Empty Eyes

I sailed on the Queen Mary 2 recently. The first morning out I sat in the library watching waves reach to the horizon, with companion clouds. A few seabirds floated above the ship’s bow. It was a quiet, pleasant scene. But after an hour boredom came trolling.

A ship on the ocean is all too peaceful. The habits of home life—both the subtle and overt—shout to be fed. And on the first full day at sea the pangs of homelife withdrawal got started. The cruise ship industry knows they need a host of stimulating entertainments to fill quiet spaces on an unending ocean. So they offer food, deck walks, exercise events, talks, massages, dance classes, live shows, movies, spendy shops, busy bars, and ever more food.

And the strongest stirs, whether at home or at sea, start with eyes. Oceans are visually bland, so a ship event coordinator stays busy offering activity and excitement. Even at home on our screen media every advertiser and entertainer knows that revenues start with captured eyes. “Looks” make sales prosper, and sales are the bottom line of modern commercial life.

Jesus understood. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” [Mt 6:22-23].

This started with God’s design. In Genesis beauty was the context for communion in a “good” creation and a well-watered, unspoiled garden. Yet Eve’s eyes settled on the one tree forbidden by God. It’s what the “crafty” event coordinator endorsed. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” [Gen 3:6]. She looked, her heart was stirred by good prospects, and her husband went along with her. All this despite God’s warning.

Pride blinded them to the enslavement of the fruit. A quick bite feels so innocuous. So desire-driven souls and unguarded hearts are left open to powerful currents of false love. An exchange of glances between two people—the sort of look forbidden by marital vows—seems so small. But give desire its time. The tickle of one pornographic picture begs for more. One white lie, then another. Pride uses human rationality to excuse our choices. It dismisses the truth that our desires, not our minds, shape choices. The mind is only a tool for processing desires. And the human capacity to rationalize evil activities is stunning. Just ask any abandoned spouse.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech; and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you” [Prov 4:23-25]. The gaze of the eyes, the pride of life, deceived ambitions, and an enslaved heart are the pathway to helpless shame. And many manipulators are busy.

So we live in a broken world, but God is still alive and well, drawing out his people for eternity. And I actually treasured my week on the QM2. I remembered two long voyages in my childhood and knew ships offer a unique time for communion. So to chase that wealth I ignored a pricey internet option, skipped the gala events—buffets were great—and had hours of reading, naps, and still more reading. Six of the ship talks were fascinating, and I met with a small clan of believers for an hour each morning. Two of them—a Dutch-German couple—were a special gift.

Here’s the key. Before I booked the trip I prayed: “Jesus, can I ‘seek you’ on this trip?” And he made it work. I was conscious of having him as my companion all the way across the Atlantic.

I’m not trying to be overly pious or heavy-handed here. We’re always called to live “in the world” without being “of the world.” And on the ship I met believers, including our morning group, in the course of boarding, eating, and wandering on deck. The aim of guarding our hearts and guiding our gaze isn’t hard if we engage Hebrews 12:1-2, “… let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

How do we avoid having empty spiritual eyes? For one we start by tracking where our gaze goes. Prayers to “see” Jesus as a living companion in all we do and wherever we walk is a starter—aiming to “please God.” Bible reading on the ocean is especially enjoyable. And if we ask Jesus to guard our hearts from the common stirs and stimulants set out by the busy “events coordinator” of Eden, we’ll manage. We know our spiritual addictions are broken by having the “eyes of our hearts” set on Jesus who first loved us. And he shares his rich providence and meaning in life with constant reminders of his vast and beautiful creation.

Another insight is clear. As we look more and more to Jesus, we start to reflect his aims and his character. So, let’s enjoy him in a needy world, wherever we happen to live or sail. It’s sure to attract others who are also looking for meaning as they travel.



  1. Scott Morris

    A fine, good word. In my youth as I worked primarily with colleagues whose genes contained no Y chromosome I lived by Job’s wisdom, “I have made a covenant with my eyes, why then should I look on a maid.” To hold myself accountable I checked every coworker’s eye color. James warns us that the tongue is unruly and with it we have power to hurt or heal, but our eyes are the window by which we are tempted.

  2. rick mckinley

    Great truth Ron! I love that you had that voyage. Did you reconnect with folks overseas when you found port? I am inspired by your strong illustration, to daily to set my hearts eyes on Jesus, intentionalizing that desire, knowing that all around me are “event coordinators” vying for my attention or “gaze”. I was telling Jeanne this evening that I owe my theology of trinitarian affections to you! Grateful for you and the life giving truth of who God is.

  3. R N Frost

    Thank you, my friends, for engaging. I did, indeed, connect with friends both in Ireland and in the UK – really, the main aim of the trip – so that was a joy. A friend, Rob, is working on his PhD at Cambridge under Simeon Zahl & we caught up in Oxford where he also works with Mike Reeves & Union. Rob’s parents met & married during our Multnomah days so it’s a long connection. And speaking of “gaze” again, Rick, I had no idea I would be publishing this piece on the very day (Feb 26) Dave Needham left this life for the next. He was huge in my own early growth. We’re all chain links in the life of the church, aren’t we!

  4. Rick Mckinley

    Oh I hadn’t heard about Dave! He was such a gift to me over the years. We met weekly in my first few years at Multnomah. He had a profound impact on me as did you! What a gift he was to us. Yes, we really are connected like that Ron.

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