By Nate Stevens
Beware of Shortcuts
The History channel played a documentary on the Donner Party, and it made quite an impression on me. I’ve sworn off all shortcuts.
The underlying cause of the tragedy that befell the Donner Party was a man named Lansford W. Hastings. For reasons that are somewhat unknown, but included fame and fortune, Hastings tried to convince the pioneers to take a shortcut off the Oregon Trail. The Donner family, the Reed family and about 60 others believed Hastings’s account of a shortcut.
The “shortcut” led the party through hostile Native American territory. Many of the animals—oxen and mules—were either killed or stolen. The path led through barren waterless desert, places that taxed both the remaining animals and people. More than that it put them way behind schedule. At various points along their trek before the snow fell, the party had to make difficult decisions about whether to continue to follow what had become an awful and disastrous route or turn around.
Their story has become part of western lore. Murder, starvation, cannibalism, and death were the ultimate result of the decision to follow Hastings’s shortcut.
Ultimately, Hastings and the Donner Party lacked sight. Hastings was blinded by worldly desires. The Donner Party was blinded by the idea of finishing the arduous journey sooner.
The infamous Donner tragedy was the result of a lack of earthly sight. There were wise men and women who decided the Hastings Cut was not a good idea and continued on the Oregon Trail, arriving months before the last of the Donner Party was rescued (or dead).
Blinded to God
Spiritual blindness is what put Jesus on the cross. People failed to see the good, loving, true, and beautiful reality of God among them—His healing, feeding, and protecting. In their blindness, they put Him on a cross. To take it one step further, those who were spiritual experts, who knew the Bible, were so blind, that it was at their instigation that He was crucified. It is a terrifying thing to think of the damage and tragedy we walk in when we persist in our blindness.
Seeing clearly is so very important, spiritually and physically. There is no line between spiritual sight and earthly sight. It is not as though you have to choose one or the other. Spiritual sight sees all the physical reality, but as God sees it, from His perspective—it’s the reason why only those who are in a good relationship with God have spiritual sight. Earthly sight only sees the physical; spiritual sight sees the physical and spiritual, and all from God’s perspective.
Paul speaks of spiritual sight in the context of faith. “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Paul uses the word “walk” for “live” (2 Cor 5:6-7). His point is that he chooses to view the world as God sees it, not as it appears to physical sight. Seeing things clearly means that we see the pain and groaning of this life honestly and hunger for heaven as a result.Seeing clearly means that you live courageously, knowing heaven is waiting to catch us when our last breath comes.
Seeing With Faith
But seeing things this way requires faith—seeing beyond what appears to mere physical sight.
What generates faith is truth.
Hastings got the Donner Party to follow his shortcut by lying to them. He told them it was shorter, that it was easier, that it was wagon ready. The reality was far from each of these statements. In the final act of deceit, one that most probably saved his own life and doomed half the party, he refused to join the party and lead them on his “trail.”
This is why the Bible is so significant for believers; it tells us how the world really is. It tells us who God really is; it tells us who we really are.
The world tells us that God hates us, irreconcilably. It tells us that life is found in the pursuit of worldly things, only. It tells us that we are unlovable and that God is unjust and undependable. These truths are shouted at us day after day, the stuff of our movies and songs, the stuff of our culture and society, everything is screaming to us in strident tones trying to get us to stand firm in our belief in a false reality.
Spiritual sight affirms that God loves His children deeply, that He created each one with purpose and delight, that He never leaves them, that their sins have been totally forgiven.
Live in light of these truths, believe them, and see.
Nate Stevens is the campus pastor at the Bible Chapel Rostraver. Nate was born and raised in Boyertown, PA before graduating in 2010 with a Master of Theology (ThM) degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is married to Summer.