By Pastor Glenn Pease
A young sportsman just back from a hunting trip in India was criticizing the efforts of the missionaries there. He said that in all the months he was there he never saw any good they were doing. It was all a useless waste of money and effort. A returned missionary overheard him and asked him a question: “While you were in India did you see any of those lions and tigers we hear so much about?” He responded, “Indeed I did. I saw many of them.” The missionary then added, “I spent about 7 years in India but in all that time I never saw any lions or tigers, but I saw much important work being done by the missionaries.” The point is clear, men see what they are looking for. There is much even on the level of the visible that men miss because they have no eye for it. Their interests capture their vision and monopolize it, and this blinds them to the reality of all that lies beyond the narrow realm of self-interest.
Lichtze, the Chinese philosopher, told of a man who went into a shop that sold gold. He grabbed some and ran. The police easily arrested him and asked him how he could be so foolish as to try and rob in broad daylight before all of those people. The thief replied, “When I reached for the gold, I saw only gold, I didn’t see any people.” His greed for gold blinded him to the reality of the visible world that ordinarily would have prevented such folly.
If men can be blind even to the visible world, then it is no cause for wonder that they cannot see the invisible. It would seem by the very definition of the word invisible that it would be impossible for anyone to see it. But Paul speaks of looking at the unseen and in Heb. 11:27 we read that Moses endured “…as seeing him who is invisible.” In Rom. 1:20 Paul says the invisible nature of God has been clearly revealed in the things he has made. Paul is again in the realm of paradox. How can we see the invisible? It means that we see it by means of the visible, which we can see, but we see behind the visible to the invisible cause for it to be. It is being aware of the more than the visible.
The first thing we need to do is recognize the reality of the invisible. This should not be hard in a day in which even science is preoccupied with the unseen. Atoms, forces, waves, and rays innumerable are invisible, but are the tools science works with every day. Even materialists recognize that the greatest powers man knows of are invisible. Behind visible phenomena are invisible forces. It is the unseen magnetic pole that controls the compass needle. Invisible wind forces can cause planes to crash even though nobody can see them coming. We can see acts of good and evil, but we cannot see the invisible forces and motives behind them. It is the ability to grasp the reality of the unseen forces behind history that enables the Christian to enter into the purpose of God for history.
Man has the capacity of dual drive in the motor of his mind. He can chug along on the road of life in low gear and see only the reality of the ruts, mud, detours, and dead ends, or he can, by the grace of God, shift into high and glide down the superhighway of the spiritual with all of its fuel stations of faith, motels of meaning, and visions of eternal values. Those who receive Jesus as Savior can travel along sky line drive and catch glimpses of the city of God. Now this may sound like unrealistic mysticism of no practical value. We need bread and butter food for our souls and not fancy cotton candy visions spun out of a hyper-active imagination. This would be a valid objection if all of reality was on the level of the visible, but since the Bible teaches that the majority of reality is on the level of the invisible, it will be my challenge to show that nothing is more relevant and practical than the ability to see the invisible.
It is the key to the effective Christian life to be able to see the invisible. It is the very essence of worship. Herman Hagedorn wrote,
Lift up the curtain: For an hour lift up
The veil that hold’s you prisoners in this world
Of coins and wines and motor-horns, this world
Of figures and of men who trust in facts;
This pitiable, hypocritic world
Where men with blinkered eyes and hobbled feet
Grope down a narrow gorge and call it life.
One has not really begun to live until he begins to look, not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for these alone are the things that last forever. What is the practical value Paul gained by focusing is eyes on the invisible? In verse 16 we see that Paul’s awareness of the reality and value of the unseen made him an optimist in spite of the discouraging circumstances he faced. We faint not; we do not lose heart, and we never give up says Paul, even though our bodies are weary and our health is broken. Out outer man is perishing, but our inner man is being renewed every day. It was his vision of the invisible that kept him pressing on even unto death in the service of his Lord.
When the eyes of flesh see the cross it is all negative and awful, but to the eye of faith it was a glorious act of love that brought more joy into the world than any other act in history. Jesus saw the end results of the cross and that is why he could endure it. It was the joy of all eternity that kept him on the cross. The invisible kept him there where the visible was all seeming evil to be avoided. Seeing the invisible was the key to our salvation. We all need this vision to endure the sufferings of this world. Paul’s body was heading down hill and he had many problems. He knew his physical body was decaying and wasting away, but he saw beyond the body to the eternal soul that would be with his Lord forever, and this gave him the energy and the joy to press on.
If we look only on the level of the visible we can get discouraged by this world of suffering. We need to look through it to the greater world of the invisible. You do not buy a telescope to look at, but to look through to what is greater than it is. So also when we come to the Lord’s table we do not look just at it, but through it to the invisible behind it. The eye of flesh sees only the broken bread and juice. But the eye of faith sees the invisible values which are represented by these elements. It sees the sacrifice they represent and the offer of forgiveness they represent. It sees them as the gift of God that can give us assurance of eternal life. They are symbols of what is not visible. It is like the flag. We cannot hang up a picture of patriotism, for it is an unseen value. But we can put up a flag that is a visible symbol of that unseen love of country. So these symbols are visible signs of invisible values that are of infinite worth. They are trivial amounts of matter, but they represent what most matters for all of eternity. They enable us to see the invisible love of God which is beyond all understanding. These elements are not much to see, but if you see the invisible they represent you are seeing the highest values in this universe.
Jesus was the master of seeing the unseen. It was not just on the cross, but in every day life that he saw what others did not see. He did not just see the measly widow’s mite. He saw a heart of gold in the widow. He saw a woman being guided by love for the glory of God. What others were seeing was not worth a mention, for it was what we would say, “mere chicken feed.” Jesus was seeing what was beautiful while others saw what was pitiful. He was seeing the invisible forces that motives people all the time. It was his ability to see the invisible that made him unique among men.
Men who do unusual things are men who have a vision that others do not see. They see possibilities that others cannot see. Columbus was highly honored in Spain for his discovery of the new world. There was much jealousy, and many were saying he had done nothing they could not have done. He knew their thinking and took an egg from the dish and challenged them to stand it on end. None could do it, but he took it and broke off one end and it stood easily. They cried out that they could have done that. He replied, “Yes, if the thought had struck you. And if the thought had struck you, you could have discovered the new world, but it was I who had the vision.” Swift said, “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.”
Sakormoto was an old Japanese farmer who lived in a small hut on top of a hill behind a little fishing village on the bay. He was known and loved by all in the village, and people would often climb the hill to talk with him. One day the water in the bay suddenly retreated and fish were flopping in the mud. Everybody came running to pick up the fish in baskets. Up on the hilltop Sakormoto saw what had happened and he was alarmed. He had seen this happen once before as a child and knew that an earthquake had caused it, and that soon a tidal wave would soon return. He had no time to run and warn them and so he set his house on fire. When the people saw it they all ran up the hill to save his home. When they got there he was just watching it burn. He told them to never mind, but to look down on the bay. They all looked and saw a tidal wave come it and destroy their whole village in a moment. They lost all, but their lives were save by the old man’s sacrifice. Jesus did the same for us. He saw we would all be swept into hell by the forces of evil, but he gave us the hill of Calvary to look to and flee to in order to escape those forces, and instead have the right to enter the kingdom of God. May God help us to see beyond the visible and gain the values he wants us to have by seeing the invisible.