“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
I’m sure you have had a friend or family member say this to you before. Even one of Jesus’ own disciples said it to him after he had only heard that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:24).
Why is it that we’re not prepared to accept some things as true until we see them in “real” life?
In the fourth century BC Aristotle postulated a hierarchy of senses, which had, seeing at the top, followed by hearing, smell, taste and finally touch! And still today we seem to place so much emphasis on seeing over the other senses.
So not being able to physically see something is often used as an excuse for not believing. But is that a valid excuse?
There are two important episodes in John’s gospel that suggest otherwise.
Firstly, seeing doesn’t always lead to right believing. In John 6:15-16 a group of people who have just witnessed a great sign by Jesus want to set him up as their leader. Even though He would one day be enthroned at God’s right hand as THE King, their actions were not appropriate. They had the right intentions but their plans were completely out of sync with God’s path for his Son. The cross had to come before the crown.
And secondly, seeing doesn’t necessarily lead to believing. A few verses later (vv.25ff) Jesus rebukes the same crowd who saw the sign the previous day for not responding rightly. He says very explicitly that the right way to respond is to believe in the one God has sent. Their reply is astounding: “what sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?” Their unbelief wasn’t because they hadn’t seen a sign, it was because they didn’t want to believe.
So we shouldn’t accept the excuse that people will believe something when they see it. Many saw great things in Jesus’ days and didn’t get it right.
But there were a few who lived in Jesus’ day and saw and heard and smelt and touched him, and got it right. What we have is their testimony. John writes in his first letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us… 1 John 1:1-2
Our relationship with God is primarily through the sense of hearing. We hear and so we believe. This is because of the nature of what the gospel is. The gospel – the good news – is a message that is proclaimed. It is a message concerning events that happened before our time. These historical events tell of the forgiveness of sins and hope of the world. Even though it tells of events that we have not experienced first hand, the implications still affect us.
So is it sufficient to “only” hear? Yes!
Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: “…faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17
Peter also writes in his first letter “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
So let’s all remember the promise of Jesus: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29) and let’s keep encouraging those we love to respond rightly when they hear the gospel.
Together in Christ,