Early in my college years, a truly groundbreaking movie about a high school dream day was all the rave. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out of nowhere for all of us and drew folks of my age at the time into a time of wishing we would have the type of day off that Ferris did when we had the chance, all the while knowing it was virtually impossible. But BOY did we wish we could be him if only for a day. An iconic movie to say the very least, it’s still one that those of my generation likely stop and tune in anytime it’s on television these days. It tells of a Teflon-like dreamer, Ferris, who along with his perennially self-defeated and uninspired friend Cameron go on an impossible and unrealistic adventure … purveying both insanely humorous and meaningfully dramatic journeys that delivery truly deep and meaningful messages to the viewers.
In one memorable scene, we watch Ferris, his girlfriend, and Cameron visit the Chicago Art Institute. Among the more compelling parts of the movie, we note Cameron staring at a famous painting, “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” A painting created in the pointillist technique, Cameron contemplatively peers into the painting at increasingly deeper levels of focus. Undoubtedly looking in parallel deeper and deeper into his own life, he begins to see incrementally more while seeing incrementally less. It points us to the views we often have to alternate between in life – that is, near or far?
In the scene mentioned, Cameron stares rather blankly at the painting, with the camera alternating between Cameron and the painting. Each time the camera switches back to the painting, it tightens the view considerably. Eight times the camera zooms closer and closer into the painting. As it does, we get different views of the painting. At the greater degrees of zoom, what we can visualize is really a series of dots, true to pointillism. The thing is, the closer the zoom – the closer we look at the dots – the less clear the overall picture is. What we see is just a mash of individualized dots of color. We don’t see the beauty of the painting, which shows a beautiful Sunday afternoon scene near the ocean, with people enjoying the serenity and view. Looking close-up at the dots obscures the entire picture and brings not a sense of tranquility but of chaos.
The painter created the masterpiece by applying individual dots but had a greater sense of vision in mind. He had the whole scene uppermost in his consciousness as he applied individual dots that left to themselves only appeared as unclear and obscured. They weren’t, of course, but without the bigger picture in mind, without understanding and recognition of the intentionality of the painter, we only see in part, and we only see disclarity.
Life can often be the same. We can find ourselves staring too closely at the dots of our circumstances, rather than standing farther away in order to allow the Painter’s view to take shape for us. Unlike the Painter, too often we only see the dots, but not the whole painting. It really is up to us to choose … near or far … what view we want to take. Truly, what we often choose to see, is only partial.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
In the passages above, God reminds us that He doesn’t see things the way we do. Often, we get stuck too close to our situations and circumstances, our pain and our stress. We can only see the individual dots of the things that we confront at the present moment. They’re real. They’re part of the big picture. We do truly see them and they do truly form part of the bigger picture, but they are only part of the picture. If we choose to see the big picture we have to step back from our view.
The Painter … God … sees both each individual dot. Not only does He see those dots individually, those dots are intentionally in their proper place. They are not obscuring the overall picture, they form it. So, while we only see either the dots or the overall picture, God sees both. He uses one (the dots) to craft the entirety of the other (the painting).
It’s why He says in the Isaiah passage that His thoughts aren’t like ours. He sees every single dot and detail individually, importantly as a critical piece of the whole. He also sees the bigger picture; in fact, He creates the bigger picture. And whether we see it or not, it’s a Masterpiece. It’s why He says in the Matthew passage through Jesus’s words, that as the dots of our lives come together, He is creating a beautiful, Masterful, unique, painting. Unique to us … to you and me. And He’s creating those for the express purpose of caring for us through His immeasurable love for us.
So, as we each battle the temptation of seeing our paintings too closely, let’s remember that there is a Painter Who is in the midst of painting a Masterpiece for our lives, dot by dot. Those dots are not mistakes, and they’re not accidentally. They are Masterfully placed in exactly the right spot in order to create a painting that is beautiful and that shows both the creativity and the love the Painter uses to make something wonderful … our lives. When the dots start to obscure our view, let’s consider taking some steps back to see the big picture. Being too near can give us the wrong sense of where our circumstances fit in the overall frame. Sometimes being far helps us to see more clearly. Near or far? Our perspective can depend on how we look at it.
Best of all, though … God is always near … He’s never far.
Soli Deo gloria!