Is Seeing Believing?

As an apologist I am constantly thinking through the evidence that surrounds my Christian faith. I’m always looking for ways to communicate the reasonableness and evidence for my belief in Jesus Christ. I want to explain that I have not made a blind leap into the abyss of nothingness so many have dubbed “faith.”

Yet no matter how strongly I’m able to demonstrate the truth of Christianity there will be people who continue to tell me, “Your faith is blind.” In other words, if I would open my eyes and choose to see, I’d give up my faith in God and in Jesus Christ specifically. They tell me I can’t see God, and what I think is evidence is really phantom lights as my eyes strain in the darkness. The clear implication is that seeing is believing; sight is foundational to belief.

I must admit I struggle with this notion. Consider that so much of what we believe in can’t be seen. We can’t see love, gravity, hope, or justice. While we experience their effects, we cannot see them. Yet we believe in them.

But my struggle goes deeper than recognizing that we daily believe in things we cannot see. The real reason I struggle with the idea that sight equals belief is because I wonder if it’s actually true. If you saw everything you think you need to see to believe that God exists, Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, and the Bible is true, would you automatically believe?

Let me illustrate what I mean. Because I believe God exists and want to live in a way that honors Him, I ask him for guidance in decision-making. There have been times when I’ve had to make a big life-changing choice and I’ve been at a loss, not knowing what to do. In those moments I’ve been known to tell God that I really wish he’d just speak audibly and tell me what to do. If I could just physically hear him tell me what he wants then I would do it. In a very real sense I’ve fallen into the idea that seeing is believing.

In those circumstances I’ve had to stop and ask myself some questions. If I heard God audibly speak to me, would I be more likely to obey? Would I be more likely to believe? I’d like to think so, but I wonder.

Moses saw God’s presence in the burning bush and argued with him, a very reluctant leader of Israel (Exodus 3-4). Gideon met the angel of the Lord and was commanded to free Israel from their oppressor, and he also hesitated. He put God to the test, not trusting that the audible voice of God’s command was a good enough reason to obey (Judges 6). The people of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years with a pillar of fire hanging in the air by night and a cloud by day. It was a physical representation of God’s presence with them, but they still got together and made a false god (Exodus 13, 32).

Jesus performed miracle after miracle. He taught as one who had the same authority God had. He fulfilled countless prophecies. He proclaimed he was the Messiah, backed it up with his actions, and was still rejected. If anything should cause someone to believe that Jesus was telling the truth, watching him bring a man back to life and then coming back to life himself should have done it. Yet then, as today, people refused to believe.

Jesus himself testified to the reality that sight does not equal belief. He told a story of two men, a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Both men died; the rich man went to hell and Lazarus went to heaven. While in hell, the rich man sees Lazarus with Abraham, and begs Abraham to let the Lazarus go back to earth to warn his brothers to repent and avoid the torments of hell. “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

The Bible records so many accounts of men and women physically seeing God at work and yet refusing to believe him. In my life I can think of times where I’ve seen God at work, yet I’ve still doubted him in disbelief. This is why I wonder if “seeing is believing.”

Our search for “proof” or evidence of God’s existence is a good search. After all, if faith in God is blind I’d like to know. I’d prefer not to chase phantom lights. The point is that the evidence is there. So why don’t we, why don’t I, believe?

There must be something more to faith than seeing. While it is not less than seeing, it is more than sight. And this is exactly the kind of faith we see the Bible teaching. Faith is not simply seeing who God is or the evidence for his existence. Faith is entrusting yourself to him. It’s acknowledging that he is trustworthy and then actually trusting him.

So then, if you saw what you think you need to see, would you believe?

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12 thoughts on “Is Seeing Believing?

  1. “If you saw everything you think you need to see to believe that God exists, Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, and the Bible is true, would you automatically believe?”

    Yup.

    I’d believe that those things existed, at any rate.

  2. Pingback: Is Seeing Believing? | Time For Discernment

  3. As an atheist I can say with some confidence that if gods appeared to exist I’d be a theist. The fact (I think it could be reasonably defended that it is a fact) that they appear not to is the reason for my atheism. Atheism is just honesty in this respect. I have had, in the course of my dealings with the faithful, theists tell me that even were gods disproven they would still believe.

    • That’s interesting you chose the word “appear” since appearances can be deceptive… either for or against God’s existence. But I’m curious, what specifically has led you to believe that it can be reasonably defended as a FACT that God, or gods, does not exist? Also, could you clarify something for me? When you say you’ve dealt with theists who would still believe if gods were disproven, do you mean the God of the Bible specifically or gods in general? If you mean the God of the Bible, that in and of itself raises some really interesting questions. I wonder myself how I’d respond if you could prove to me as a fact that God doesn’t exist. What would I do? And I also wonder, if you could prove to me as a fact that God doesn’t exist, wouldn’t you have to have all knowledge, and wouldn’t that make you God? Lots of good stuff to think about and through.

