Pause for thought: The God Who Meets Our Gaze
Where are you looking? What do you see?
For early Christian thinkers, questions about the direction of our attention were central to our understanding of what it means to be human. Humans were created for contemplation—the mind’s rest and the heart’s delight in the vision of God. As the creator of all things, God’s beauty and goodness pervade the world that God has made. To see the world aright is therefore to discern the nature and power of God in the things that God has created (Rom 1:20). To know ourselves, moreover, is to discover in our innermost being the one ‘in whom we live, and move, and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Human flourishing is therefore a matter of ordering our lives in the right way, allowing our thoughts, our desires, and our actions to follow our gaze in the direction of God.
According to these thinkers, the problem with human existence is that we have allowed our attention to wander. We have become fixated on ‘lesser goods’ and our conflicting desires for more immediate pleasures. To our eyes, therefore, the world is no longer transparent to the beauty and goodness of God. We have lost sight of our source and goal. Our gaze has settled on creation without reference to the Creator.
For this reason, writes Saint Athanasius, ‘the lover of human beings and common Saviour of all takes to himself a body and dwells as human among humans and draws to himself the perceptible senses of human beings.’ That is to say, in Jesus Christ, God comes down to meet our gaze. This is what Christians celebrate each Christmas. This is the reason we gather, in our homes and in candlelit churches, to adore the child in the manger. ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory’ (John 1:14a). In contemplating the son of Mary, we therefore contemplate the Son of God. Our attention comes to rest once more on the love for which we were made.
Reference: Athanasius, On the Incarnation, trans. John Behr (St Vladimir’s Press, 2011), §15.
Revd Dr Jordan Hillebert