“Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He has mercy on us. Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us! For we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorn of those who are at ease, with the contempt of the proud.” Psalm 123
I watched an interview, of an actor (I think it was with Michael Fassbender?) who was competing in a leg of some big car race, something with Ferraris and 160mph plus speeds. The interviewer asked how Michael (we’re going to assume it was him, for continuity’s sake) was able to keep a grip, keep the race car going, focus on getting around the tracks. His answer was simple: when he’d been coached, he was told not to look to the left or right. When you’re going at such great speeds, looking around is dangerous, because if you pull your grip on the wheel a hair to the right, you’ll veer that way. So, he’d been told to look for the skyline.
Isn’t that crazy? But everything else was going by so quickly, was so relative, that the only thing to depend on to be constant was something in the distance. He’d have to give up being aware of his immediate surroundings, to focus completely on something that’s pretty vague, and get his bearings from that. But it’s the only way he could stay in line.
It’s like that in swimming too. When you’re teaching kids to do backstroke, they zigzag across the lane. Their arms are rudders and they go to the left of the lane with one stroke, then the right with the other, and they’re more swimming across the lane than the length of it. But then you anchor them. Tell them to pick a spot on the pool ceiling: a support beam, or a cloud if you’re outdoors, or flags if you’re close to the end, and suddenly they’re swimming straight. They’re not relying on instinct, they’re focusing on a concrete, and it’s easy to stay on path.
That’s what this verse means when it says to look to God.
It’s not a glance across the table–oh look, He’s still there, could you pass the gravy please–but it’s fully orienting yourself around something in the distance. Looking up, ignoring what’s around you, clinging to God because otherwise you’ll crash.
And when we see Him? When we glimpse God–not through the clouds of heavens (I wish), but maybe in a verse, or the words of a praise song, or a podcast–then our hearts start to beat for mercy.
We see how easily we are filled with things that are not of Jesus. We see how stagnant we have been, how proud. While we have been busy not-lifting our eyes, our vision has clouded by pride. See, when we’re not looking at Jesus, we’re looking at ourselves. We are self-sufficient, capable, confident. We see the gifts God has given as part of who we are independent of Him, not as tools He has given for His glory. Little nuisances well up and consume us, fears and doubts run rampant as we listen to any voice other than that of our Heavenly Father.
None of this we know when our eyes are lowered.
But when we catch a glimpse of Jesus, how it comes rushing back. Like the psalmist says, our hearts are easily filled, and we see so clearly how wrong we have been. And if we’re not used to looking at the Father, our first instinct is to recoil.
We view our actions, our lives, the disparity between what is and what should be, and defeat rushes in. And as we ask for mercy, we replay our sins and guilt, sorrow after days lost away from God, and think of the consequence for our wrongdoings. Penance feels good. Carrying the burden of sins and mistakes feels like justice. We go really quickly from repentance to retribution, and friends God isn’t asking for that.
The wages of sin is death, we know this. Jesus died for our sins, we know this. We are children of God, and Christ is our intercessor, we know even this. Then why do we go back to the spoke and wheel of apologizing and slaving for our sins?
Because, again, we’re not looking heavenward.
We’re looking inward. If we avoid heaven’s gaze to look around in pride or in misery at our ruin, we’re still missing the eyes of mercy. We’re denying mercy, we’re choosing earth and we are not orienting ourselves in heaven. These verses don’t seem to hold hope but they do in one word: until.
Until He has mercy on us.
And He does, and He already has and He will continue to until that upward glance levels out when we join our Father in heaven.
Will you choose to look up? To abandon the struggles and stress of your life, and to look to Jesus. To find direction from the cross, to order your day around Zion? To deny your successes and your weaknesses alike, to leave everything around you to focus on God? Let Him reveal your heart, let Him see with what it is filled, let Him drain it and leave mercy in its place.