It was like the Garden of Eden revisited. Eve and Adam were convinced by the Tempter that disobeying God was going to have wonderful results. Of course, it led to the ruin of the race. His tactics have not changed.
Just prior to His crucifixion, Jesus had been beaten, spit upon, stripped and humiliated to an unspeakable degree. Battered and bleeding, He was nailed to a cross, the instrument of execution for the Roman Empire. His tormentors would not stop their ridicule. They continued relentlessly. His defenders were crouching in the shadows—afraid to come forward. One of the two thieves crucified with Jesus joined in the din of reproach against the central figure.
However, in this unimaginable time of horror, the other crucified criminal saw what all the others were missing. He saw the triumphant Messiah. His vision was of God’s Kingdom coming into fulfillment. He saw victory, not defeat. The condemned man’s voice was heard above the jeering of the mob, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
We know nothing else of this crucified thief. But for untold millions of us, we know that he had vision. He was in the deepest valley of his life, being crucified publicly for crimes he had committed. But in that valley, his vision lifted him above all the walls and mountains of his suffering and humiliation.
In his crucified companion, he saw the Crown Prince, the Son of God, the great Liberator soon to be declared Sovereign over the universe. Despite the clatter of the mocking crowd below, he could see a different ending to that hideous scene. To his comrade in death he cried out, “Remember me!” At that instant, Jesus confirmed the dying man’s vision. In a voice that has been heard through centuries of time and in hundreds of languages, Jesus responded: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
Our Life Experience
Life itself gives us analogies of vision to draw from. Much of our learning process is created by making logical deductions from what we see or observe. Formally, this has been labeled “The Scientific Method.” That concept goes all the way back to Galileo and his telescope. His observations from the Tower of San Marcos in Venice, Italy, led to the discovery that the sun, not the earth, was the center of our Solar System. While his discovery got him into trouble, it was the beginning of something which is generally accepted today in a wide range of fields.
Let’s take education. Today, reading ability is the basis for almost all learning processes. Learning to read, in turn, is dependent on phonics. Phonics is a system which enables us to translate symbols into sounds. When we organize these sounds into words we have language. Similar symbols are the building blocks for mathematics. Notes and scales are arranged into music and we end up with symphonies. We have arrived at these findings because our experience tells us and history reports that they work. When we ignore these findings, we have confusion.
Currently, vision is often defined as the ability to see or project ahead for commercial or personal planning purposes. Almost entirely, this kind of planning is based on the assumption that the past is the best predictor of the future. Thus, our future is most often derived from what we have seen or experienced in the past.
So whether it is developing reading skills, musical talent or projecting the gross national product, we generally rely on past events to chart the future. Even though we sometimes make new scientific breakthroughs, we readily reject the past at our own peril. The past has a way of catching up as we have seen recently in the education field and the teaching of reading. Where phonics was abandoned, reading scores in schools plummeted. Yes, our search for vision transcends our own societal experience.
Beyond Life Experience
The vision we want to consider goes beyond the interpretation of such well known symbols and events, science or music. We are entering an entirely different dimension. This vision is not about ordinary sight but about extraordinary, not the natural but the supernatural. It is the capacity to sense beyond what is seen—through the walls and over the mountains of our experience. It is about perception and meaning that transcend the visible.
It is the kind of vision which the Apostle Paul wrote about to the Corinthian church, “So 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.” (II Corinthians 4:18).
It is like Abraham who was living in tents. His actions confounded his contemporaries because his vision extended to the city of God (See Genesis 14; Hebrews 11:10). His vision squeezed what was hidden out of what was seen. He took the facts that appeared to add up to one conclusion and declared without ambiguity that the result was entirely different.
It is like the metaphor from Isaiah which generates the theme of this discussion: The Valley of Vision is not about the unmistakable evidence that surrounds us. It is where we rely on proof that is beyond physical observation or historical confirmation. It is taking the unseen and inconceivable and making it the reality.
Our Own Valley and the Faith Factor
Right now you may feel that you are in a valley. That is precisely where you can begin an incredible journey. The vision we are talking about makes the unseen tangible and affirms what can’t be verified physically. How can that be? What is unseen is transformed into certainty because the major element of vision is faith. Faith is what set apart Noah and Abraham from their contemporaries; Jesus and His crucified companion from the celebrating crowds on Mount Calvary.
