Looking through the viewfinder of my camera, I slowly pan the horizon. Without pressing the trigger, I let the camera down and sigh. Here I am looking out over the vast waters of Lake Superior at one of the better views, and I can’t frame it in a photo. I take a few pictures anyway, but I know that they don’t do justice to the scene before me. To put the shores of Lake Superior in a box just seems wrong. Days later I look at the same disappointing photos and begin to see a beauty in them, as they transport my mind back to that place. A year later, my memories have dimmed even more and the photos take on even more meaning.
There are some scenes that naturally fit into the camera lens. Standing at the end of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, there is one general picture that presents itself: the mountain in the background with the turquoise water and some other subject matter in the foreground. The pictures there always look amazing, but it isn’t until you see it in person that you realize there isn’t much more than the pictures show. There isn’t really much of a view to the right or left and there is nothing but trees and crowds of people behind you. The scene very naturally frames itself, and as result I found it to be disappointing. There are trails to hike that enhance the experience, but the initial view is merely picture perfect. I expect better than picture perfect because I know that a photo is so very limited. I know there is more.
The pictures that I’ve seen of Saskatchewan never really draw me in. I’ve been told that the prairies are beautiful, but I never really believed it because the pictures just don’t support that. It wasn’t until I was there, taking in the amazing vastness, that I understood. The beauty of the prairies is something that is incredibly hard to capture in a photo.
The Yukon is like the prairies plus the Rockies with an incredible feeling of being completely off the beaten path…a feeling of seeing something so amazing, and yet so few people have experienced it. Photos of Yukon look absolutely amazing, but they still don’t capture what it is truly like to be there. When planning my trip out west, Yukon was a last minute addition to the trip. The photos that I saw online looked great, but not that much better than pictures I’d seen of the Rocky Mountains. In the end, Yukon completely blew my mind. And that was after seeing the best that Canada had to offer.
God has given us many photos of Himself. Through the bible and through creation, God has revealed who He is to us. In a way these things are merely photos. God is so much more than can be contained in His word, or even in the seemingly infinite wonders of creation. Yet, I feel like I easily put God in a box. I limit His greatness to the confines of my own broken imagination. In the ten commandments(Exodus 20), I’m told not to make carved images and not to bow down or serve them. What does this mean? Does it simply mean that I shouldn’t represent God as a man in art? Could it be that we create carved images regularly in our minds and think nothing of it?
Photographs are like carved images, in that they are mere representations. When I see a picture of a mountain, I am aware that the actual mountain is so much more amazing than the picture could ever be. I think part of what drives me to explore the world is the knowledge that a photo is a very weak representation of the real thing. We would never say that the photo of a scenic vista is the same as the actual experience of the place. To actually be there is above and beyond what the image can represent…and for some of us, the picture makes us want to one day experience the real thing.
There are more facets to the 2nd commandment, but this one has struck me lately. I very easily confine God to “pictures” that I’ve created in my mind. I allow experience and logic to form concrete sculptures of God in my mind. It’s hard to truly experience an awesome view when my eye is stuck in the camera viewfinder. How much more so when I refuse to see God without looking at the stone structure in my mind? It’s hard to chip away at the concrete, to take the statue down, so it doesn’t stand in the way of the real thing but it has to be done. With the Holy Spirit’s help, one day all the images will be removed and I will see the real thing. I will finally arrive at that great viewpoint in the mountains, and see God as he truly is. What a marvellous thought!