Seen and Unseen

“For we live by believing and not by seeing.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)

“Now you see it, now you don’t.”  It’s a phrase we learned as small children. Perhaps it was related to a series of cups and balls where the balls appeared to be shifted from one cup to the other, or disappear entirely. Maybe it was a card trick, when a card you selected ended up in a place you would never have expected. At an early age . . . it was magic! For me, the phrase took on a whole new meaning recently when I was checking out at the local grocery store. The clerk scanned each of my items as they came up the conveyor belt, while down the line a girl was packing my groceries. The teller provided my receipt, and I paused to ask her a question about a store gift card. After a brief conversation, I thanked her and turned away to see an empty cart. I asked the young lady who had been bagging where my groceries were, and she looked at me like I had three heads. Apparently she had loaded my bags into the cart of another customer who had already exited the store, now in possession of a larger order than expected.

We take comfort in and base our understanding on the things that we see, on what we believe to be true. We fully expect, for instance, that when we pay for goods or services that we will receive them. Predictability is important to our way of life, and when that doesn’t occur – our abilities to rationalize and cope become vulnerable, During the growth of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who never felt anxious became preoccupied with worry and were not sure what to do next. Viral outbreaks are frightening to many people mainly because you can’t see the enemy, in this case the microscopic bacteria that cause you to become infected. However, viruses are not the only things that can’t be seen with the naked eye. The Bible reveals that there is a ‘unseen’ world all around us. In fact, scripture tells us that as persons of faith, we must “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). You might wonder how that could be true, but fortunately the writer, Paul, continues to explain that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” For the Christian, this provides a whole new frame of reference in opposition to that of those who are focused only on the world.

As Believers, we come to realize that he importance of eyesight is true in the physical realm, but it means almost nothing in the spiritual realm. The Israelites saw multiple miracles in the wilderness, but the actual ‘seeing’ seems to not have profited them at all. Consider their experience. There were ten plaques inflicted on Egypt forcing the Pharaoh to allow them to be freed from slavery (Exodus 7:14-12:36). They saw the Red Sea part as well as the pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day to guide them. They saw water coming out of rocks and were provided with manna on the ground daily for forty years. Yet, what they physically saw did not affect their minds, because eyesight means almost nothing in terms of the spiritual. Faith is the foundation, the assurance, the substance, the confidence, of things not seen—the invisible realm of God.  Faith is trusting God for something to happen which we have not seen or experienced before. It was by faith that Noah was warned by God about things he had not yet seen, but in reverence he prepared an ark. By faith, Abraham obeyed God and went out not knowing where he was going. By faith, Sarah received the ability to conceive beyond human possibility (Hebrews 11:7-11).

When we were young – we wanted to have faith in magic, if only for a while. Now that we are ‘grown up’ – we continue to live with tension between what is seen and unseen.  If the things we see are made of things that we cannot see, why then is it so hard to believe that we cannot see the Creator without a proper lens? We must conclude It is only faith that becomes the microscope to satisfy our soul. Saint Augustine brilliantly said, “Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”  It’s often much easier to conform to the commonly-held beliefs and ‘wisdom’ of our culture than it is to trust in things unseen. But it’s the living by faith that God rewards. “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1). We may not see everything we want to see.  But we can see what we need to . . . until it’s the time is right to see more.

REFLECTION: When you consider how you view life – are you looking at the things which are seen, or are you focusing more on those things which are unseen? What would your response be to a skeptic who says, “I don’t believe in miracles because I have never seen one?” How would you explain to a person who is new to the faith that not everything has to be seen in order to believe?

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