The Starving Eyes of Man

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Why We Ache to See Glory

The eyes of man were made for glory. His soul hungers for something worth seeing. This world is a war of spectacles.

Man is a watching creature, a born admirer, a natural worshiper. It is why he gazes at the stars, climbs to the top of mountains, explores underwater worlds, travels to new and untamed lands — he craves vistas. It explains why he pays good money to pack into sports arenas, stares for hours at television screens, pays homage to the flaming horizon, and sings with Adam at the naked frame of Eve — he was made to see wonders.

Human eyes have had an appetite from the beginning. Consider Eve’s fall: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes . . . she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6). Eyes delighted; sin committed. The pattern holds with her and Adam’s children. When man exchanges the glory of God, he does so for images (Romans 1:23) — for that which intrigues the eye, something seen, a glory exchanged.

Ravenous, then, are the eyes of man. Like the belly, they hunger. Like the throat, they thirst. Like the feet, they wander, searching after something — anything — worth beholding. But in a world of images, he still hasn’t found what he is looking for. One wonder will be replaced by another and another. “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20).

But oh, how often humanity conceives its happiness backward. We think to achieve, to be somebody celebrated and revered — this fills the golden chalice with lasting happiness. But man is no dog to live for pats on the head. Just the opposite. Man is a creature who looks out the window through the rain, searching for something to enthrall him. To first see, not be seen; to chiefly admire, not be admired; to fix one’s gaze beyond earth’s horizons — this is the happiness so few ever find.

Back of Glory

Scripture testifies that some famished eyes looked above and found the true object of their desire.

Such ones climbed mountains to exclaim at the heavens, “Please show me your glory!” (Exodus 33:18). Such souls, when surrounded by danger and violence, wrote, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after . . . to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4). These eyes faced east and begged to see what would soothe their reason for being — in this world and the next. “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness,” sang David. “When I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).

“Show me your glory! Satisfy me with your beauty! Show me your face — even beyond the grave — and it is well with me.”

But Old Testament saints, at best, viewed only the backside of divine glory. God tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). The only glory that can satisfy man’s insatiable craving is the glory that would kill him to behold. So Moses hid in the cleft, seeing his back and hearing his name, but God’s face he did not see.

Face of Glory

Yet the story was not done. The glory that Moses could not see the face of, the beauty too fatal for fallen eyes, was born at Christmas. Wonder of wonders.

To a little town named Bethlehem arrived the God no one had ever seen. The only God, who was eternally at the Father’s side — he has made him known (John 1:18). Christ — “the image of the invisible God,” the blinding light of God’s glory, “the exact imprint of his nature,” the very face of God’s beauty — became flesh and dwelt among us (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3; 2 Corinthians 4:4–6). “And we have seen his glory,” the astonished apostle writes, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Now, this all-Glorious One came down to us, as Moses came down from the mountain to Israel, veiled. His glory during his incarnation and humiliation was beheld not as much by sight as by faith. It stood as the marvel of angels that the thrice-holy one on the throne, possessor of all riches and glory, should grow up in the world of men “like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). The King veiled his majesty in human flesh, disguised his splendor, hid his name, and dwelled among the poor, diseased, and condemned.

But the eyes of faith came to see more than just a Jewish man. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!” Jesus exclaims after Peter identifies him as the Christ. “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Yet even his disciples were slow to see him. Philip requests of Jesus, “Show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” “Have I been with you so long,” Jesus replies, “and you still do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:8–9). Then, with weight enough to break the world’s back, he utters, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” When Philip heard the words and saw the works and beheld the Person born in Bethlehem, he should have seen the face of the one who dwells in “unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16).

Seeing Heaven Himself

The sight of Jesus in all his glory alone can satisfy the eyes of men. Overhear Jesus’s prayer hours before the cross. He bends to ask that his disciples be given heaven’s crown jewel. What is that?

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)

Jesus wants his people to enjoy the sight their soul was made to see: the glory of God, shining forth in his glory, forever. He desires it — so much so that nails through the hands, the feet, the soul will not stop him from obtaining it. Here is the ultimate something worth seeing. Here is glory beyond hyperbole, said Thomas Watson.

Here is why redeemed beings have eyes: to see and savor Jesus Christ in his uncloaked glory. This is why we have mouths: to sing back to him praise unending. In his presence, faith will flee at that face whose intensity retires the sun: “The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23).

Sight That Makes Us Happy

The ache of men’s eyes sends them many places. The eyes of man rove the beauties of this world, restless. Only here, beholding Jesus — now by faith, soon by sight — do we find the beatific vision, the sight that makes eternally happy. Where are you looking, this Christmas, to satisfy your soul?

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) — can you imagine anything better? In the closing chapter, we read, “They will see his face” (Revelation 22:4) — is there a better happily-ever-after? This is not the only joy heaven holds, but it is the best. His kingly countenance, concealed no longer, is heaven’s consummation for both unfallen angel and redeemed man.

“Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty” (Isaiah 33:17). We will not see him as he was in Bethlehem or in the streets of Jerusalem; we will see him as he is in royal beauty (1 John 3:2). There is a great deal of difference, Jeremiah Burroughs comments, “between seeing the King at an ordinary time, and seeing of him when he is in his Robes, with his Crown upon his head, and his Scepter in his hand, and set upon his Throne, with all his Nobles about him in all his glory” (Moses His Choice, with His Eye Fixed upon Heaven, 537).

And this sight of him transfigured will not merely satisfy but transform. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Burroughs again: “A deformed man may see a beautiful object, and that sight shall not make him like that beautiful object; but the sight of God shall make the soul glorious, as God is glorious” (581–82).

Seeing him as he is, we will join the seraphim in wonder, shouting holy! and worthy! until we threaten to burst with happiness. Available to us is the Face of glory, not the back; an eternal gaze at his beauty, not a passing glimpse. Now we may see in a mirror dimly, “but then face to face.” Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

This is the glory whispered at Christmas, sung at Easter, shouted in eternity — the glory profound enough to satiate our souls and make us happy forever.

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