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Believing is seeing

Believing is seeing
Posted on December 4, 2020  - By Winston Hottman

Several years ago, I attended my first and only 3-D movie. I wish I could say it was an action-packed thriller with plenty of intense and complex special effects, but it wasn’t. It was a revival of the Disney animated classic, Beauty and the Beast.

Before I am judged too harshly, let me say, in my defense, that I was in the process of wooing a certain young woman. The movie was a means to an end. And as it turns out, it paid off, seeing that I am now happily married to the true Disney fan. However, despite the bubblegum nature of the movie, I was surprised by the realism of the 3-D effects, at one point almost jumping out of my seat to dodge a wayward acorn. 

In one sense, you might say the 3-D experience obscured my vision of reality, fooling me into seeing something that was not there. On the other hand, the images were real. While my brain had trouble appropriately processing what I was seeing, my 3-D glasses were not “making it up”. Instead, they enabled me to see actual images playing out on the screen, images that I would not have had access to apart from the glasses. 

A common misconception of faith runs something like this: believing in something even when there is no evidence to support it. Or relatedly: believing in something against all odds. Contemporary culture often reflects this misconception in the way it celebrates faith. 

A common misconception of faith runs something like this: believing in something even when there is no evidence to support it

The value of faith, it is understood, is primarily, if not exclusively, subjective. It does not matter whether what we believe corresponds to any external reality outside of ourselves; faith is good for us regardless. In this view, faith functions as a sedative softening the harsh effects of reality or as a stimulant to action when we want to shrink away.

But, from a Christian perspective, this is a distortion of faith. While faith carries important subjective benefits, it does so by helping us to see reality more clearly. A well-known biblical example suffices to illustrate this point. 

An unexpected advantage

In contemporary culture, the story of David and Goliath is usually described along the lines above. David is facing an impossible situation and, unlike the rest of the Israelites, is willing to believe against all hope in facing the Philistine champion. But this perspective misses an important dimension of the story: David has a strategic advantage against Goliath — not merely the fact that God is on His side, but also a more natural advantage. Let me explain. 

Everyone else in the story, both Philistines and Israelites, are overwhelmed by two things: Goliath’s size and armour. He stands head and shoulders above everyone else (except Saul, perhaps, but that is for a different blog post). This makes the Philistines cocky and the Israelites afraid. 

Furthermore, the Israelites assume that if anyone is going to have a chance against Goliath, they must match him in stature and armour. So, while they can’t make David bigger, they do initially clothe him in Saul’s armour, which is at least more comparable to Goliath’s outfit than David’s sling. 

But does this way of seeing the situation correspond to reality? No. Consider this. If Israel had been able to put up a champion of comparable size and armour as Goliath, they would have achieved parity but would have overlooked something even better.

If Israel had been able to put up a champion comparable to Goliath, they would have achieved parity but overlooked something even better 

David’s sling — which he had already proven to be a deadly weapon against lions and bears — bore a strategic advantage by enabling David to engage Goliath from a distance. And David’s smaller stature afforded him a nimbleness, making it easier to charge the lumbering giant while avoiding him as necessary. 

But no one could see this, so overwhelmed were they by Goliath. Except David. He knew what he could do with a sling under the guiding hand of God. Furthermore, he is the only one who saw Goliath’s vulnerability, the single chink in his armour: his forehead, which he was forced to leave uncovered in order to (perhaps ironically) keep his vision unhindered. 

Eyes wide open

Here is the point. The faithlessness of the Philistines and Israelites obscured their vision of reality, while David’s faith freed him to see clearly. That is the true nature of Christian faith. It is not a belief against all evidence or odds. It is about embracing a perspective informed by God’s past deliverances that not only gives us hope for the future but a clearer picture of our present situation. Like 3-D glasses, it opens our eyes to dimensions of reality that we cannot see apart from faith. 

Like Israel, we often find ourselves in situations where we are gripped with fear. In those moments, our temptation is to grasp after the weapons of our enemies, placing our confidence in the objects of the Philistines, rather than the resources God has provided in Christ. 

It is helpful to remember in such times that these gifts — Scripture, prayer, worship, etc. — are not intended to distract us from our plight but to see it more clearly. To open our eyes to possibilities, solutions, and ways forward that the faithless cannot see because they are not wearing the right glasses. 

As Saint Paul has written, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13). 

The Bible and Christian history are full of stories of people who can confirm this claim. God offers it to us today, if we are willing to take it by faith. 

Winston Hottman

About Winston Hottman

A Ph.D. student in theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Winston Hottman is also co-founder of the Center for Baptist Renewal. Currently, he serves as Director of Institutional Effectiveness at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children.



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