Seeing and believing

“Now 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'” (John 20:24-25 NKJV).

Few proverbs are stated with more confidence than “Seeing is believing.” But is it really? Several years ago I read a statement from a noted author he knew of only one person who claimed to have seen a ghost. The interesting thing was that this person did not believe in ghosts, even after he had “seen” one. Obviously, he doubted the authenticity of his sighting and thought it must be explainable in some other way.

A historical example of the same phenomenon is the reaction of the Jewish leadership to the miracles of Jesus. After the resurrection of Lazarus, some asked, “What shall we do? For this man works many signs” (John 11:47). That miracles had occurred was undeniable (see also Acts 4:16) but that did not cause them to believe the claims of Jesus.

I have read often that eyewitness accounts of an accident or crime are often unsatisfactory as evidence. People do not always see what they think they are seeing, nor do they interpret or remember those events reliably. Multiple witnesses frequently give accounts at variance with one another.

It is perhaps for this reason that God designed the Gospel plan of salvation so that we walk by faith rather than by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Some today see faith as weak evidence, inferior to the certainty presumably afforded by witnessing something first hand. Yet many of us have found that our memories of past events are hazy or even wrong.

The fact is that Christian faith is based on a combination of recorded historical events (things seen – see 1 John 1:1-4) and our own decision to place confidence in things we ourselves have not seen or heard “live” (i.e., as they originally occurred). A thoughtful person will soon observe that any historical event is believed or disbelieved on that same basis. No one alive today has seen or heard George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte, or other great figures of the past. But we accept without reservation that they lived and that the things generally attributed to them were real happenings.

Do not disparage faith. It is a major component of every day of our lives. When we make an appointment with a doctor we do so in faith that our car will start so that we can go to his office, that he and his employees will keep their schedule, and that many other events will take place in orderly fashion so that our appointment may be kept. Multiply that faith by every regular action that we take each day, week, month and year. Without our faith in the orderly working of our world, we could accomplish nothing.

When Jesus heard Thomas confess his belief, confirmed by his personal sighting of Christ, the Lord blessed him. But he then gave a much greater blessing to those who would believe in him without having seen him in person (John 20:29). Those blessed believers include us. Our faith is based on sight, but not our own. We accept the testimony of first-generation eyewitnesses of the gospel events. That is to say, we walk by faith.

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