I was reminded this past week of one of my favorite sayings: “Believing is seeing.” Of course it’s a play on words to the more commonly known expression seeing is believing, but much more accurate. Consider the following.
Bacteria, commonly called germs, were discovered in 1860, when French chemist Louis Pasteur first saw them in a microscope. Viruses were not discovered until the 1930s, with the advent of the electron microscope. Galileo imagined the heavens as much vaster than generally believed in his time. While the very first inventor of the telescope is unclear, he was the first to use one to explore the night sky, in 1609. His discoveries of heavenly bodies outside the range of human vision gave birth to the science of astronomy.
How do meteorologists know when the winds will shift and blow, when as yet the leaves do not stir? Did the early Egyptians understand that yeast, used to ferment bread and drink, are living organisms? Does anyone fully understand how electromagnetic waves work? The list of the invisible goes on. We don’t realize it, but the rhythm of our lives is marked by things we cannot see. In all of these cases (and many others), it took a great deal of imagination for early discoverers to turn a deaf ear to skeptics and pursue a reality as yet unseen. Now, envisioning the unseen is a given part of the advancement of technology.
It seems to me some of the people who struggle most with believing Christianity are those who get stuck solely on what they can see. Germs and distant galaxies aside, there is a spiritual reality that resides alongside, within and without our material reality. Many people know this is true yet live as though it were not. Baalam was one of these, and it took the miraculous speech of his donkey to open his eyes to the spiritual reality around him (see Numbers 22).
Poet Emily Dickinson was another person suffering from a lack of spiritual sight. She grew up in an early New England community of faith, yet, even though some of her poems nod at God, she herself never publicly acknowledged a personal faith and trust in Christ as her Redeemer. The suffering and loss of many of her (Christian) friends overwhelmed her, and death was a pervasive theme in many of her poems. Without a clear vision of the power of the “invisible” resurrection, she seemed to crumble under the emotional weight of her doubts and fears, as she withdrew severely from the society around her.
No wonder Dickinson is still so highly revered. To indulge one’s struggle with faith issues is contemporary, even popular, especially among circles where discussion and debate without resolution is fashionable. But if we dare to believe, seeing the world around us with clarity of vision is as easy as…well, seeing star cluster M71 and the comet garradd through the eye of a telescope.