Seeing the Unseen

[2 Cor. 4:18]---'While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.'

Nothing is clearer from a reading of the Gospels than that to Jesus the unseen realm was that which was apparent, and has a infinitely greater significance. He affirmed that He lived by the unseen Father, the God whom 'no man hath seen at any time.' Disclaiming all original powers He said frankly that He could do nothing but that which He saw the Father do. He declared that all He did amongst men and for them was directed toward making the invisible visible : 'The Father who dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.' He put right in the forefront of His program His purpose of 'opening 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 of the Kingdom of God, of purifying their hearts that they should actually see God Himself. For only so can life be redeemed from the tyrant pull of earthliness unto the service which gives it meaning. Only so can it ever properly realize itself.

It is evident from the naturalness of St. Paul's reference to the unseen, eternal things, that the early Christians had laid hold of Christ's idea of life and were themselves, in measure, proving its power. Under His influence they acted the sight of the unseen. Eye beheld 'as in a glass the glory of God,' and what they saw ministered strength and courage and determined purpose to them. It belied the finality of their circumstances. It altogether changed life's values. There were considerations which, for them, entirely outweighed 'the sufferings of this present time.' An those considerations were unseen, objective realities.

More than half our worries and all of our moral weaknesses and shortcomings result from our failure in this respect. We have capitulated, without knowing it, to the lure of the things that are seen, the imperiousness of the things of which the world is full, and round which its activities is organized, until our spiritual vision is impaired and our spiritual desires are drugged to inactivity. We have ordered our ways as though the affairs of the visible world were the supreme importances, and many of us have arrived at a state of merely tolerant, respectful indifference in regard to the larger unseen realities and their significance. What a contrast we present to that which God had in mind when He created and redeemed us! Little people! With little interests! We are too much like the world to impress it.

Now, on the lowest level of all, the physical and material, it is true beyond dispute that by far the largest and quite most real things are ordinarily unseen. A country walk or a stroll along an ocean beach with a friendly naturalist, or an hour on a starry night in company with an astronomer, or the reading of a simple manual of natural science, will surely convince us of this. Even elementary science talks in terms of atoms of complex structure, electrons and protons, which no one has ever seen. It tells that their existence is demonstrated by their behavior under variable conditions. The reality of the unseen world of Nature is, in fact, an axiom on which science proceeds to its investigations and conclusions. So also in regard to rays and waves and ethers and other synonyms for strange forces, the reality of which is as certain as in their invisibility. Indeed, to have even a nodding acquaintance with modern science is to be made aware that behind the tangible world of matter there is an invisible world of spirit. The men of science of our day are by investigation and experiment doing nothing other than precipitating the unseen, bringing its enormous reserves of force into the world of the seen things and harnessing them to human need and convenience. This is the law of progress in which science is the pioneer---seeing the unseen!

In all human relationships there are things 'not seen' to be looked for. Behind the things we criticize, or rashly condemn, in others there are, if only we were not so blind, extenuations of motive, of limited resource, of actual suffering and painful self-consciousness, of thwarted desire and disappointment, which would strangle any unkind words of condemnation. There are unseen sacrifices, unparaded kindliness, pitiful straits lying behind the frontage of many lives. Jesus has made this great test of character, the reliable evidence of real religion, a man's ability to understand, to estimate, to appreciate the other person. Our too-ready assessment of other people's motives is always a revelation of our own. For it is what we are that determines what we see.

Here is a certain widow going up to the Temple to worship. As she enters she quietly drops her offering into the Treasury. When the Treasurer gathers up her coins he is half-amused at the contribution. Two mites, which make a farthing! Not much here for the endowment of the Temple! Not much here for the emoluments of the priests! As ' things which are seen ' the coins were about next door to nothing! But there was One, sitting over against the Treasury, who was looking on with quite another sort of eyes. Behind the two mites He saw a precious motive, He saw a spirit of adoration, He saw a passion of love and sacrifice. The Treasurer saw two mites, Jesus saw a whole heaven, He saw something akin to the unsearchable riches of His own grace.

What are the strongest, the most enduring, actually the greatest, things in life as we know them? Are they seen things like money, pomp, commerce, the bewildering output of human energy in fierce competition ? A thousand times no! They are rather things like love, conscience, honor, the spirit of friendship, unselfishness, devotion, or their dark opposites---for the things not seen are not all of one high order. For these invisible realities, abstract in themselves, have the mightiest, concrete expressions which make heaven or hell of earth by making or degrading men.

If it seems beyond our power to hold to our faith in the overruling love of God since life looks and feels as though it were ill-ordered, not merely for us but for the crowds of trouble-crushed, pain-racked, grief-stunned folk in the world, then let us turn again to Jesus and the story of His Cross. His suffering, His loneliness, His darkness have been transmuted into a living fountain of effort and inspiration for the whole race. He endure ' for the joy that was set before him.' He died as He lived, with the sense of the invisible, eternal realities with always a dynamic persuasion. And His confidence has been triumphantly confirmed.

It is full of interest, and far more than mere interest, that in all His dealings with men, God Himself looks beyond the things seen to the things unseen. It is this alone that explains His choice of us. Beyond our pitiful sins, and pathetic weaknesses, and glaring faults of disposition. He sees possibilities and qualities and aspirations which all give promise of the man that may be, despite the man that is.

The unseen is what God was always manifesting in the words and works of Jesus. He saw an apostle in an apostate, hence His ' Come follow Me!' He saw latent courage hidden beneath all-too-evident cowardice, hence His ' Go ye into all the world....marvel not if the world hate you!' He saw valiant leadership in unstable emotion, hence His assurance ' Thou art....thou shalt be!' And, when others saw nothing but presumption and even fanaticism, 'He saw their faith' as men brought the diseased to Him for healing. God Himself sees the unseen. Were it not so we should have little encouragement to start anew with His Word as our guide and confidence. But the world that is before us is His world. He is Lord of heaven---and earth.

In Christ, timothy.