      • The reason I say “appear” is just because of the limits of our knowledge. We can’t know anything with total certainty, we could just be brains in a jar or operating in some other simulation. All we can ever go by is what appears to be true.

        I make no claim to knowledge but rather that it could be defended that gods “appear” not to exist. Or to put it another way gods have all the characteristics of things that do not exist. They are unevidenced and unnecessary, the arguments against them seem stronger than the arguments for them (in my opinion), there don’t appear to be any good reasons to think they exist and many to think they do not. All these things would certainly be true if they did not exist but are harder to explain if they actually did. In my experience, generally, things that exist appear to exist, and things that do not exist do not appear to.

        As an aside there does seem to be something of a double standard at work here. If I were to offer to sell someone an item and hand them an empty box they would look in it, maybe shake it, put their hand in it, perhaps give it a sniff if they were slightly unusual and then declare “the item is not in this box”. This seems like a good solid standard to me and I think it should be applied across the board, but it isn’t in the realm of gods.

        I think the response from a Christian that I mentioned earlier was (verbatim) “Even if God was disproven I’d still believe because Jesus said that would happen”. I’ve experienced similar reluctance from other believers but that one , has always stuck with me.

      • Thanks for your clarification on what you meant by ‘appear.’ I agree with you that when it comes to belief in God, we cannot PROVE he exists. I was just reading some of John Lennox’s work yesterday where he was reiterating that strictly speaking, proof can only be found in mathematics. But we can look at evidence, pointers, and indicators and ask where they lead. He then looked at Romans 1:20 and emphasized that Paul pointed to the perception and evidence of creation for the existence of God. “The universe is not neutral; it contains evidence of its divine origin.” This is something that I, and many others, believe we see in science and other areas of life.

        Part of this goes beyond the discussion of evidence to actual knowing. What, if anything, can we know? It seems like there are two broad spectrums many people fall into. Some believe we can’t know anything for certain, except that we can know for certain we don’t know anything for certain. This contradicts itself since if we can know one thing for certain, why can’t we know more things for certain? On the other end of the spectrum are those like the Christian you met, who would choose to disreguard all evidence, who posited what may be called “blind faith.” I’d suggest that neither extreme is healthy. There will always be an element of knowledge in faith, and faith in knowledge. The question is how to do we find, define, and determine the right balance? Is the knowledge we do have reliable to warrant our trust/faith when we have less knowledge in other areas?

        I respect your honesty and desire to base your beliefs on what you believe is real. You’ve said we cannot know anything with total certainty. You’ve also said, “The fact (I think it could be reasonably defended that it is a fact) that they appear not to (exist) is the reason for my atheism.” If we can’t know anything, can we honestly use the word fact? What if the evidence isn’t in the box because what we need is the box itself? What if the box is the evidence?

        More than that though, what is it specifically that has led you to believe that the evidence against God is stronger than the evidence for God?

  4. I like the way you have explained this. It reminds me of something else John Lennox said recently. I think he was talking about how in John 20, Jesus said to Thomas ‘because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’. Lennox was remarking that some people take this to be proof that even Jesus claimed faith is belief without evidence! Yet Jesus was saying nothing of the sort. There is a lack of understanding here which, I believe points to the root of the problem for many people. Surely evidence can take many other forms than just sight alone? God himself said ‘and when you search for me with all your heart, you will find me’. (Jer 29:13). Intent is all. Now THAT is a hard one to explain to an atheist!

    • I think we all know intuitively that evidence is more than sight. I was reading about C.S. Lewis earlier and how he was commenting that we don’t SEE light, it’s light that enables us to see what is around us. He was speaking of this before he was a Christian and while he was still an Atheist. But I couldn’t help see the correlation to Jesus Christ. He said he was the Light of the World. Right now I can’t see him personally. But he shines in the darkness and enables me to see everything else around me.

  5. We even see in science how so much is proven not by what is actually witnessed, but by its effects on what lies around it (e.g. subatomic particles). It is the attendant behavior of the environment around something that bears witness not just to its existence, but to its very nature. This is an unquestioned practice in research. Actually, in most conversations I have, it is not the lack of evidence that is the problem, but the interpretation.

    Although there are other testaments to His presence, one way I can know God to exist is by His effect in the lives of those around me, even my own life. I have witnessed/experienced miracles, both large and small, that can be most “practically” explained by God’s providential hand. And yet, it does not take me long to lapse back into self-reliance. Even as a teenager, I knew my parents were right about particular consequences, and yet I disobeyed. This flew directly against years of experience watching their predictions come true. As an adult, I catch myself doing the same thing. “Sight” was never the problem, pride always was (and is).

    “While it is not less than seeing, it is more than sight.” Exactly! I would even suggest that a great part of it is wisdom. All the evidence in the world means nothing if we have not the wisdom to accept and apply it.

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