After years of producing apologetics, I recently learned something new about evangelizing others.
Over my career, I’ve written books, speeches, articles, blogs, advertisements, and academic courses—but up until recently, I had never attempted to write a novel. If only to improve my apologetic writing, I should have done this long ago. And now that I am finishing my first novel, I know what I’ve been missing—or at least underestimating. It’s called “point of view,” or simply “POV.”
As I delved into the art of writing fiction, I became fascinated with this concept. As writer and publisher Sol Stein phrases it, “The term point of view as used by writers is misdefined even in good dictionaries. It means the character whose eyes are observing what happens, the perspective from which a scene or story is written.”
The more I thought about this, the more I considered the real-life implications for apologetics and applications for evangelization.
Lens and mind and soul
There is a saying that to understand someone, we need to “walk a mile in his shoes,” but it’s not about the shoes; it’s about the eyes. You and I can walk the same path, yet see radically different things.
There is another saying that the eyes are the “windows to the soul.” But this focuses on someone outside the viewer; in other words, I can theoretically see your soul by looking into your eyes. But that is a self-important conceit, not to mention a dangerous presumption. Your eyes are yours, and as such, they are not a window but a lens. You set the aperture and exposure, and your focus may be twelve inches or infinity. Whatever your settings, that lens belongs to you.
If I hope to befriend you, to practice true charity toward you, it helps to know—to some degree—what has passed through that lens. From an evangelical perspective, I need to understand that a synapse exists among lens and mind and soul, because all these form to create a person’s point of view.
An endless ocean of mercy
Sadly, when it comes to evangelization, we often don’t think in terms of others’ point of view, but our own. We sometimes behave as though there is only one possible way to observe what happens: our own way. My way is fine for me, and unique to me, but I cannot rationally expect that POV for others.
I’m writing this blog at Cocoa Beach in Florida. I see the Atlantic Ocean waves roll to shore as far as they can, before they travel back out, leaving foamy bubbles for a moment until they disappear into the sand. In the distant horizon, the sapphire-colored ocean seems to meet the powder-blue sky, while cottony white clouds playfully drift overhead.
I delight in the water I see and feel under my feet, but it’s only a glimmer of its immensity. Though we talk about the oceans of the world, there is just a single, massive ocean that covers almost three-quarters of the planet. There is one ocean that goes around the world—and keeps going.
What does all this mean to me?
Since I read Saint Faustina’s "Diary," I cannot lounge on sandy shores without considering Jesus likening His mercy to an ocean. Not a drop, not a puddle, not even a sea of mercy. But rather, an “ocean of mercy.” And just as the sky seems to kiss the ocean, so does God kiss the sinner-to-saint in a perpetual embrace of love and mercy. One endless ocean of mercy.
The way I see it, the way you see it
I see God in His creation—in the distant horizon, on the sand, the sun, waves.
Yet, I also realize that others may not see what I see. Maybe they think I see too much; maybe they think I see too little. Maybe they see nothing more than a random collision of atoms that went from soup to ocean with neither intelligence nor design.
I have to accept the fact that—despite my own likes and love and affections—some people don’t like the ocean, baseball, Nutella, or free trade.
It’s not always easy to accept that. Maybe I’m looking for confirmation from others. Maybe I’m lacking humility. Because it takes a certain humility—or at least a subheading of that virtue—to admit that others might reasonably see things differently than we do. We hope, and perhaps expect, others to share our perspective, and we can be frustrated when they don’t.
We sometimes insist that everyone should have the good sense to look through my lens, which we are tempted to consider smudge-free. Jesus has warned us against this, saying, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Jesus is conceding that my brother’s eye has problems, but I need to fix my own first. Until this healing takes place, I cannot see well enough to heal my brother. The damage, however, is not to our retinas, but to our souls—we need the grace to correct that first.
Dialogue versus monologue
Evangelization does not require that we agree with others’ point of view, and it most certainly does not mean that we deny truth. Truth is the mind’s conformity with reality, and only a madman denies reality. But we must try to understand their point-of-view—or at least recognize that it exists—because that is where the conversation begins. If we refuse to understand others’ POV, there is no dialogue; there is only monologue. We are called to love one another, but love is not a story told in monologue.
In the Prayer of Saint Francis, we petition God to help us understand rather than to be understood—to love rather than be loved. For a moment, imagine a world like that. For that matter, imagine a day like that. What if everyone you saw today tried to understand your unique point-of-view? What if those you love strived to appreciate your perspective? More importantly, what if you tried to understand theirs?
It can be an act of love for us to communicate to others the way we see things, but it is also an act of love to encourage our listeners to reciprocate—to share his or her point of view. When you look at the ocean, what do you see?
Love can sometimes entail illustrating the beauty we see, if only I see it. But it also means listening, and in looking to see the point of view of others. And, if we are truly to love one another, this is where we must begin.