Jesus’s stereoscopic vision: aligning what is with what will be

In his book Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution, André Trocmé gives an illustration that relates the binocular vision principle to man’s view of reality in an ultimate sense.

Humans’ two eyes enable them to perceive objects more truly, in three dimensions. This is because each eye views the target object at a slightly different angle, and then the brain superimposes those two images to create a single image with depth; if you use only one eye, objects appear flat. This superimposition function (called stereopsis) is not fully developed in infants, who therefore lack depth perception.

Trocmé says that when we take stock of the world, when we develop a worldview, we do so with two eyes: one that sees the world as it is, and the other that sees it as it should be. While we benefit from these two different viewing angles, most of us lack the stereoscopic function that combines view #1 and view #2 into one unified image. And so the present reality seems, to us, flat. Future reality—our idea of what should be—is likewise flat. We can’t see how these two realities overlap.

Jesus, however, saw complete and perfect overlap and acted accordingly: he ushered into the here and now the eschatological state foreseen by the Jewish prophets, which he understood not just as the goal of history but as a blueprint for everyday living. 

Right action springs from right seeing, and for that we need to adopt the stereoscopic vision of Jesus, which sees the future mapped onto the present. If in the kingdom of God the oppressed will be set free (Isaiah 61:1), then we should be freeing them now. If in the kingdom of God swords will give way to plowshares (Isaiah 2:4), let’s start beating that metal into shape. If in the kingdom of God the earth will be full of the knowledge of him (Isaiah 11:9), let’s start spreading that knowledge today.

André Trocmé (1901-1971) is one to whom such stereoscopic vision was granted. A French Protestant pastor, Trocmé nonviolently resisted the Nazi takeover of France in the early 1940s, organizing a network of “safe houses” to hide over 2,500 refugees, most of whom were Jews. He saw unjust laws and deep suffering overlaid with human dignity and flourishing and the right to be free. In his actions, what is met what should be—and what will be in the kingdom of heaven.

Here is the seeing analogy in Trocmé’s words, which form the conclusion of his classic work:

Let us assume that we have two eyes, two visions of the world, an exterior vision that enables us to perceive the sensible world, reality “as it is,” and an interior vision, which reveals to us the kingdom, reality “as it should and will be.”

We are like a child who cannot yet superimpose the two images. Each image is flat. Indeed, the world “as it is” has no depth; it is a sequence of phenomena with no rhyme or reason, without origin or end. Similarly the world “as it should and will be,” the kingdom, is flat. Isolated from the sensible world, it remains an ideal without substance, because ideas need the support of matter to become realities.

As adults, we should be capable of seeing reality with stereoscopic vision. Our eyes and our spirit should be able to superimpose these two images of the world. Each of these images would at the same time gain relief, depth, and meaning that monocular vision cannot give.

Jesus Christ is the adult whose vision has completely superimposed the world as it is and the kingdom of God, thus gaining a depth of vision into the nature of things, and into the origin and end of humanity. How can we ever find a correct vision of the world? A sure place to stand? Only if we make the “muscular” effort necessary to gain a stereoscopic vision of the world as Jesus saw it: “Behold, the kingdom of God is at hand.”

To see the world correctly in relief and depth is to act by faith in obedience to Jesus. Whenever people submit themselves to Christ, the superimposition of these two images of the world incites a revolution. Such people live and act in the world in the pure light of the coming kingdom of God.

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