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As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

I hope April 8, 2024, is a sunny day here in East Palmyra, N.Y. If it is, I’ll have the opportunity to view a solar eclipse from within the “path of totality.” That’s the narrow shadowy band where the moon completely blocks the sun, allowing me to view the eclipse safely without any eye protection. Unless a solar eclipse is total, it is not safe to look directly at the sun. However, if you find yourself inside the moon’s complete shadow, you’ll want to be prepared to turn your eyes in the right direction.

I was blessed to have this experience in 2017 in Tennessee. It was awe-inspiring, and it has also given me a metaphor for a question we need to ask wherever we’re trying to live out our faith in God’s world: “Where are we turning our eyes?” Our answer can’t just be “away from the darkness” or even “near the sun.” We need to turn our eyes toward the sun itself in this metaphor—toward God’s face.

Away from the Darkness

It’s safe to look at the sky any time—whether the sky is a sunny blue, a winter gray, a midnight black, or the soft, velvety eggplant color that appears during a total solar eclipse. It’s a unique color, if you’re ever blessed to see it. But you’ll want to turn your eyes away from this dark sky, because there is something else marvelous to see. In 2017 I only had 2 minutes and 39 seconds to see the eclipse. As the sky darkened, I noticed the color, but I also knew to turn my eyes somewhere else.

Here's the first part of this metaphor for living out of our faith in God’s world. Whether we’re talking about godly family life, faithfully serving God in our careers, or building a Kingdom culture in a Christian school like the one where I now work, it’s not good enough to say that we are turning away from the darkness.

When we do that, we define our efforts simply by what we’re trying to avoid: “Our family won’t be like other families.” “I’m not going to practice my career the way the world does.” “Our school is going to be a refuge from everything out there.” None of that is good enough.

We need to be turning our eyes not just away from something, but toward something.

Near the Corona

The sun’s atmosphere, the corona, is the next part of this metaphor. Usually, it is impossible to see the corona—the plasma that explodes out into space from the sun’s burning gasses. The brightness of the sun blinds anyone who tries to look in its direction. Even when a partial solar eclipse makes the sun feel dimmer, it is still dangerous and damaging to your eyes to look near the sun, and you won’t be able to see the corona.

However, by God’s design, there is one time when you can see the corona. Even though the sun is much larger than the moon, the sun is also much farther away. In fact, the moon is just the right distance from the earth so that it is the same size as the sun in the sky. During a total eclipse, the moon lines up with the sun, blocking it out perfectly. When this happens, you can see gentle almond-colored brushstrokes streaming out from the sun. The beauty of the corona, adjacent to the sun and emanating from it, is almost indescribable.

The same is true of the things that emanate out in our world from the grace and glory of God. We might think of these things as the atmosphere of God’s kingdom. This includes the holy virtues that we find believers practicing as they make their way through the world—love, joy, peace, and so on. This atmosphere also includes excellent Christian institutions, like the schools, denominational agencies, book publishers, and charities that many of us are familiar with in the CRC. These things are distinctive in our world because they have the flavor of the fruit of the Spirit from the believers who built and maintained them. We identify this as Christian culture. We dream about it. We hope for it. We strive for it. Even our neighbors who are not believers often come to love it.

But just as the corona is not the sun itself, neither is a Christian culture the same thing as the saving grace of God. It is a mistake for us to live out our faith by simply turning our eyes toward this Christian culture. This is a serious temptation, since the furniture of a Christian culture is beautiful and desirable. These things can become idols. We can set our hearts on the wrong things. We can even “endanger our salvation,” to use the language of the Heidelberg Catechism, when we try to live out Christian faith by turning our eyes merely toward a Christian culture, the corona, the atmosphere of God’s saving grace.

We’re trying to remember this truth in our community around East Palmyra, NY. We seem to be witnessing exciting spiritual growth. In a county that hasn’t been marked by a distinctive Christian culture for decades, theologically Reformed churches are growing, the Christian school has tripled in size, and there is a surge in interest in Reformed doctrine. But many of us try to keep reminding ourselves: the culture, the atmosphere of God’s kingdom, is great, but it can’t be what we turn our eyes toward. If we do, we risk building institutions and teaching rituals that are beautiful but spiritually empty.

The Sun Itself

We need to turn our eyes toward the sun itself.

Not literally. It’s impossible to look at the sun itself safely without serious eye protection. However, it is possible to seek the face of God as we live out our faith in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and elsewhere.

Psalm 27:8 reminds us of this: “Your face, O Lord, I will seek.”

To turn our eyes toward God’s face is to seek the favor and approval of God through his grace. It means that we enter into his holy place, where his face shines on us. It means that God accepts us and considers us righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, not through our right-living or through merely identifying ourselves as Christians. It means that we are comforted and hopeful most of all because of the blessings of heaven and eternal protection of our God. This is what should motivate and orient our lives as Christians.

As we live out our Christian faith with our eyes turned toward the sun itself, we should see our homes, careers, churches, and schools looking different from the world and a beautiful Christian culture being built in and around us. But these things—turning away from a sinful world and turning toward the atmosphere of God’s grace—these can’t define the working out of our faith. It must be defined by seeking God’s face.

On Monday, I hope the sky is clear so my neighbors and I can see the unique color of the dark sky and majesty of the sun’s atmosphere during a total solar eclipse. But my greater hope for my neighbors is that, together with me, we will seek God’s face, turning our eyes directly toward the sun.

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