Do you treat your children behind closed doors the same way you treat them when you know you are being watched? Several months ago, a friend told me that when her kids were young she had the blessing of someone staying in her house for a long period of time. Having a witness there from outside of her family made her stay aware of the way she interacted with her children and kept her from yelling at them or talking to them in a way that was not kind. Therefore, from the start, she was trained to treat her children with the kindness that we all should be treating our children at all times, so that even when the girl didn’t live there anymore, my friend was in the habit of interacting with her children the right way for the most part.
I was jealous when I heard this because I wish that I lived as if my life were on display at all times. I wish I could remember that indeed, it is!
Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (emphasis mine).
This verse comes directly after Hebrews 11, the chapter that lists many people from the Bible who proved they had faith. Therefore, this “cloud of witnesses” is referring to the ones mentioned in the previous chapter. Some commentators say “these witnesses are not witnessing us as we conduct our lives. Instead, they are witnesses to us of faith and endurance” (Guzik). However, if you consider the context of a race being run, you will quickly see that the author doesn’t appear to be referring to a big group of coaches (a grouping that doesn’t normally happen) telling us what they know about running a race with endurance but instead to a large group of spectators, athletes who have already finished their races and have hurried to the sidelines to cheer on their teammates. Especially coming from the perspective of a former long distance runner, I find this to be the most natural interpretation in this context.
It is possible that the author was simply speaking metaphorically of these witnesses to our race here on earth. After all, some worry that if people can literally see us from Heaven, they won’t be able to be happy in Heaven. That argument doesn’t hold too much weight for me because unless our memories will be wiped clean (which doesn’t appear to be the case with those we see in the Bible—Lk. 16:23-25, I Sam. 28:14-19, Jn. 20:16), we have plenty to be sad about just through our memories. I believe God will somehow dry our tears (Rev. 21:4) despite all that. Even so, maybe the author was simply speaking metaphorically.
What if he was not? It seems to hold more weight that we have a cloud of witnesses watching us run our race if they can actually see us, does it not?
I don’t know about you, but if so, it’s mind-blowing for me to think of my deceased loved ones actually watching what I do. They probably wouldn’t spend all their time doing that, but if my sister, dad, grandma, brother-in-law, niece(s), and first child see me even some of the time, that’s amazing! I have goose bumps thinking about it. It makes me more than ever want to always treat my children with kindness and grace.
Even if my family members cannot see me, I am still being watched every moment by my God, a God who knows “when I sit down and when I rise up;” He understands “my thought from afar” (Ps. 139:2). I don’t have to fear His judgment as He watches my wrongdoing—I have been clothed by Christ (Gal. 3:27), and He has grace for me (Rom. 5:20).
This knowledge does indeed cause me to want to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and …run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). It makes me want to fix my eyes on Jesus, as the next verse exhorts us, and further rely on Him to help me do my job as a parent well, to love my children well.
“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (II Chron. 16:9).