Seeing Is Not Believing
by Ryan McClure
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
We all know the old saying that claims, “Seeing is believing.” It has us trusting that
if we can see whatever it is with our own two eyes, we can accept it to be so.
For instance, we would probably be skeptical about a snake and a hamster being best friends.
Perhaps even more astonishing would be the friendships among three predators: a bear, lion, and tiger (affectionately labeled “BLT”). Yet, these animals have grown up together since they were mere babies, and the bond between them is so close that
it displaces their natural enmity. We can see pictures and videos of these “friendships” online. With such visible evidence of these animals co-existing, we find it easier to accept these assertions as true.
Perhaps we have an acquaintance whom we have always considered mean or rude, yet a friend tells us that he or she has changed. We are most likely to say, “Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see
it.” However, the next time we cross paths, the person is kind, gentle, and soft-spoken. Having seen evidence of the purported change, we can now believe that the formerly mean person has matured.
We also rely quite a bit on our hearing. This reliance is especially true when it comes to human interaction and relationships. If someone tells us they will do something, we take them at their word, while hanging onto the thought
that something could come up and change what we were initially told.
However, sight is different. When we see something, the truth seems almost imprinted in our minds.
No one can change what we saw because, well, we saw it firsthand! It cannot be changed. Or can it?
In 2011, National Geographic debuted a show called “Brain Games,” which the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) describes as “an examination of the nature of human perception and how it can
be fooled.” Several episodes revealed how magicians and even brain doctors use techniques like sleight-of-hand, distractions, and props to “play” the brain game.
It is truly amazing to see how an expert in sleight-of hand can make a quarter appear to move upward from one hand to another! He then impresses all the onlookers by “miraculously” causing the quarter to appear on his shoulder. Interestingly,
the episode’s producers next show his actions in slow motion, pointing out his tricky movements along the way. The viewer can now see which hand holds the quarter and how his hand and arm movements narrow the participant’s field of view. It becomes
apparent that he uses distraction to “force” the participant to look where he wants him to look.
He is so effective in distracting them that not only did
he make the quarter disappear then reappear on the participant’s shoulder, but he also removed the participant’s watch and put it on his own wrist without him noticing!
So, seeing is not necessarily believing.
This principle appears in a familiar episode in Scripture, John 7:21-24:
Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is
from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.
If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
Jesus, referring to the miracle He had performed in John 5, healing the paralytic on the Sabbath, rebukes the Jews for condemning Him for healing on the Sabbath day. In doing
this, they disregarded the fact that they circumcised baby boys on their eighth day, even if that day was a Sabbath. He instructs them not to judge solely according to what they see but with righteous judgment—how God sees things. He sees things far differently than we humans do.
The idea of seeing and believing appears again in John 20, where Christ appears to the disciples:
Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.
Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into
the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus
came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to
him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:19-20,
People are not always ready and easily persuaded to believe what people tell them. Thomas had the testimony of ten disciples; twenty eyeballs had witnessed Jesus appear in the closed
room. They saw Him as He showed them His hands and side. They gave Thomas more than enough corroborating eyewitness accounts of the event, yet he still would not believe until he saw for himself.
People often refer to Thomas as “Doubting Thomas,” and one could conclude that he merely wanted the same validating experience that the other disciples had gone through. In verse 20, Jesus shows them His hands and
side, so the ten saw the evidence that He indeed was the crucified Jesus, now alive again. Yet, Thomas’s own words in verse 25 go beyond this. He says that he needed even more sensory evidence to prove that the apparition was indeed the Christ: The disciple
needed to see and touch His hands and His side. It seems he refused to rely on the testimonies of others based on sight alone.
We realize God says
and does things purposefully. Jesus appears to the disciples again eight days after the original appearance. He seems to reappear for Thomas’ edification alone, to help him specifically with his lack of belief. The Good Shepherd did not want to lose
even one of His disciples, and as we know, He did not lose any except for the son of perdition, Judas Iscariot, who in the role of betrayer fulfilled scripture (John 17:12).
Susceptible to Deception
verse 29 specifically: “Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” Our eyes can be deceived—in fact, all our senses can be fooled. We can
think that we have seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted something only to discover that our perspective was off, our hearing muffled, our touch calloused, our nose stuffed, and our taste distorted.