I recall that as a young person, there was probably no other single biblical concept that was publically debunked as much as the idea that God was the Creator of the universe. Yet, I believed that God created and sustains the universe.
While there are many Scriptures that connect God’s creative action with faith, the writer of Hebrews states it best:“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . . By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:1 KJV; 11:3).
As a college student in Minnesota, I debated two of the prominent scientific theories about the universe, one promoted by Gamov and the other by Hoyle. One theory was called the “steady state” universe, the other the “pulsating” universe.
Does the Universe Run Without God?
The first theory contended that matter was being consumed and reformulated simultaneously and endlessly throughout the universe. As it changed, the universe remained the same, with no beginning and no ending. Thus, the steady state of the universe. The other theory was that the universe expands and then violently retracts, collapsing into a teaspoon-sized lump of compressed, superheated energy which then explodes and expands to resume the cycle, eternally. This theory was known as the pulsating universe.
However, these two opposing theories were united under a common proposition: A Creator God was neither evident nor necessary. One hid the evidence for creation in space (the constantly changing—remaining the same universe) while the other was hidden in time (the eternal cycle of death and rebirth of the universe).
Scientific discourse tends to focus on the functioning of the universe, not its origin. Neither theory attempted to explain where all matter came from in the first place. And, of course, we never even addressed the question of life!
As a point of personal testimony, in college I felt this was a valley for me, completely surrounded. Was I going to reject the “mountain” of evidence promoted by the scientific community of that time? Could I realistically challenge the “wall” of scientists of that time by quoting from a two thousand-year-old book?
What could I advance in positive terms of scientific weight or physical evidence to support what I firmly believed? Can you see that I was in a valley? Everything visible was contrary to my vision. What I could see did not support my belief. However, I was convinced of God’s active, sovereign hand in creation without the evidence. Was this foolish? Or, was this vision?
Times have changed. With the advent of computers, space telescopes and better scientific analysis, both the steady state and pulsating theories of the universe have quietly been abandoned. The evidence is now accumulating that the universe which we know had a specific beginning, in line with Hebrews 11:3 and Genesis 1. What is now seen was not made from anything visible. While not all scientists have accepted the idea of creation, the current data supports that conclusion. What previously was accepted by faith is now becoming visible.
God and the Faith Factor
What is God’s place in the faith factor? In the preceding illustration, without any evidence that I could produce, I was convinced that the universe had a created beginning. God said so: “In the beginning, God . . . ” (Genesis 1:1). For me, that part of the equation was indispensable. I was personally convinced of God’s existence.
But God was real to me in a hundred different ways. The fact that I was even alive was miraculous. Raised on the edge of a tropical bay on the border between Brazil and Bolivia, I should have drowned, been eaten by alligators or piranhas, or suffocated on a mud embankment. Real life circumstances created all those possibilities. I imagine that each time I escaped could have been coincidental, but there were too many instances to accept that. God is real to me because I have experienced His activity in my life.
However, is personal, miraculous experience the primary reason to believe there is a God of creation? If one has no such experiences, does God not exist? No, creation itself cries out for a Creator.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to some Roman Christians in the first century he said, “. . . what may be known about God is plain to (us) because God has made it plain to (us). For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that (we) are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19, 20). As I grew older and studied our world and universe, evidence for God became even more clear to me. My faith remained the same while its foundation expanded over time.
If we put it into today’s sports’ jargon, believing in God should be a slam-dunk proposition. Just look around with those wonderfully created eyes of yours that transmit action pictures in living color to your magnificently crafted brain which allows you to think, evaluate, plan and act upon what you see. Then argue there isn’t a Creator-God. The watch reveals the watchmaker. The universe has a Creator.
Down deep I believe we all know that God exists, that He has made a purposeful world in which we must have a part. Yet, beyond our own experience and the testimony of creation, there are more powerful witnesses to God and His existence. To explore further on how vision and faith come together, let’s now return to the Prophet Isaiah.