by Rick Booye
In the gospel seeing is a form of deep, intuitive perception, not simply physical viewing of material things. Physical or material sight occurs when our eyes catch a small portion of the light spectrum, transfer it through the optic nerve, which takes it to the visual cortex in our brain, which then processes the information and instantly gives us a physical image. This happens so fast and so automatically that we completely take it for granted (unless we lose the ability to see, of course). But in the Bible seeing is a metaphor for perceiving things that we cannot actually take in with our eyes (2 Cor.4:16-18; Heb.11:6). Material sight is not always an advantage to us in this regard. In fact, physical sight can get in the way of spiritual insight. This is what happened when Eve “saw the fruit.” The problem wasn’t that she physically viewed it. The problem was that she interpreted what she saw not by what God told her but by what the serpent told her. So her visual perception, interpreted by the wrong voice, produced a disastrous mental impression. Adam did no better. Paul tells us that Adam did not believe that the fruit would benefit him (1 Tim.2:14), yet he ate it anyway. Why? He too was looking, but not at the fruit. He was looking at the beautiful creature handing it to him. She had already eaten and Adam did not want to be separated from her, so he ate as well. The result was not insight, but horror.
Part of the new perception we receive in Christ involves letting our ears inform our eyes. We listen to God’s Word (in Christ, by the Spirit, through Scripture), which interprets what our other senses perceive. Jesus often said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matt.11:15). God’s word enters the spirit of a person through the ears. That sort of hearing becomes a way of interpreting reality. We are familiar with the phrase, “seeing is believing.” But for a Christian there is a sense in which believing is seeing. This is why Paul describes our life as one of faith rather than sight (2 Cor.5:7).
Interestingly, if a person’s optic nerve is severed, so that their brain doesn’t receive the visual stimuli it normally would, their visual cortex re-directs its neurons to process auditory or tactile input. So that over time the brain processes sound and touch with the same acuity that it would have processed sight if it were available. The result is a tremendously heightened sense of hearing and feeling (to read Braille for instance). Is it possible for the Lord to train our intuitive interpretation of reality in such a way that we think of life like he does and respond to it the way he would if he were living our life? Is that what we might call walking in the Spirit? It would seem so.
In our old life we had a congenital spiritual blindness to the things of God, coupled with an obsession with the visible world. With the new life of the Spirit came a new sense, a sort of “hearing” that processes God’s word in our spirit, altering our intuitions so that we perceive new purposes and develop new character. We do not become less material, but we do become more Spiritual (capitalized here to indicate the Holy Spirit’s presence). We begin to sense spiritual, moral, and relational dimensions that somehow we missed before. This new ability grows as we practice walking with God. But we practice hearing this way, usually, only when something in our life forces us to close our eyes to the world around. That something is almost always unforeseen, undeserved, unfair pain and trauma (Jas.1:1-4). So pain and grief, what Jesus called tribulation in this age (Jn.16:33), is (oddly) a good friend of faith in the same way that the weights in the gym are good friends of my muscles.
Is it possible to physically see what appear to be random, tragic, even cruel, circumstances in our lives and trust that God is at work despite what things look like? Should we believe that all things (especially the bad things) work out for the good of those who love the Lord and who are called according to his purpose (Rom.8:28)? Should we continue to wait on the Lord this way long after others have given up? Not only is it possible—it is absolutely crucial. The Lord Jesus lived this way and taught his friends to do the same (Jn.16:31-33). In fact, every unforeseen and terrifying circumstance that presents itself to us is precisely an opportunity to think within the gospel and “see” the invisible (See 2 Cor.4:16-5:7; Rom.8:18-25). It is an opportunity to trust that the Lord is doing something excellent that could be done in no other way than for us to endure the present, and yet quite temporary, darkness. Does this make us grieve less or feel “happy” all the time? No, we may still cry ourselves to sleep and wonder about our future in this age. He loves us through our grief. But it does give us a perspective on our trauma that enables us to navigate it in faith by what Paul calls the “eyes of the heart” (Eph.1:18-21).
So, believing what the Lord says is a sort of “seeing” that goes beyond material sight and teaches us to live by Spiritual insight rooted in the cross and God’s love for us (Rom.8:31-39). Believing the gospel and living in what the Lord says is seeing clearly for the first time.