“…while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4.18)
What a riddle! What nonsense! How in the world are we supposed to look at things we can’t see and value them higher than the things we can see?
There’s a common misconception in our secular world that the only things that are real are the things that can be observed or experienced by our empirical senses; that is, through touch, taste, sound, sight, or smell.
Nothing is clearer from a reading of the Gospels than that to Jesus the unseen realm of life was just as real as that which was openly visible – and not only that, but that the unseen was of much greater significance.
He lived by the unseen Father: “No man hath seen God at any time…” He could nothing of Himself save that which the Father did: “The Father who dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.”
His purpose was to “open the eyes of them that see not,” of bringing a new birth to men, the reality of which should be proved by their subsequent seeing the Kingdom of God, of purifying their hearts that they should see God: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
It’s evident from Paul’s reference to the unseen, the eternal things, that the early Christians captured Jesus’ concept of life in the realm above, whereas contemporary society has largely rejected the idea in favor of a secular humanistic world view: We and we alone are the masters of our fate.
There’s a grand contradiction in the unseen world around us. The lowest level of all physical material, beyond dispute, is composed of things unseen. A country walk, a stroll along a beach, an evening spent gazing in wonder at the starry host above – the universe and all it contains are literally built upon the unseen. Elementary science functions in terms of atoms of complex structure, electrons, protons, and neutrons that no one has ever seen – yet no one challenges their existence. We know they’re there because the laws of physics require them.
Pomp, prestige, power, and wealth – are these the true stuff of life? What about the unseen qualities of love, honesty, integrity, devotion, loyalty, conscience, friendship, unselfishness, or their dark opposites – hatred, greed, and jealousy? None of these are seen, but they exist as surely as anything that’s tangible. In fact, they are the true governors of the physical things we have. Jesus put it this way: “Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment?” In other words, the intrinsic virtues, the “unseen things,” rather than the tangible, make life rich and rewarding.
Then there’s the indomitable human spirit – you can’t see that, either! We have the capacity to transform disaster and tragedy into success and triumph. The song of the Blind Ploughman tells how “God took my eyes away that I might see.”
When Fanny Crosby was an infant, she was blinded because of a doctor’s error. Eighty-three years later she wrote, “I wish I could meet that physician. I would say ‘Thank you’ over and over again for making me blind – I know that sounds strange to you, but I assure you, I mean every word of it.” Deprived of her empirical sense of sight she developed her intangible capacity to “see” what she couldn’t see. Her life of “blind” faith continues to teach and encourage us through the inspiring hymns she composed during her lifetime of “seeing the unseen.”