Seeing and Believing
We live in a culture that encourages us to inquire, doubt and ask questions. An inquiring attitude can be a good quality to have. It can help us learn and grow. However, it can also be taken to an extreme where we question everything. For example, classes in philosophy sometimes speculate on questions such as is a red balloon really red? Is what I see what you see? Are you real or just an image in my mind? However, to most people, suggestions that red may not be red or the person next to you may not be real sound ridiculous. We believe what we see, because seeing is believing.
The deeper issues of belief come when we cannot see for ourselves. It tends to reveal our independent natures and our difficulty in trusting people when our beliefs need to be based on the testimony of someone else. You can test this out using the picture on the right. Ask your group what they see? Some will see an old lady, some will see a young lady and some will see both. It is fascinating interacting with people who cannot see the picture both ways. Often they get quite frustrated when they cannot see the young lady or the old lady. Just telling them there is another way of looking at the picture is not enough. They want to see it for themselves. For them, seeing is believing.
The Apostle Thomas had that inquiring, questioning attitude. You can read about him in John 20:24-29. Other disciples had seen Jesus alive after the crucifixion, but not Thomas. Thomas could not believe Christ had risen until he saw Jesus himself. He wanted to see him living, breathing and carrying the marks of the crucifixion in his body. Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for his doubts but he appeared to him personally and answered his questions. Thomas then became a faith-filled missionary apostle to regions near modern day Iraq and even as far as India. Today we cannot actually see Jesus physically as Thomas did, but that does not mean we cannot believe Jesus is alive. Seeing does not have to precede believing, we can believe before we see. Jesus himself said to Thomas: ‘Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.’ Jn 24:29.
Believing and Seeing
There are many times in life when we need to believe before we see. For example, every time we get on a plane we are taking a step of faith. We don’t really know if the plane will fly or if the pilot knows what he is doing. We trust in the testimony of the airline; and the more suspicious of us may trust the statistical reports that tell us airline travel is the safest form of transport. But getting on that plane requires a certain amount of faith. Similarly when we eat at a restaurant, we don’t go to the kitchen and chemically test the food to see if it is contaminated or poisoned. We trust in the testimonials given about the restaurant. When we take our first bite we do not really know if it is a good meal. We have to eat the food before we find out for ourselves that it isn’t poisoned. Believing precedes seeing.
Similarly, when we don’t understand something, rather than work it out for ourselves, we sometimes go to a person we trust for the answer. If the mechanically challenged among us want to get our car fixed, we go to someone we believe is a good mechanic. If we want to learn about science we go to a scientist or a trustworthy reference book. In both cases, we believe someone without seeing or understanding everything. So if we have questions about life doesn’t it make sense to go to the one who created life? If God created the universe why not go to the creator for answers to the things we don’t understand about the universe. Saint Augustine captured this perspective when he said: ‘Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.’
Similarly, Solomon was the wisest King in the Bible; yet he wrote in the book of Proverbs: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths’ Pr 3:5-6
Believing into – the process of believing and seeing
There is a small phrase in the bible that can help us understand the process of believing then seeing. When the Bible encourages us to believe Jesus, it often uses the phrase ‘believe in’. In the original language of the New Testament (Greek), the phrase is actually ‘believe into’ or’ believe toward’. John 3: 16 is a good example. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him (into or towards in Greek) should not perish but have everlasting life.’
That small preposition into or towards suggests a process of moving towards Christ with increasing faith and belief. It implies not just a once off event of putting my faith in Christ, but an on-going process of believing and seeing, believing and seeing, and believing and seeing. So many times in life we partly believe something is true but we still have doubts. However, when belief is seen as a process of believing into and towards Christ, it is possible to still have doubts without feeling as though we have lost our faith.
A great biblical example of ‘believing into’ Christ is the father who came to Jesus with a sick child and said, ‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief.’ Mk 9:24. He had doubts, but he still turned towards Jesus. He was honest about his doubts but he started a process of believing into Christ. Just as with Thomas, Jesus did not condemn him. He heard the father’s cry and healed the child. For those of us who at times struggle with doubts that is a great prayer to pray, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.’ I am confident that when we pray that prayer and begin to ‘believe into’ Jesus, God graciously meets us on the way.
Some of the ways God can meet us on the way and answer our questions are through the testimonies of others, good Christian books and above all reading the Bible. Some excellent resources that can help answer questions about Jesus and the central truths of Christianity are “The Case for Faith” and the “Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. Some older books which could be helpful are: “Evidence Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell and “Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis. At CityLife we also have the Alpha course and our LIFETRAX training programme. These are great places where people can discover more about Christ and what Christians and our church believe. The greatest resource of all for discovering God, and growing in our trust and understanding of him, is the Bible. As we study the Bible we can ask God to reveal truth to us and speak into our life. ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’ Rm 10:17.
Believing On – Believing when you can’t see or understand anything!
There are times in life when God does not seem to answer our questions or speak to our doubts. That is where another biblical concept related to belief can be helpful. A few times, the biblical writers inspired by the Holy Spirit speak of believing ‘on’ the Lord Jesus rather than believing in or into him. One example is 1Peter 2:6: ‘Look, I lay in Zion a stone, chosen and priceless cornerstone, and whoever believes on him will never be put to shame.’
That little preposition ‘on’ reminds us that we can put our trust ‘on’ Jesus. He is someone we can hold on to. Jesus is a sure foundation, solid rock and faithful friend who we can totally depend on. When everything is darkness, when we cannot seem to understand why or where to, or how, or what for, we can still totally rely on God. A good analogy that can help us understand the idea of believing on God comes from the famous acrobat Blondin who lived in the 19th century. Once he carried someone across Niagara Falls on his back while walking on a tightrope. Another time he pushed someone across on a wheel barrow. Have a look at the picture on the right. The man on his back didn’t just think Blondin was a great acrobat. He didn’t just believe Blondin could walk across the Niagara Falls on a rope. He actually had the courage to totally put his life in Blondin’s hands (and feet). I am sure he must have had some doubts, questions, and fears along the way! Nevertheless, he was still willing to rely on Blondin to save him. Similarly, even when we have doubts and questions we can still rely on Jesus. Believing ‘on’ Jesus does not mean having no questions. It does mean choosing to totally rely on Christ for our salvation despite those uncertainties.
Discussions Questions and Group Activities
1. Get your group to look at the picture on page one and ask them if they see the young lady or the old woman. Discuss how hard it is to believe something based on someone else’s testimony when we can’t see it for ourselves.
2. Share examples from your own life and experience where you have believed in something before seeing or understanding it.
3. Have the group share about some of their doubts and uncertainties and how God has either answered these or given them peace when they have trusted in him.
4. Look at the picture of the man being carried by Blondin on the tightrope. How do you think he was feeling? Share times in your life when you have felt like that. What helped you rely on God?
5. Prayer for those who may be struggling with doubt or needing to trust God in difficult circumstances.
6. Make a faith statement together about what you believe.