The Little Photograph

A housewife was in her home doing the ironing one day while her children played happily close by. As she looked up from her somewhat boring task, her eye was caught by a small black and white photograph that her Great Uncle had taken many years ago which was sitting on a shelf in the room.

The photograph had been in her home for several years although she had never taken a good close look at it.

As she carried on with the task at hand, she felt the prompting of the One she loved saying to go and have a closer look at the photo; He wanted to show her something. She paused for a moment and looked again at the photograph from where she was:

She could see from this distance that it was a photograph of a fast-flowing waterfall and she wondered what her Teacher was going to teach her about water this time… He had already taught her some things about living water and waterfalls because “little refreshing waterfall” was the meaning of her name.

As she proceeded to finish ironing her husband’s shirt, she continued to contemplate the photo of the waterfall from a distance, musing about what her Friend might be going to teach her, because what He said and showed her was always significant. Perhaps He was wanting to teach her something about the place where the photograph had been taken? Perhaps her Great Uncle had written the name of the site of the waterfall on the back of the photograph?

Eventually she finished the shirt, put the iron down and went over to the little photograph to take a closer look.

As she got closer she was at first puzzled and then very surprised! The photograph was not what she had thought it to be at all! Her Great Uncle had been good at trick photography but this had not been one of those photographs; no, this had been HER incorrect perception of what the photograph was of based upon what she had thought she could see from where she had been standing and the distance she had been viewing the photograph from…

Her eyes had played a trick on her – the photograph was not of a waterfall at all! There WAS some water in the photograph but not quite in the quantity she’d expected – there was just a puddle of it in the foreground. And the water was certainly not the focal point of the picture as she had previously thought! She now saw that the photograph was of an old dirt road which went through a small tunnel to a valley and hills beyond which could just be seen:

Now she saw not only what the photograph was of, but began to see what her Teacher was wanting her to see. She had frequently been misunderstood and misjudged, primarily over the Internet (as many people often are), and she knew that she too had been guilty of doing the same thing herself.

Now she could see that no matter how familiar she was with a person, and no matter how long she had known them or how well she might think she knew them and what they were all about, what she had seen and known was still like just an image or photo – just a glimpse of a much greater reality. And that reality could not be seen clearly or correctly from a distance or from a black and white photograph! She realized that she was guilty of misjudging and criticizing “photographs” based upon what little could be seen from her perspective and from a distance.

Her opinions and thoughts were simply that – hers! They were based upon what she thought she could see and were not necessarily correct or true. If she shared them, she might also taint others perceptions of what a photograph was of – hindering them from seeing the true picture themselves. Yet even when she was close to this little photograph and did see what it was a photo of, it still was but a small and incomplete glimpse of the real scene…

The photograph was in plain black and white – just like the text that had frequently been used to misjudge her and others. The only way to really know what this place was about was not to see the black and white photograph or even a colour photo of the scene – that would simply add further information, particularly if the photo was still being viewed from a distance. It was also not in having more photographs of the scene given to her, although that would certainly help to give a truer picture. The answer was not even in viewing a video taken of the scene, although again that would help, but it would simply be a representation and mere images with more information of what the reality actually was. How often she had judged people based upon seeing and hearing the living, moving pictures of them! The only way she could ever truly understand what any photograph was about was to be taken by the only One Who knew Truth and to be actually placed in the scene herself.

