Optics — adjective. Of or relating to the eye or sight.
Our backyard is on the edge of a farm field with an open open view of about 400 yards to the woods. With such a large area to view it can be challenging trying to focus on specifics, so we keep a pair of binoculars by the back door of our house. Many times someone will say “what’s that?”and grab the optics (binoculars) to get a better look. There is a tree that bald eagles sit in regularly. We see deer, foxes, turkeys, groundhogs. We have also seen some unwelcome visitors like a skunk or a raccoon. Frequently we comment how great is was to have seen something and that we are so glad to have observed it. At other times the response is that we had better keep an eye on that one because it could be trouble.
Each time someone picks up the binoculars they adjust the focus to enable them to clearly see details on a very small point and to focus on what’s most important to them. A bird watcher is able to see details on a small bird more than 100 yards away. A hiker with a spotting scope can watch wildlife at great distances without startling them. For any of this to happen the optics must be pointed in the direction; the focus needs to work correctly and the person must know how to adjust the focus. Hand a small child a pair of binoculars and you will have some idea how worthless even the best optics are without an understanding of the process and the motor skills work with them.
It is however a simple fact that as long as we remain focused on a specific point all that can be seen is the immediate area that the optics are directed toward. This is referred to as the field of view. Everything outside the field of view simply cannot be seen without moving the binoculars away from our line of sight. A ground hog could be in the garden right next to the house, but I won’t even see it if my attention is riveted on an eagle 200 yards away. If I want to use the optics to see the groundhog better I will need to shift the field of view and refocus.
Optics – noun - used with a plural verb - the way a situation, action, event, etc., is perceived by the public or by a particular group of people
Each one of us lives with a broad view of the expanse historical and current human experience. With so much to consider it can be challenging trying to focus on the specifics that matter most. We can see quite a distance but we can’t see everything. As we go through life we often see things that prompt us to ask “what exactly is that?” We will view things through some optic. Things happen out there and we should want to better understand the details. We see love, friendship, kindness, sunsets and all the grandeur of creation. We also see some unwelcome visitors like crime, war or a pandemic. Frequently we comment how great it was to see something and that we are so glad to have seen it. At other times the response is that we had better keep an eye on that one because it’s trouble.
Whenever someone considers a specific cultural or moral situation it’s important to focus in order to clearly see details of point, however small that is most important to them. A bookkeeper is able to see details on a financial report. A Christian with a good study Bible can clearly watch cultural trends and people’s behaviors while the unsaved person isn’t even aware that there are moral points on which to focus. For any of this to happen the Christian’s optics must be applied to the situation. Clarity only comes when they know how and where to look and they must also know how to adjust the focus. Ask a small child a difficult moral question, hand them a Bible and a concordance and you will have some idea how worthless even the best optics are without an understanding of the process and the Holy Spirit to guide them.
It is however a simple fact that as long as we remain focused on a specific point all that can be seen is the immediate area that the optics are directed toward. This is referred to as the field of view. Everything outside the field of view simply cannot be seen without moving the binoculars away from our line of sight. A personal moral failure could be poised to destroy someone’s entire life, but they won’t even see it if their attention is riveted on working and making money. If that person wants to use the optics to see the moral question better, they will need to shift the field of view and refocus.
One of the questions that plays into decision making right now is – what is most important? What should we be focused on?
As Christian people who value every human life, taking care of people’s needs and saving lives is a foremost issue. An historical Biblical worldview also places importance on working and paying our debts, so fueling the economy is also essential. Policy makers tend to have an area of expertise – a field of view. An infectious disease specialist will naturally focus on the disease while a businessman will be focused on the business aspects.
This type of dilemma is typical of decisions during a time of crisis. During the Second World War the decision was made to invade Normandy. It was determined that the significant loss of life was justified by the strategic advantage to be gained. That decision does not mean that the commanders didn’t value the lives of their troops, but they believed that when weighed in the scale the benefits were worth the costs. A controversial decision was made to drop two atomic bombs on Japan resulting in great loss of life. These are decisions that were made, right or wrong, by people whose field of view was military. Someone who valued human life more than military objectives would have made very different decisions.
For the Christian the optic being used should be an informed Biblical worldview. We see beauty, distractions, danger and potential all around us and it is important to place them within a correct field of view and to focus on God’s blessings and gifts to His people. It is through this optic that we truly pursue God and His Kingdom.
The Latin term summum bonum is instructive:
The highest good, especially as the ultimate goal according to which values and priorities are established in an ethical system.
There is a lot of focus right now on getting back to normal. Unfortunately normal usually means being unfocused and easily distracted. God hasn’t called us to be normal. Our highest good and our goal should be to live as Christ would and that is not normal. The conditions of society, culture and politics do not change the summum bonum for God’s people.
It is very easy to be distracted by the incessant barrage of news, so-called news, sensationalism, politics and pure fiction that threatens to invade every corner of our lives. The selling of a “news” story seems to be the summum bonum of many in the news-selling business. All this media noise creates so many distractions it is even more important to recognize our primary focus and return to it. As Christian people the summum bonum is given to us and should be our normal. It consists of numerous elements – very concise and clear statements about our focus - such as – Jesus said “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” John 14:23 and “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35. Living by what God expects of us is only a problem when we loose our proper focus and are so preoccupied with the distractions, the dazzling and the sensational that we forget to focus on the summum bonum.
Living the abundant life Jesus calls us to will not happen without constant discipline and clear focus. Regular Bible study or memorization, prayer, and listening to music or a sermon all require careful and consistent restricting of our field of view and remaining focused. The powerful voices of fear and worldly influence demand our attention while the lamb of God looks down from the cross and pleads with us to focus on Him. If we focus entirely on the news and the current crisis we lose sight of God, His mercy and His sustaining power.
Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Psalm 116:7