Seeing is Not Believing

Today in my men’s Bible study I was reminded of the scene in the Old Testament where God speaks to the people of Israel from Mount Sinai. I had never noticed it before, but it appears as though the Ten Commandments as originally delivered may have been spoken to the whole nation, not just to Moses. There a few small clues, but most prominently at a glance is Exodus 20:22:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven.'”

And again I was reminded about the intimate relationship God had with His people, and how the people weren’t as thrilled as you might think. The fear of the LORD’s power overwhelmed any sense of intimacy, any joy or love.

Then I thought of how no generation of people had as much exposure to God as they did—with the exception of those who lived in Jesus’ day. He sent prophets, He sent plagues, He gave them escape and food and water all miraculously. He appeared to them as a cloud and a fire. He directly guided them throughout their wanderings, and here He spoke to them from the mountain.

And yet they were the generation that cast the golden calves. The record of their failures is staggering at times.

I personally have never been bothered by not being able to see and hear God. There may be times I wonder why, but I don’t recall ever thinking, “well, since God never shows up, I shouldn’t believe He’s real.”

By contrast, many unbelievers cite this as a big problem for them. The problem of God’s hiddenness. They are used to a world of things you can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell. The fact that God can’t be experienced these ways is a stumbling block. People dare God to come out of “hiding” and scoff when He doesn’t.

Of course, I put “hiding” in quotes because it’s not as though He’s left us with nothing. I think of Andrew Peterson’s song Invisible God, which has the fantastic line, “Great God unseen, I see You.” His point is that even though God is invisible, His works are plainly seen. This is of course a point Paul makes in Romans as well. Though God is invisible, His presence is evident.

But even though I’m not bothered by God’s hiddenness myself and see Him often in Creation, I have to admit there are times when I sympathize with those who are bothered by it.

Sure, maybe I don’t need to see to believe—and Jesus even encouraged this after presenting Himself to Thomas. But I believe these people who struggle with God’s hiddenness are being honest; I think they really believe that they would change their minds if they could experience God themselves. And this being the case, I sometimes wonder why God wouldn’t give them a little extra help in the matter.

But then I remember Israel in the wilderness. And I remember the Jews in Jerusalem. And the sad fact remains: even seeing God isn’t enough.

Some people believe that you’re not supposed to know God exists because then we wouldn’t need faith. But I think that’s wrong. Faith and knowledge work together; they are not opposed. But Israel in the wilderness and the Jews in Jerusalem remind us that you can know with certainty that God exists and still not have faith in Him. You can be convinced of His existence and still find that has little bearing on whether or not you are willing to worship Him.

So while I’m sympathetic to the doubter’s cry for evidence, the combination of the evidence that’s already present (and discounted) and the experience of past generations who lacked faith even though they saw—well, it all reminds me that hiddenness isn’t really a problem.

The question is not whether you can see and hear God, but whether you put your trust in Him.

Now to be fair, I don’t mean to suggest that everyone who laments God’s hiddenness would still doubt if they could see Him (although, again, we are without excuse). But we shouldn’t think that if everyone could see, everyone would believe. Whether you see God or not, there is still the choice to trust, serve, worship, and obey.

I’m looking forward to seeing God. I long for the day when Christ returns to make all things new. In the meantime, this Great God Unseen calls us to trust based on what we already have.

And it is enough.

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