Seeing Is Believing. Really?
The phrase “seeing is believing” is well known to us all. It suggests skepticism; it implies that we will not accept the truth of something unless we can somehow see it. While the phrase may validly express a concern for verification, it contradicts basic religious ideas. To paraphrase the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Not-seeing is believing.” In other words, we do not believe what we see; rather, we believe what we do not see. Confusing? But then so is real faith.
The author turns to Abraham as a perfect example of such faith. Without knowing exactly what he would find as he followed the inspiration of God, Abraham left his home of origin and journeyed through a foreign land. Abraham did not see, yet he believed. He clung to God’s promise of descendants, even though to him it seemed an impossibility. He did not see, yet he believed. The greatest test of his faith came when he was asked to sacrifice the very child who was to fulfill this promise of descendants. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”
The instructions given by Jesus in the Gospel require the same kind of faith. But the focus there is not the seeming incredibility of the object of faith, but the need to cling to that faith even when its fulfillment is long in coming. The followers of Jesus are told not to seek security in the realities of this world, but in the treasures that belong to the reign of God. Jesus then exhorts them to be steadfast in their faith, and he provides a story to explain what he means. The servants were entrusted with the management of the household. No one knew just when the householder would return. Therefore, a wise servant would be ever vigilant, since the householder could return at any moment and would expect to find everything in order and awaiting his reappearance. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”
If faith is not based on what is seen, then on what is it based? Its foundation is the trustworthiness of God, who has generously blessed these same people in the past. The author of the Book of Wisdom encouraged the people of his time by reminding them of how God had protected their ancestors as they escaped from Egyptian bondage. God’s faithfulness to Abraham is invoked here to strengthen the faith of the Christians to whom the Letter to the Hebrews was sent. Writing to his community of Christians, Luke recounts how Jesus instructed his followers to be steadfast in their faith in him.
Like believers in the past, we too have been called to cling to the hope of a future that may seem too good to be true. Like believers in the past, we too are expected to be steadfast in our faith, even when we see no signs of its fulfillment. Will we pass the test?