We all know the typical complaint of an unbeliever: “how can you expect me to believe something that I can’t see?”
It is a valid question.
It really doesn’t console them when we, as Christians, respond with Romans 1:20: “you are without excuse because His invisible qualities can be seen by understanding the things His power and divinity have made”.
In fact, it is a very cruel thing to say to someone who is on the outside, endlessly thirsting for the elusive “living water” (John 4:14).
Love simply doesn’t do that!
So, we need to understand that an unbeliever is an unbeliever for that precise reason: they haven’t seen the reality of God. (or, more precisely, it is because they are looking at the evidence of God with an unbeliever’s understanding).
Recent discussions on www.christianforums.net have raised the topic of Christians who have “blind faith”: They are a type of religious person who uses the bible to justify their belief system. They pray genuinely in His name, they do the good that they think He is pleased by .. and yet there are among them the sorts producing ungodly fruits: backbiting, wars, sexual immorality, conspiracies to do injustice… it shows that there is a vital piece of the Christian vision missing among them. They are a church body that does not recognise and follow the head, that is Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18).
In that sense, churches today are a bit similar to the religion of Judaism in Jesus’ time:
[The Jews in the temple] said to Him: “Our father is Abraham!”. Jesus says to them “If you were the children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham, but now you want to kill me – a man who has spoken the truth to you that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.”John 8:39-40 (LEB)
.. and Jesus Himself had warned His disciples of that coming reality while He was preparing to face His accusers:
Jesus told them, “For a little while longer, the Light will be among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.John 12:35 (LEB)
Soon after Jesus’ resurrection, when the disciples were actively spreading the gospel message, we read through the accounts in the book of Acts that The Holy Spirit was among them, was giving them instruction, and was doing works through them. But through other parts of the New Testament, letters written personally to churches, the disciples warn about rivalries, factions, warring and slander that were happening among the members of the churches. We know such things, and worse, have been happening in the churches ever since.
That’s not to say that Christians have a new problem though, because it is a consistent theme within communities of faith, and it always will be whenever a person is seeking the adoration of another for being a “spokesperson of God” (eg: Jeremiah 26:7-8).
Clearly, the problem is owed to the fact that there are certain religious people who simply do not see and hear God, let alone do they accept the words that are said by those who do. Yet, each person has a portion of power in any system of power, and anyone who has power believes it is their right and duty to exercise that power according to their best reasoning.
When a person is unable to perceive God in their midst but they want to do His will, they are only able to imagine Him as the authority of the idea that prevails in their mind when they pray. History has plenty of examples of people who have done bad things in the name of religion, and it is quite typical that a mystic would lay claim to a divine instruction in that manner.
So, how did they get the wrong answers from prayer?
The spirit of God is holy – that means that He is set apart from all others, and anyone coming against Him would be consumed by His righteousness. So it is necessary for a person to be humble and submitted to receiving His judgment if they are to be approaching Him (Exodus 33:20). If a person is not able to receive the judgment of God, then he probably is also unable to admit it (1 Peter 5:5). If that person, then bound by their pride, goes forth to claim an instruction in prayer, he must be appealing to a spirit that is deceiving him by flattery. As soon as he announces that God has instructed him, while the truth is that he didn’t empty his self interests, he has spoken his own will on God’s authority and has made himself an enemy of God (Exodus 20:7, Jeremiah 23:30-40).
So we see that it can be perilous to participate in Christianity if we do not truly submit ourselves to God in all matters. In this way, we can also come to understand how there are so many Christians in churches who are not producing the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). Although the same Christians no doubt have begun their Christian faith with the best of intentions, they have ended up producing bad fruit and distorting the message of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
So let’s look at what God has intended for His church, because Jesus didn’t give up His life to become a historical religious icon that everyone is fighting about two thousand years later. No, in fact there is a common theme throughout all the New Testament scriptures and most presentations of The Message of Salvation through Christ: that Jesus laid down His life, knowing it was unlawful for them to take it, so that He would secure an everlasting office as our High Priest (Hebrews 7:23-25).
Keep in mind that everybody is introduced to Christianity at a starting point having zero knowledge of it, and as they learn more day by day, making wise decisions to keep growing in the right knowledge of The Lord, they can become someone who is very experienced and full of knowledge – having learned to cultivate the character of Christ and being useful to Him for personal ministry to those who need ministering to by The Holy Spirit.
