Monday, September 14, 2020

Vantage Points: Always Important to Consider

Promotional poster for
"Vantage Point"
Back in 2008, a film called “Vantage Point” was produced, a political action thriller about an assassination attempt on a public figure, viewed through the eyes of a collection of characters. The film, according to Wikipedia, “recounts a series of events which are re-enacted from several different perspectives and viewpoints to reveal a truthful account of what happened.”

It’s been years since I viewed “Vantage Point,” but I do recall seeing the initial viewpoint presented and arriving at one conclusion. My judgment changed with each successive perspective that was shown. It’s often said that seeing is believing, but evidently, seeing isn’t always perceiving correctly.


This is evident these days with the cyber-flood of smartphone videos capturing countless events and incidents: Shoppers clashing over use of virus-protective facemasks in stores and public places. Natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, or huge explosions. Tighten-your-seatbelts car chases. It seems every time an act of suspected law enforcement misconduct takes place, someone’s recording it. One angle doesn't always tell the whole story.


In other ways, we’ve all seen evidence of how vantage points can affect judgment. In football games, players are sometimes assessed illegal roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties because an official didn’t see how an opposing player instigated the response. Four people could stand at different corners of a busy intersection, witness an accident, and come up with seemingly conflicting details. Or maybe we’ve taken the side of a friend or family member in an angry dispute, until we learned about the other side of the story.


But there’s another vantage points advantage. They can give us a fuller, more comprehensive account, even when the facts presented are in agreement.


Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of hearing – and even writing – the testimonies of hundreds of men and women, stories about how God invaded their lives and transformed them forever. In many cases, specifics were very different from how the Lord has worked in my life. However, it was clear they were talking about the same God that I worship and serve; the result was to broaden my own understanding and appreciation for the many ways He can touch lives and alter them for eternity.


The Bible itself is a prime example of how different vantage points can provide a more complete picture. Comprised of 66 books, written by about 40 different authors over a span of thousands of years, it gives amazing depth and breadth for learning about the relationship between the Lord and His people. Unique vantage points about the same God. 


Take the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, for example. Each gives an account of the life of Jesus Christ and His followers, basically the same story from very distinctive vantage points. We find the Beatitudes, part of Jesus’ “sermon on the mount,” in both Matthew (chapters 5-7) and Luke (chapter 6), but they are not included in the other two gospels. 


Only the gospel of John gives us the amazing account of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, a leader of the Pharisees. This passage provides two of His most profound statements, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3), and the one even many non-believers have heard, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).


Each of the gospels has an account of Peter denying Christ three times as He was undergoing a trial on trumped-up charges prior to His crucifixion. However, only Luke reports a small but extremely significant detail: “Immediately [after the third denial], while (Peter) was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-62).


The other three gospels don’t include a mention of Jesus looking directly at Peter at that moment, but it’s important because near the end of the gospel of John, we see a moving scene where Jesus dramatically restores Peter – in effect, erasing each of Peter’s three denials. 


Three times Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17), and each time Peter replies, “Lord, You know that I love You.” Without saying the specific words, “Peter, I forgive you,” Jesus replies successively, “Feed My lambs…. Tend My sheep…. Feed My sheep.”


Why do we see variations from one gospel narrative to another? Because their purpose is not to supply verbatim repetition. Also because, while divinely inspired, God allowed the personalities, perspectives – and vantage points – of each gospel author to be represented.


The Lord could have given us much, much more. It’s inconceivable that all there is to know about Jesus Christ could be captured in just four gospels, or even the entirety of the Scriptures. As the last of the gospels closes, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (John 21:25). 


But the Scriptures provide us with many vantage points. And from these, we can discover all we need to know. 

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