April 24, 2011
Seeing What We Want to See
A number of years ago a friend of mine gave me this little sign, which is an optical illusion.
Some people will look at this sign and see only a few shapes and others will see the name Jesus. It’s easier to see the name of Jesus when you step back from this sign, or because you look at the background rather than the shapes.
Whether you see the name of Jesus quickly or not has nothing to do with your faith, but it does remind us that we see things differently.
Why do we see what we see?
If I mention, for instance, UK, what is your response? U of L? Duke? There is a wide gulf in how people see those schools, isn’t there? Why? Certainly one of the reasons has to do with our context. If you were raised in Kentucky you are culturally conditioned to be a UK fan.
What is your reaction when I say the name Barack Obama? Sarah Palin? Donald Trump? Why do people see political figures or political points of view in such radically different ways?
What about music? Mention the Beatles and you’ve got me in complete agreement. Mention Lady Gaga and suddenly I want to pound nails into my ears.
It’s one thing to speak of a sports team, or a musical artist, or even a political figure, but there is one name that brings very divergent opinions – the name of Jesus. The gospels reflect the fact that people looked at Jesus in very different ways, and that is just as true today.
Why do we see what we see? I think in some instances we see exactly what we want to see, and that is especially true when we speak of faith and of Jesus.
In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of books about belief and about unbelief. Both sides of the discussion put forth their claims and their evidences while leaving out the question of why do people see what they see, and why do people believe what they believe.
The gospel accounts of the resurrection tell us of the struggle of the followers of Jesus to accept the resurrection. They did eventually, of course, but at first it was beyond their realm of possibility, even though Jesus spoke of his resurrection on several occasions during his ministry.
Belief is a choice. Faith is a choice.
Thomas, the disciple, the one labeled, doubting Thomas, reflects the attitude of many as he said unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it (John 20:24).
Thomas wanted proof. People continue to ask for proof. But what is proof? One person would point to the vastness of the universe and the order in which the stars and planets move and say how could this be chance? Surely this is proof of God. Another may look at the vastness of the universe and the order in which the stars and planets move and say it’s all chance.
Faith is the willingness to take the step and receive the reality of Jesus. It is choosing to believe; it is choosing to see.
That choice, once made, means life is very different. The choice of faith, though, will not guarantee that life will be easier.
For those who are or have been married, did marriage simplify your life? Probably not. Once married, decisions need to be shared, compromises need to be made, and a shared rather than single vision of life must be adopted. And then there are children. Did children simplify your life? Probably not. But marriage and children, while not simplifying life, bring a great richness to life.
As the followers of Jesus chose faith it enriched their lives in tremendous ways, but it also complicated their lives in tremendous ways as well.
To not acknowledge this truth cheapens faith and also runs the risk of abandoning faith when life becomes difficult. Of the apostles, those who were the closest followers of Jesus, only John died a natural death; the others were martyred for their faith. It takes a very deliberate choice to see life in a particular way to be able to accept such a fate.
Why do we see what we see? It is because we make the choice to see.
Francis Collins is the Director of The National Institutes of Health. He is a world-renowned scientist who also directed The Human Genome Project, which mapped the human genome. As one who has been on the cutting edge of science for years, he writes that he was raised in a family where faith just wasn’t important (The Language of God, Francis S. Collins, page 11). As he grew older he became an agnostic and then moved into what he described as confrontational atheism, writing that I felt quite comfortable challenging the spiritual beliefs of anyone who mentioned them in my presence, and discounted such perspectives as sentimentality and outmoded superstition (page 16).
And then one day, as he sat and talked with a hospital patient who was suffering with untreatable heart disease, the patient asked him what he believed. In spite of all his training in science and medicine, the only reply he could manage was I’m not really sure (page 20). The patient’s question began to haunt him and he decided that as a scientist it was his duty to examine the question of faith, so he set out on a spiritual quest.
After studying all of the major world religions he still wasn’t sure what he believed, so he walked down the his street to visit a Methodist minister who lived in his neighborhood, and asked the minister whether faith made any logical sense. The minister listened and then gave him a book to read. The book was Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, the legendary Oxford scholar who had once been an atheist but came to faith while trying to disprove faith (page 21).
The arguments of Lewis were very convincing to Collins, and writing of the gap between belief and unbelief he says, for a long time I stood trembling on the edge of this yawning gap. Finally…I leapt (page 31).
Francis Collins moved from disinterest in faith to hostility towards faith and finally to embracing faith. What changed his way of seeing faith? Why did he see faith in a different way? There were spiritual and intellectual arguments that he considered, but it came finally to the question of what would he see?
We see what we want to see. As we consider the empty tomb this Easter Sunday, what do you see?