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To Be Looked Through, Not Looked At

Looked at Not Looked Through

I wrote last week of Alister McGrath’s new biography of C.S. Lewis (C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet). Fifty years after his death, Lewis remains a fascinating, prophetic figure and a much-loved author. His insights into the Bible were often very interesting but it is his insights into human nature that I find even more helpful. At one point McGrath writes about Lewis’ understanding of poetry and here I found truth that is applicable all over the Christian life.

For Lewis, poetry works not by directing attention to the poet, but to what the poet sees: “The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says ‘look at that’ and points.” The poet is not a “spectacle” to be viewed, but a “set of spectacles” through which things are to be seen. The poet is someone who enables us to see things in a different way, who points out things we otherwise might not notice. Or again, the poet is not someone who is to be looked at, but someone who is to be looked through.

“The poet is not someone who is to be looked at, but someone who is to be looked through.” That is profound. Lewis wanted the poet to disappear behind his words, behind his medium, and to draw attention not to himself but to what was so important to him. It was only the few and the sublime poets who could do this. This truth is profound and applicable far beyond poetry.

The preacher is not someone who is to be looked at, but someone who is to be looked through. The task of the preacher is not to stand before the church and be seen and recognized as a great man or even a great preacher. The task of the preacher is to draw the minds and hearts of his listeners to God. He has failed in his calling is he is looked at instead of looked through.

The evangelist is not someone who is to be looked at, but someone who is to be looked through. The task of the evangelist is to declare what is true about God and to call upon people to turn to him in repentance and faith. The evangelist is to disappear and to be forgotten in the message he conveys so that his hearers are able to see what he sees, so they are able to grasp what he grasps.

The parent is not someone who is to be looked at, but someone who is to be looked through. Even a parent is better looked through than looked at. The parent who simply teaches Bible stories does little compared to the parent who lives as if God’s Word is true; this is the parent who disappears into the truth he loves, this is the parent who points beyond himself, the parent who says, “Look at that!” and points directly to Jesus Christ.

In all areas of life the Christian is to be that set of spectacles that allows people to see something beyond, something better, something greater. The Christian is to point to Christ and do to this he needs to be looked through, not at.


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