The Importance of the Invisible
God always deals with the invisible issues before he deals with the visible ones. The apostle Paul took it for granted that Christians would grasp this. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul specifically directs our attention to “the things which are not seen.”
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (NASB)
Paul explains here that while experiencing the fallenness of this age (the outer man wasting away) he is “focusing” on something that obviously transcends our “this age” perceptions. He says that it is unavailable to our five senses (unseen), but not less real for that. In fact it is “more real” if for no other reason than because it is not transient, but permanent. He is plainly and unapologetically talking about invisible reality in a matter-of-fact way, as though we should all “see” and be able to talk clearly about the same things he “saw.”
Furthermore, he speaks of this invisible reality as happening now, not just in the future, though it obviously finds ultimate completion in the future. Later in this same section (2 Cor. 5:7), Paul pointedly states that we navigate our present material life not only (or even primarily) by what we see physically, but by what we know (see, hear) in virtue of our confidence in what God has revealed in Christ. This is what he means by “we walk by faith, not by sight.” It is a new way of perceiving reality. Seeing the invisible is not only possible, it is crucial.
Believing is Seeing
What does Paul mean when he tells us with a straight face to look at the invisible? He learned this from Jesus. As with so much of the Lord’s instruction, this seems at first blush to be at least confusing, at worst nonsense. In fact that is precisely how many in our era (even some churchgoing people) take such biblical language. But the apostle Paul was not crazy and he was not misunderstanding Christ. When Jesus told the theologian Nicodemus that he needed to have “the additional birth”  to see the kingdom of God, Nicodemus was incredulous. What in the world was Jesus talking about? Well, that is the problem, isn’t it? What Jesus was talking about was not in fact limited to the world—that is to matter, molecules, motion, and the perceptions that our five senses and our experiences in this age are able to provide. He was talking about something this world cannot understand or discover on its own. He was talking about a “sixth sense” so to speak, a fresh, new sort of existential and relational knowledge that cannot be generated or discovered from within ourselves or our material realm. This new ability to perceive God’s kingdom is so radical and life-changing that Jesus refers to it stunningly as being a new kind of birth, the beginning of an entirely new sort of life within existing human life and stretching infinitely into the tangible future. As it turns out, this is his own life given to us, his Spirit enlivening and enabling us to perceive his reality. It is a joining of his mind with ours, with the result that his sort of life is birthed within us and begins to grow. Yet, this new life, with its accompanying ability to perceive invisible reality, is incomprehensible to those who have not received it by personally trusting Jesus as the Christ. Jesus implies as much to Nicodemus and Paul spells it out unmistakably in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.
The writer to the Hebrews refers to an aspect of this extra sense when he says, “By faith he [Moses] left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible (emphasis mine). The word rendered “endured” means to persevere, to press forward against the odds. The word for “seeing” means to pay attention, to perceive. How did Moses press forward against the odds, with Pharaoh’s army on his heels and a million or so frightened people around him? By faith, says the author of Hebrews. In this context faith means tangible confidence in God and his word, in contrast to bare, material knowledge acquired via skepticism, based solely on the five empirical senses. God’s word is the expression of his mind, his view of reality, conveyed verbally as what can and will take place in time and space. Faith is a way of knowing, of perceiving the reality of God and the otherwise invisible realm. For this reason it invariably leads to action of some sort. It is therefore a sort of “sight,” though not of the material kind. This is why Paul insists that we live our lives in Christ not based primarily on the material sight that comes with being human, but on the new ability to evaluate reality from the perspective of the kingdom of God—that is, by faith.
Faith, contrary to almost universal usage, is not the absence of thought or factuality or knowledge, some sort of blind leap into irrationality. Nor is it the presence of a comforting fantasy, conjured by a frightened human mind. It is a specific sort of perception, a way of knowing and thinking that begins with God and transcends materiality, but also includes and embraces the material. It is the ability to discern certain facts that others do not grasp, because these facts are not immediately or primarily present to the five physical senses. This perception puts one in touch with ultimate reality—the mind of God. So we might say that faith is viewing (seeing) Reality as God says it is, taking his word for it, and perceiving it at a level that does not rely entirely on any other sense that we naturally have. In 2 Corinthians 4:18 Paul uses the metaphor of “seeing” because he wants to get across the idea that one can perceive clearly and confidently things that God reveals in Christ and the gospel that cannot be perceived in any other way but by this God-given, internal (inner man) awareness. He is talking about faith as a way of seeing the invisible. It is not a crystal ball, but a worldview, a way of understanding and interpreting reality—past, present, and future. It is also a way of living practically that relies on invisible reality, often more than on material sight, which is why Paul says we “walk by faith and not by sight.”
Does this mean that Christian faith does not find a basis in knowledge of real, historical events in which God has demonstrated his existence and his purposes for mankind? Is it some sort of spiritual fantasy disconnected from material reality? Not at all. The Bible says that faith in the real God (the “living God”) is grounded in and grows out of actual historical events, beginning with creation. These would include such events as the call of Abraham, the miraculous creation and preservation of the tribes of Israel (most of the books of Genesis and Exodus), the divine Word that God sent through Moses and the prophets, and supremely of course, the Divine Word made flesh—Christ: his incarnation, lawful human life, death under the Law, resurrection, and ascension to lordship over the material and immaterial universe. Faith perceives these occurrences in human history and understands them like a physicist perceives “space” and understands that it is not “empty,” at all, but full of all sorts of dynamics undetectable to the natural human eye.
So, we Christians are to live in a very counterintuitive way, a way shaped not only by what our eyes see, but by what our ears hear from the Lord in his Word, in the Gospel, and in His kingdom. This will influence us to make different sorts of decisions than the culture around us makes, living with a different system of priorities, confident in a different sort of power.
 John 3:1-4. The phrase “additional birth” is one that Dallas Willard uses. I like it because it says “born again” in a new vocabulary.
 Dallas Willard defines faith helpfully as, “… a commitment to action, often beyond our natural abilities, based upon knowledge of God and God’s ways.” (Emphasis his). Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 20.
 See Paul’s view of this, which he refers to as “wisdom not of this age” in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. See also passages like Proverbs 1:7, where we see that one has not begun to think clearly until one has the fear of the Lord.
 This is not to say that a faithful person always has a perfect “God’s eye view” of things. Our perceptions, even in faith, may be far less than perfectly certain in the Cartesian sense. Yet they may still be based on what God says about life and reality rather than solely on what humanity can perceive of it. The lack of clarity that sometimes occurs even in faith should be attributed to our “dark glasses.” 1 Cor. 13:12.
 Creation itself is a major biblical theme in the definition of faith. If one does not grasp that the immaterial God voluntarily created the material world, one cannot possibly understand the rest of what the sixth sense of faith has to offer. This is why the creation issue is first in the Bible, and crucial to knowing God in Christ. It is also why the sin matrix of Western idolatry rests tenaciously on the myth of evolution. If spontaneous evolution is not true, creation must be—and that means dealing with what Francis Schaeffer called “The God Who Is There.” See Gen. 1-3; Rom. 1:19-20; Heb 11:3; 2 Pet. 3:5.