Is Seeing Believing?

Does it take two to tango? Does the buck stop here?

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

During yesterday’s sermon at church, I was fascinated by a small clause in Matthew 28 that I had never noticed before. Here’s the passage:

“16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.  17 And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.  18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying,  “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  19  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

That last two verses have long been dubbed “The Great Commission” and contain Jesus’ instructions for His disciples, gathered on a Galilean mountain as the preceding verses explained. I’d read this paragraph hundreds of times before but I’d never noticed this clause in verse 17: “but some were doubtful.” Some were doubtful? They saw Jesus, they worshiped Him, but some were doubtful? Why hadn’t I noticed this before! What does it mean?

For some time now I have been pondering the relationship between faith and doubt. Seemingly residing on opposing poles, faith and doubt have been thought of as the yin and the yang of the Christian life. Sometimes you believe without hesitation. Sometimes things don’t add up and faith is tough. Here stood the disciples, having spent a few days, off and on, with the risen Jesus, listening to Him, eating meals with Him and, in the case of Thomas, touching His wounds. He was standing in their midst, feet on the ground, garment flapping in the breeze, hands moving as He spoke. They were looking right at Him. And yet some found it hard to believe.

A few dozen years later saint Paul would throw out a truth in the midst of a discourse on the material and immaterial: “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). We walk by faith, he said. Not by sight. What is faith? The author of Hebrews defined faith this way: it is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). It is believing without seeing. But what if you are seeing? That’s no guarantee of faith. In fact, it takes great faith even if you’ve got the proof standing right in front of you! The disciples on the mountain had the proof standing in front of them and some doubted. I’ll give ole Doubting Thomas a pass on his initial unbelief (John 20). He hadn’t even seen. But those on the mountain (maybe Thomas included)? I think they teach us a valuable truth.

Faith is not only necessary for believing the invisible, but also the visible. In fact, in the rational “western” mindset, it may be tougher to believe the seen than the unseen! Why? We try to dissect every little thing we see but don’t understand. Science has taught us to seek proof and when you think you’ve found it, test it. Then test it again and compare the two results. Truth comes out of testing. Reason is our litmus test. It determines whether or not we believe something. If a mystery cannot be physically or rationally tested to be proven, it cannot be believed. This is the western mindset. In the eastern mindset, it’s the opposite. Science takes a back seat to mystery. And faith comes more through emotion than reason.

I’m always fascinated by magicians and illusionists. They’ve gone way beyond pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Now they’re making buildings disappear, people float on air, and reading thoughts. It really is remarkable. And kinda spooky. David Blaine has made a career out of freaking people out. Fifteen years ago I’ll never forget watching David Copperfield pull back the curtain to reveal that the Great Wall of China had disappeared. It came back, thankfully, but the sight of it there-then-gone left me floored. I didn’t believe it had disappeared even though I saw it gone. His secret was revealed years later (it had to do with lighting and perspective or something) but at the time it created quite a buzz.

So is seeing believing? Can you be convinced by seeing physical proof? If you see a “miracle” do you reason away or believe a miracle happened? I’m thinking it takes great faith to believe the visible with greater faith to believe the invisible. But in either case, it takes faith.