We recently took a family road trip to the coast of Florida. Along the beach, the white sand pressed up around sprouts of tall, wavy grass. If you looked at it just right, the sand looked like snow.
A few weeks later, on another trip, we passed through New Mexico and encountered an unexpected snowfall. In that moment, the high desert looked a lot like the Florida coast, with tufts of grass poking out through a white blanket. This time, the snow looked like sand.
We all know that things aren’t always what they seem. Context is essential. Without the smell of the air or the sensation of temperature, you wouldn’t have known whether to bring your wool socks or your flip-flops.
And yet, we regularly act as if things are always what they seem. We see photographs on social media and news feeds and immediately forget that our perspective is limited, convinced that we know what we’re looking at. We communicate with one another in compartmentalized ways. We label others before asking deeper questions—and we often label ourselves before questions can be asked of us. We trade fuller expressions of ourselves for symbols and sound bites shared before abstract audiences of acquaintances.
Context can be cumbersome, yes. But without it, someone may attempt to convince us we’re near the coast when in fact we’re in the mountains. Someone may add their own captions to our stories in ways that mislead or misrepresent the truth.
And without context, we can even be tempted to affirm false narratives others spin about ourselves because we crave community and don’t want to risk isolation by denying the crowd. Given enough social pressure, we may become convinced we’re on the beach, only to find ourselves caught in a snowstorm unprepared.
When we experience this—and so many of us have—it is disorienting. We ask how we can know what’s real, what’s sand and what’s snow.
When it comes to faith, it’s popular today to respond to this challenge by mistrusting everyone, escaping out the back door, and deconstructing whether we believe sand or snow exist at all. We wonder if everything we saw was just photoshopped. Like Thomas, we doubt and withdraw to our private judgments.
To our suspicion Jesus says: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27).
We can’t physically touch Jesus’ wounds, of course. But they still abide with us, when we meditate on these words with humility and hope, when we sing together, when we take someone a meal. There will be questions. But the truth of Christ is making itself known right here, in whatever real circumstances we are facing right now.
Seeing accurately is a gift. Where the truth is, there’s freedom. But seeing accurately takes effort. It takes holding the lens of Scripture up to our current events, our social media posts, our public and private conversations.
When we fail to do this, it’s not just that we cease to know the truth. We lose touch with our God, who is higher and who gives ultimate context to the truth.
He’s seen firsthand the Great Flood and the chaos that existed before creation, and he is the maker of both the sand and the snow. He is the culmination of all experience and wisdom.
Every day seems to bring the same old fears and temptations dressed up in some new fashion. Trends and half-truths come as relentlessly as the waves of the sea. But we can be unmoved. God’s peace is our light, even in dark times, taking hold of our hand, giving us help:
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you. (Isa. 41:13)
God reveals himself to us in Spirit and in truth (John 16:13). So take courage, roll down the window, and find out if the air is cold or if it smells like ocean salt. Truth is knowable, and Jesus is Lord over every inch of this world. See for yourself, in bare feet or in boots.
Sandra McCracken is a singer-songwriter in Nashville and author of Send Out Your Light: The Illuminating Power of Scripture and Song.
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