I Just See God
Roman Craig is a mover and a shaker. He’s got a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade. He drives a big, long Mercedes. He wears yellow leisure suits. Roman has lots of answers and one question.
It’s a question that’s echoed through the ages. It’s a question so deep that it haunts him even as he tweezes his nose hair, a question so urgent that he must pose it to his wife (Annette Bening) as she’s lathering up in the shower.
“Honey,” moans the tormented Roman, “why do Chet’s kids look at him like he’s Zeus, and mine look at me like I’m a rack of yard tools at Sears?”
The dreaded answer comes from a cloud of steam behind the shower curtain: “Maybe if you’d spend less time at work and more time with us, things would be different.”
Oblivious to his wife’s insight, Roman uses one hand to brace a pre-historic cell phone against his ear and the other to stifle his wife. “Put a cork in it, Honey, I’m talkin’ business here.”
This exchange installs the ring in our noses, and for the next hour or so “The Great Outdoors” leads us on a laugh-a-minute romp to the inevitable and cliché conclusion that scrambling for wealth and power is vanity, while the real keys to large living are simplicity and contentment.
If that’s all there is to it, then Hollywood has blown its role as Dreamer and we, sadly, are out of our jobs as Interpreters. There’s got to be more to The Great Outdoors than this, and indeed there is.
In order to really get what God wants us to get out of this flick, let’s back up a scene or two and get re- acquainted with the characters.
Chet Ripley (John Candy) is a frumpy family man and sentimental sap. His idea of a big day is to cruise around the lake in the comfort of a pontoon boat, barbecue grill at the ready.
Roman Craig (Dan Aykroyd) is a driven biz whiz and insufferable intruder. When he thinks of the perfect day, it includes “blowing some coin on a jet boat” and watching his passengers scrape the bugs off their teeth after a white-knuckle thrill ride.
Of an evening, Chet prefers a leisurely stroll to the camp lodge to pay his respects to the world’s oldest man, whereas Roman would rather haul the whole gang into town, check out a female Elvis impersonator and watch “a 46-inch bust sing, ‘Burnin’ Love’.”
Now that we’ve got some idea what makes these mismatched brothers-in-law tick, let’s join them as they relax on the rear balcony of a north woods vacation lodge.
Chet, we’ll soon find out, has brought along hot dogs and scary stories. Roman has packed lobster and fine cigars.
As the two gaze across a sparkling pure lake at a sun-splashed stand of trees on the far shore, Roman takes a gratifying puff of his stogie and delivers a spontaneous wilderness oracle:
“I’ll tell you what I see when I look out there,” he begins. “I see the underdeveloped resources of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. I see a syndicated consortium exploiting over a billion- and-a-half dollars in forest products.
“ I see a paper mill and—if the strategic metals are there—a mining operation. A greenbelt between the condos on the lake and a waste management facility, focusing on the newest rage in toxic waste, medical refuse: Infected bandages, body parts, IV tubing, contaminated glassware, entrails, syringes, fluid, blood, low-grade radioactive waste, all safely contained, sunken in the lake and sealed for centuries.”
Stunned by the clarity and vulgarity of his companion’s mercenary vision, poor Chet merely rocks in silence until he is jolted by Roman’s inquiry. “Now,” probes Roman, “I ask you. What do YOU see?”
Slack-jawed and wide-eyed, Chet finally manages to stammer, “I..uh..I just see trees.”
Clearly, Chet and Roman are cut from different bolts of cloth. What’s not nearly so clear is which bolt is preferable.
Religiosity, of course, weighs in on Chet’s side: Be humble, be content, thank God for today and rejoice in it. And who can argue with such thinking? After all, there’s plenty of Scripture to support it. ( James 4:10, 1Peter 5:6, Hebrews 13:5, Psalms 118:, to name just a few).
In fact, there’s so much Scripture behind Chet’s way of thinking that it seems to be an open and shut case: Chet wins, Roman loses. As it is in the movies, so it should be in real life. “And please,” religiosity might add, “don’t spoil your life by adding your own sound track.”
Ah, but there’s one little glitch. At the base of this mountain of Scriptures applauding Chet’s virtues there stands one man, all alone. That man is Jesus, and from his mouth come these startling and seemingly uncharacteristic words: “Because you are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16)
Say what you will about Roman Craig, he’s not lukewarm. His priorities may be whacked and his striving may indeed be in vain, but he most certainly is not lukewarm. Roman’s got upside, and that upside is passion.
Roman doesn’t just see trees. He gazes intently and sees opportunity. He sees growth. He sees solutions. If Roman could only see the trees on top of everything else, he’d be the total package.
Truth be told, it would be much easier for Roman to acquire the best of Chet than for Chet to take on the best of Roman. Anybody can see trees, but it takes some doing to see all that those trees have to offer.
I mean that figuratively, but it also works literally. My dad knew trees, and he’s one of the few people I’ve ever met who did. He could not only name them but could tell you which birds preferred which trees, which grew fastest, which yielded lumber suitable for any given project, even which burned longest, slowest or hottest.
Ask around. You’ll find that almost everybody enjoys trees but almost nobody can name even a dozen on sight. There’s probably not a soul on your street who can walk around your block and name every tree on the circuit.
Because of my dad, I took tree literacy for granted, always assuming that one day I’d just naturally know trees. Then one day—one fairly recent day—I awoke to realize that I didn’t know a prickly pear from a paw-paw: I loved trees, but if I wanted the richer and deeper experience dad enjoyed, there was no way but to study trees.
Startling as the revelation of my tree ignorance was, it was nothing compared to this one: For most of my life, I’ve “just seen God.”
It’s fine to “just see God” and know he loves you, but finer by far to study God and learn that he is with you and has plans for you and knows when you get up and when you lie down. (See Psalms 139)
It’s fine to “just see God” in nature, but finer by far to learn that the sun is his faithful witness in the sky, that his voice can uproot trees and that he opens his hand and satisfies the desires of every living thing. (See Psalms 145)
It’s fine to “just see God” and praise him, but finer by far to have on the tip of your tongue at all times a thousand ways to praise him for a million things. (See Psalms 150 and also see your free copy of “Praise Extract”!
Nowhere in the Bible do we find words to the effect that a man is blessed if he “just sees God.” Most of humanity “just sees God” in some way or another, yet most of humanity is still frustrated by feelings of powerlessness and insecurity. Hmmmm.
What we do find in the Bible is one incredible promise: “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you.” (Psalms89:15)
A couple years ago I realized that I was full of Chet: I just saw God. I wanted more, and when I decided to get a little Roman in me, things started to snap, crackle and pop. As I began to pray, “Lord, open my eyes, that I may see wonderful things,” God was ready and waiting with a big 10-4.
The result of that ongoing prayer and God’s ongoing answer is a book I call, “Praise Extract,” and that little book has been such a treasure to me that I want you to have it, too. It’s free, it’s powerful and it’s unlike anything in your personal library.
If you’re ready to do more than just see God, add a dash of Roman to that hearty Chet base. Be the first to get my first chapter of Praise Extract by clicking here. As Roman might so humbly pitch it, “Buddy,you get your hands on this baby, and you’ll have the enemy squealing “Mayday” by midnight!”