20/20 vision

In the 1860s Hermann Snellen, a Dutch eye doctor, developed a chart.  Many variations have been created since.  His remains the classic example of an eye chart.

Usually a chart consists of 11 rows of capital letters.  The top row has one large letter, often an E.  The remaining ten rows below gain a letter in turn until you have row 11 with 11 capital letters.

The chart is designed in such a way that those who can read the letters on the row fourth from the bottom are said to have “normal vision” – also known as 20/20 vision.

20/20 vision means that you can read at a distance of 20 feet a letter that people with ‘normal’ eyesight can read.  Those who can only read the top row are said to have 20/200 vision.  That is they can only read what people with normal vision can see at a distance of 200 feet.

Eyes are amazing organs.  And eyesight is a precious gift.  It is tempting to take it for granted.  The wise avoid making that mistake.

The wise also see the need to look at events, problems and even life itself in the right way.  But that statement begs a very big question.  Is there a right way?  And if there is, how are we to define it?


When we look around at how people live it seems obvious that we should conclude that there is no right way.

It is true that we all think some acts are wrong (murder, dishonesty and theft, for example) and that some are right (such as, to show care and kindness to others).  And it is the case that we live in a world in which legal and penal systems exist.  Hence we sometimes hear mention of the rule of law and the need for us to heed it.  But what is the rule of law?  Whose law is it?  And is it right?

A feature of the 20th century was the rise to power of political leaders like Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and Stalin.  These men wielded great influence over the lives of millions.  They introduced and maintained regimes that proved oppressive.  Yet many went along with the system and no doubt would have argued that they were being good citizens upholding the rule of law.

Even the UK is not what it once was.  Fifty years ago the termination of a pregnancy was deemed a criminal act.  So too was sexual intimacy between persons of the same sex.  Capital punishment (the execution of murderers) was practised.  Cohabitation was frowned upon, as was avoidable single parenting.  Today all these practices are looked at in a different way.  So much so that some deem you decidedly odd if you reveal that you disagree with abortion on demand and sexual intimacy outside monogamous heterosexual marriage, and that you believe that execution for those guilty of a capital crime should be a sentence available to a court.

All this illustrates that it seems logical to conclude that there are no moral absolutes.  Instead of living in a ‘moral’ universe in which right and wrong are clearly defined it appears that we live in a world where anything goes.  It can be argued that most people choose to do what is right in their own eyes.

There is, however, another way of seeing things.  Instead of just accepting what goes on as inevitable, it is possible to argue that what we see today is the throwing away of right and proper restraint.  That, at least is how Solomon saw  it some 3000 years ago.


Solomon, one time King of Israel, collected together numerous sayings.  We find hundreds of them in a book called Proverbs.  This is one:

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29.18)

The proverb can be split in two.  The first part asserts that when vision is lacking self-will and individualism comes to the fore.  The second part highlights the need of law.

We can look at the past in two ways.  We can restrict ourselves to merely noting events that took place.  Thus we could say in 1967 an act to allow abortion became law.  Or we could try to describe in greater detail what that law means.  Parliament stated that from that date, in defined circumstances, it would no longer be a crime to kill a baby growing in his or her mother’s womb.  We could even try to go further by analysing why the change came about.

The proverb of Solomon provides a way of understanding such an event.  How?  Let us start at the end.

What is the law to which he refers?  The word used in the Hebrew is torah.  The term can refer to the instruction provided by a father, a mother, or a wise person.  It also refers to laws given by God.  In fact it frequently does.  And that is the best way of understanding the word in Proverbs 29 verse 18.

The proverb begins with a reference to vision (chazon).  By that term the author means a word, a revelation, a communication from God.  Hence the use of the word prophetic alongside the word vision in our translation.

The author describes what happens when people do not hear or know God’s Word.  The result is anything goes.  Restraints are neglected or ignored.  People do what is right in their own eyes.  What is the corrective for this?  Solomon says law.  It is the law of God that is to heard and heeded.  And he describes what those who observe God’s law enjoy.  It is blessedness.  In other words the consequence of doing the right thing – of going straight (that idea is conveyed by the word) – is happiness.

An eye test can reveal whether a person has 20/20 vision or needs glasses.  And the way people behave reveals whether they see God’s will for mankind clearly enough.

God’s has spoken to mankind.  He did so over many years through different people, that is through prophets and apostles.  He has spoken decisively and authoritatively through his Son, Jesus Christ.  God calls all people to listen to Christ.  And he calls mankind to observe his law.  He does this, not because he wants to be a kill-joy, but because his way is best.  According to the proverb of Solomon it is the way of blessedness, that is true lasting happiness.

At New Year many people take an opportunity to review their lives.  Some take time to do that; others rush it.  A good question to ask is this: What is my vision for the year ahead?  Do I have one, and can I see it clearly?  Does it include God?  Any vision that excludes the Creator and Judge of mankind should be deemed deficient.  It is not the normal vision God created us to have.

Some people are short-sighted.  Others are long-sighted.  Some are colour-blind.  Others are blind.  What is true of people physically is also true of them spiritually.  We can either be focussed on God, his plan, promise and purpose, or we can have things out of focus.

The default position for mankind is  out of focus.  Is there a remedy?  Thankfully there is.  It is to be found in Jesus Christ.  He alone can reconcile us to God.  That is why he became a man and lived here on earth for some 30 years.  It is also the reason why he died on a cross.  He came to set people free.  He has done what is needed – lived a perfect life in our place and paid the penalty in full for our sins.  All who turn to him and depend on him alone for acceptance with God enjoy the benefits of his passion.  They also begin to see as God would have us see.   © EPC  4 January 2015