Humans are easily distracted, which makes them susceptible to deception. Jesus speaks to this fact in Matthew
Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets
will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, “Look, He is in the desert!” do not go out; or “Look, He is in the inner rooms!” do not
Throughout the end times, we can expect frequent efforts to deceive us. People will believe they have “found” Christ in some secret place.
False messiahs and prophets will rise and exhibit great signs and wonders—perhaps “magical” things like sleight-of-hand and distractions?—that
have us looking in one direction while our very salvation is being threatened from another. Will we want to “see” them, believing that, if we can witness what the false teachers are up to, we will be able to determine if they are believable ourselves? To the contrary, Jesus says flatly, “Don’t believe it.”
In Matthew 9:27-30, two blind men ask Jesus to have mercy on them and restore their sight. Of course, they could
not physically see Him, but they believed in His ability to heal them if He was willing. Jesus touches them and says, “According to your faith let
it be to you.” And they were healed. They walked “by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7).
The author of Hebrews expresses the principle of faith before sight in Hebrews
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were
framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
At least in part, faith is generated by the evidence presented to us of things we have not seen.
In verse 3, the writer provides an example: that the Word of God constructed “the worlds” (the times we live in) from invisible things. What we see, then, provides evidence that a Creator
God, whom we cannot see with our eyes, exists. So, we can believe—have faith in—Him, despite His invisibility. Romans 1:20 supports
this conclusion: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by
the things that are made, even His eternal power and [divine nature (margin)], so that they [humans] are without excuse.”
Faith in the Unseen Christ
Considering all that God’s elect goes through—various sicknesses, employment trials, and tribulations created by governmental mandates—we need more than ever to find faith, hope, and strength in the Scriptures. We need to consider daily the One whom we believe in despite never setting eyes on Him. The apostle Peter writes in I Peter 1:6-9:
this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor,
and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
“Brain Games” shows how our physical senses work and how our brains process what we see, revealing how easily we can be distracted and misled.
Our attention can be directed toward a particular thing or place so that we miss what is happening outside our scope of vision. The show even illustrates how simple color changes can make our brains think a thing is in motion
when it is completely stationary. We cannot always believe what we see with our physical eyes. And the story of Thomas teaches that, spiritually, belief through sensory validation is not the kind of faith that Christ seeks from us.
Obviously, examples and metaphors break down at some point. For good reasons, God Himself created in humanity what the doctors and scientists presented on “Brain Games.” A takeaway from the
show is that our complex brains need to be only slightly tweaked by various stimuli to re-write how our brains see and respond. We must be cautious about why we believe and trust certain people and ideas. Are our beliefs based on faith or sight?
Christ used Thomas’ physical sight to help his unbelief, and it serves as an excellent example for those of us who have not seen our Savior in person. Knowing that we believe
in a perfect Creator and Son of God, One who took such wounds and died to pay for our sins—yet rose again!—should give us great joy.
Knowing and believing
that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews
13:8) and that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:17-18) should embolden our faith because we know
that, unlike fallible men, God and Christ are working with us with purpose and design. They are creating a Family in God’s image and working diligently to bring the elect into the Kingdom of God to reign with Christ forever.
But, as humans, we want something we can see, something that provides us with evidence and makes
us comfortable with what we believe. We, however, have something even better. Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:5-8:
Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the
Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
The Israelites had
a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night that led them through the wilderness. They witnessed the Red Sea parting, manna provided every morning, and great armies decimated before their eyes. Yet they did not believe.
As the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), we in the church do not see such astounding miracles and the visible certainty of God’s presence in our lives. It is typically only after much reflection and prayer that we finally understand the true reason for
what is happening to us. But we do see the evidence of Almighty God and Jesus Christ working in our lives and in creation. So, we can be of good cheer. We have genuine proof for our belief.
God has provided us with His words in the Bible, and they are true (John 17:17) and, like God Himself, unchanging (Malachi 3:6). He has given us His Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 2:6-16), one of power, love, and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:6-7). These gifts enable us to worship God in both spirit and truth (John 4:24) and open our eyes to “see” God working out His purpose.
Finally, as Jesus says in John 20:29, we are among the blessed because we have not seen Him yet have believed. And that is something to be very thankful for!