If she were really standing there she could step into the puddle and feel the water, smell the smells of the bush and hear the birds and insects, and see completely around her. She would not only be able to see all around but would experience it through all her senses. She could walk along the road and actually stand in the gap and look or walk through into the scene which was beyond that which she could currently see in the photo… She would also see and know that there was definitely NO waterfall there! If she were standing in this scene herself at the very site where the photograph had been taken, it would seem preposterous and quite funny to think that anyone would think or say that the gap was a waterfall; no matter how much someone might insist that it was, based upon what they believed they had seen in black and white on a piece of paper! No, instead the reality of dimension, colour, depth, sensory perception and experience would all combine to give the true picture. A picture may be worth a thousand words but the reality of being in the actual PLACE of the picture is worth more than a thousand pictures…

Now her Teacher made the application even more personal. He showed her that we often misjudge Him in exactly this same way. Many of us view Him from a distance and think we know exactly what He is all about because we are familiar with Him through the black and white text He has given. But because of our distance from Him and our tainted perceptions (often from what others have seen and told us), He may still be completely misunderstood and misinterpreted by us. We still don’t necessarily know Who He is, we may simply think we know; based upon our very limited perception and interpretation of what we believe we have seen in black and white on paper.

Even when we are close to Christ and do have Him in focus and believe we have seen Him clearly, we may still be limited by our view. It is true that we can now see clearer than we ever could before, we may see things quite differently now – things are in focus and we can see lots of detail – but are we happy and satisfied to simply see Him in one dimension in black and white? Of course it is good to have photographs of people we know to remind us of them, but it is only a representation of the real person from one brief second in time eternal. Are we content with simply a static image and perception of Him being kept on a shelf in our house? Or do we desire and long to be in the reality and dynamics of being with Him and actually experiencing Who He is; of living in Him and being where He is and sharing Life with Him every moment of our lives on this earth and throughout eternity?

We usually don’t mind too much if a person we don’t know very well misjudges and misunderstands us, but we do mind when it is someone we know and love… and it is exactly the same with Christ. He IS Love, Life and Reality. He longs for us to truly see and know Him and to desire to know, discover and understand more of Who He is. He wants us to know Him from our heart and not our head; to lay aside all our opinions, perceptions and ideas and to know Him in truth. Seeing with our eyes and hearing with our ears will have an impact, but what we see and hear will still be filtered through our own mindsets and as a result will sometimes be misunderstood or misinterpreted by us. Knowing Him from the heart is what He desires and nobody else can know Him in that way for us. No amount of black and white information can ever bring that personal relationship into being; it requires a reality and depth of relationship which can only come through personally knowing Him.

Most of us would not openly share the intimate details of our lives and who we are with someone we had just met or didn’t know well, there must first be a development of relationship before there is any revelation of the person. In the same way Jesus Christ will not begin to reveal the depths and mysteries of Who He is unless there is a developing relationship of love, trust, faithfulness and friendship with us. Similarly a father will not share the depths of his heart and experience with his children while they are still young, instead he waits for them to be mature enough to understand and share his heart. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what other people’s misconceptions of us are or whether they see the true picture and really know us or not; there is only One Who will ever truly know us and it matters a great deal whether or not we truly know Him.

The photograph shows that there is a Path, a Way, a Break-through in this Rock into scenes and places as yet unknown by us! And the only way of ever knowing what is beyond our little, limited, black and white photographic image of who we think Christ is, is to allow the Photographer to take us to the Place Himself and to lead us into the reality of all that He and His creation are all about! THEN we will begin to truly see and know and experience all that He is and together we will both be satisfied as we see, hear, smell, feel, and walk in true companionship on the Journey together with and in Him…

From where then does Wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and knowledge of it is withheld from the birds of the heavens… God understands the Way and He knows the place of it. For He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. Job 28:20,21,23,24

Additional note added 15 January 2005

I was reminded of this article as I was driving past the airport today because I saw a new sign that said:

This reminded me once again of how vital and important the Person of Christ is – no one remembers the first time they held a photograph because there was no Life in it! There is no comparison between just holding a photo of a baby and holding the baby itself. LIFE is what is vital. The grandfather in the picture above could not convey his love to a photograph of his grandchild, the theme for Air NZ is “being there is everything”. May we be those who are not satisfied with mere photographs/pictures of God and who settle for nothing less than knowing His Son and His Love in real Life; that we might pay the price and “count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege and overwhelming preciousness of KNOWING Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him…” (Phil. 3:8).

Lynette Woods