The experiment seemed like a cakewalk. “Watch this video,” the researcher said. “You’ll see two teams, one wearing white and one black. They’ll throw a ball back and forth. Count how many times the ball is passed by the team in white.”
So the participants did. They watched the video. Counted the times. Most said ‘’15.’’ And they were right. They patted themselves on the back. This was too easy.
Then the researcher asked them, “Did you see the gorilla?”
Wait, what are you talking about? What gorilla?
“Watch it again,” he said. So they did. And, lo and behold, there he was. “A minute or so in, a man dressed in a gorilla suit waltzes right into the middle of the game for a few long seconds, stops, and then beats his chest in the manner of stereotyped gorillas everywhere. Right in the middle of the screen,’’ as Jordan Peterson writes.*
Numbers were totaled up. It seems that a whopping half of the participants had been utterly blind to the gorilla. Yet he was right there. Front and center. Seemingly unmissable.
What happened? How could they not see the gorilla? Quite simply, they exercised selective vision. Like we all do. All the time. Everywhere. And perhaps most especially in church.
So I ask you: Did you see that gorilla in church?
When you parked your car, did you see that someone—I wonder who?—had mown the grass, shoveled the snow, or got there way before you did to unlock the doors and turn on the lights and start the coffee? Did you see it?
When you stepped inside and scanned the people, did you notice that every face—no matter how plain or beautiful, wrinkled or smooth—God wanted so badly in his kingdom that he let own face be struck and spit upon to make it happen? Did you see everyone there as one for whom Christ died? Did you see that?
When your pastor began preaching, did you see Jesus standing in the pulpit, holding up scarred hands, beckoning you to see his heart beating with love for you, calling you to follow him wherever he leads? Did you see that?
There’s so much to see in church. But we usually end up counting balls and missing gorillas.
We see, for instance, that obese woman whose dress is too tight yet completely miss what a heartless ass we are in judging her.
We see that this hymn is too hard, or this music is too contemporary, or the band is too loud, or the organist is too slow, yet we miss seeing that we’re singing in a choir of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
We count balls and miss gorillas.
We count other’s deficiencies and miss our own.
We count our complaints and never tally our blessings.
We see the worldly, the base, the pedantic, and miss the heavenly.
Dear God, give us eyes to see the gorilla in church.
Give us eyes to see the face of Jesus in that little child wriggling in front of us, tugging at his mom’s sleeve, wanting a drink of water.
Give us eyes to see beyond male and female, rich and poor, black and white, straight-laced and morally compromised, to see that we’re all one in Christ Jesus. United in his death and resurrection, united by the indwelling of his Spirit, united in the mission of making disciples, united in praise and prayer and confession of truth.
Give us eyes to see worship as the nuptials of heaven and earth, where saints pray beneath the altar, angels sing on the rafters, and Jesus stands up front beckoning one and all to the feast of his mercy.
So don’t just count the ball tosses.
Widen your eyes.
Drink it all in.
Don’t miss the unmissable.
This Sunday, let’s all go and see that gorilla in church.
*Peterson describes this experiment in his book 12 Rules for Life.
My new book, Your God Is Too Glorious: Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places, is now available. You can order copies from Christian Book Distributors, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local bookstore.