The early church recognised that the Spirit of God was real and living in them, speaking through them, just as the scriptures have told us. So, that explains how the church has traditionally addressed its priests as “father” – because a priest in his proper conduct of office would indeed be a vessel for the spirit of our Heavenly Father to speak to us (Matthew 23:9). While it isn’t impossible that a priest may, these days, be found sufficiently refined to portray the nature of God to us, do keep in mind that the modern use of the title is more of a formalism – a tradition of the church.
Indeed, a word of caution is appropriate too, when considering whether one should peer into the spirit of his priest and subject himself to it (Proverbs 25:26). We know our wrestle is not against the flesh and blood, but against the host of the wickedness in the spiritual places (Ephesians 6:12, 1 John 4:1, Matthew 24:5).
So the role of a priest (eg: Pastor), is to provide ministry to the people who seek it, in order that they also would grow into maturity:
And he himself gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all reach the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to a measure of the maturity of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed about by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching, by the trickery of people, by craftiness with reference to the scheming of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow into him with reference to all things, who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined together and held together by every supporting ligament, according to the working by measure of each single part, the growth of the body makes for the building up of itself in love.St. Paul, Ephesians 4:11-16 (LEB)
So St. Paul has said two very important things here, that are the real key for making the most of Christianity in your church: that the spiritual gifts (apostolic, prophetic, evangelic and pastoral) will continue until the church has achieved the unity of faith and knowledge of the son of God (ie: for 2,000 years and counting!), and that we are to grow into Him with reference to all things.
Let’s unpack that second thing, because the language is very rich.
When St. Paul says we are to grow into Christ with reference to all things, what is he referring to? It is quite literally all things that we do, and all things that we are. In everything that we do and everything that we believe, we ought to ask “Is that what Jesus would do?”. Whether it be the way we drive, the way we dress, the way we eat, the work we do.. and of course, the spiritual food that we eat: Do you enjoy lewd television and violent games?
For instance, when you watch your television, do you laugh when they mock a certain type of person? Do you realise that your mind is no longer pure of thought toward people who fit that stereotype in real life? How about when a character is portrayed as a bad husband and the TV show makes you agree that the wife’s girlfriend should break them apart? Do you know that you are being taught to view and believe that men have that character? .. and men, when you see women portrayed as items of lust and men gambling over who might seduce her first – do you realise that your eyes are being exercised to see the world in a way that you were not made to see? The mind is the throne of the spirit, and the heart is the source of its life. When people look to see Christ in us, they need to see a pure mind and a wholesome heart. So watch television with wisdom.
Now, let’s address this question of what Jesus might possibly have meant when He said “blessed are those who have believed and yet have not seen”.
The obvious question that anyone might ask, is: “why does He suggest that a believer having not seen Him is more blessed than a believer who has?”
There’s probably a few different ideas that can count toward the perfect answer, but the first and most important principle is found in Matthew 12:39: we know who Jesus is, because we know what love is. Thomas had said he would never believe that it was Jesus unless he had seen the nail holes. In comparison, John 21:7 shows us that the disciple knew it was Jesus standing on the shore, even though He was 100 metres away.
Also, there is a special value in having a simple faith, and simplicity of life comes through simply trusting God as a child trusts his parents.
The beginning of this article mentioned that there is a particularly destructive quality about holiness – that even the angels of fire would shield their face from Him (Isaiah 6:2-3) .. Why, and what does that mean?
In the light of righteousness, our sin is laid bare. That is the pure and plain reason why persecution comes upon the saints – a sinful world is literally unable to feel justified in the presence of righteousness. God’s wrath comes against them in light of our innocence, and it is His spirit in us that they cannot bear.
Being human, they use various methods to suppress the indignation of righteousness, and being so determined in their sin, often they do not realise that they are doing exactly that. But God is one who cannot be suppressed. A human who is unable to bear His righteousness can only hide from Him and deny His truth. We read of that famously in the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8-10).
And I said, “Woe to me! For I am destroyed! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I am living among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the king, Adonai of hosts!”Isaiah 6:5 (LEB)
So there is one aspect of blind faith that is valuable to a person, particularly when we are substantially young in Christianity or slowly developing: He is shielding us from the realisation of our smallness.
Our smallness is an inevitable conviction for a mortal who reveals his naked soul in the light of God. If a person who was underdeveloped for that reality were exposed to His face, they would be ruined as the prophet Isaiah cried out. So He shields us from the shame of being found naked and unprepared in His presence (2 Corinthians 3:7-8).
In that state of faith, there is simple trust in God’s goodness and total confidence in the knowledge that He is pleased with our devotion to His way (Romans 8:1-2). He is able to bless our life by virtue of our faith simply being faith (Romans 8:32, Galatians 3:24-26).
I also should mention that having blind faith is much more simple than having one’s eyes opened to the spirit world, because when you realise you are not only dealing with the people you speak to, but you are dealing with the spirits in them, you realise that those spirits are a community that is not constrained by any one body. The spirit inhabits a body, and the only relief one can get from the presence of a spirit, is to be with people who do not yield their self as vessels for that spirit.
One such way people do that, when they are trying to hide from the conviction of the Holy Spirit, is to cast a spell over the mind of the person who is bringing the words of conviction. When I say this, I speak of spell casting in a Christian way and not a pagan way, because the casting of a spell is simply, by definition of the word, the formation of words that take a mind captive to think in a particular way.
One of the most blatant examples of spell-casting, that every parent is probably guilty of, is the threat of punishment. That spell is particularly destructive to The Holy Spirit’s work in a child, because it invokes a spirit of fear in the child and shuts down the natural work of growth that He is doing in them as they are expanding their understanding of how things work and why the rules are made. But that particular spell is also a curse upon the one casting it, because in order to cast that spell, one must forego the spirit of love itself (1 John 4:18). For example, “love does no harm to a neighbour” and “love is patient, it is kind, it bears all things and hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13).
It is also an unescapable truth that the whole world has been spellcast by the spirit, that is written of through Ephesians 2: “we all were once like them, being children of wrath”, and it goes on to say that we have been saved because of the mercy that came through the greatness of His love for us. There is no grace in the spirit of wrath that uses threats of penalties to dominate and rule weaker ones (Ephesians 6:9), and people who do that to children are not behaving in a Christian spirit (Luke 9:48).
And they were bringing young children to him so that he could touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the young children come to me. Do not forbid them, for to such belongs (Literally “for of such is”) the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a young child will never enter into it.”Mark 10:13-15 (LEB)
Look at that: the disciples, being the ones who had beheld the fullness of His glory in the flesh and had been around His teaching for a while, were themselves laid bare in His presence. And what happened? He gave His approval and praise to the little children, and indignation to them!
This story is a clear expression of the vital need for us to break free of the world’s way of thinking, that makes us dominate them and crush their spirit as relief from the indignation of their relative righteousness. The only way one can truly overcome the world and live in the freedom of new spiritual life, is to be born of the spirit again. We must repent of the world’s ways and glorify God with the pure heart and humble nature of a child, so that He can bless us in His presence.
So when an unbeliever says they have never seen God, we know that children are dearly loved by Him, and that wherever a person is abiding in love, God is abiding in him (1 John 4:16).
God is with us a lot more than we know, and even though Phillip had been with Jesus every day of His mission, still he had not recognised The Father until he had asked (John 14:8-9).
So all it comes down to is the one fact that an unbeliever chooses to follow a mindset that prevents them from recognising God instead of following the mindset that equips them to understand His presence, and those decisions can begin in childhood before a person has matured enough to deliberate.
Saying that a person doesn’t understand or recognise God is a bit different from saying that they don’t see Him. Matthew 18:10 shows us that the little children are constantly approved by God, and yet they would not know how to understand that the love in the people around them is the spirit of love that comes from God to them. Only the appropriate teaching can open their eyes to see it and name it that way.
Though, that is not to say that a Christian with blind faith is as a child before God. Jesus says so explicitly when He says we must turn and become again as a little child or we will never enter into the kingdom of God. Little children don’t watch horror movies and they don’t laugh at lewdness. They don’t enjoy hurting animals and they don’t conspire or gossip.
“Who may ascend the mountain of Adonai? And who may stand in his holy place?”
The one who has my commandments and keeps them—that one is the one who loves me. And the one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him.Jesus Christ, John 14:21