You know the old saying, “seeing is believing.” If something is so crazy or unbelievable, you might hear, “You just have to see it to believe it!” We’ve all probably used a similar expression both in jest or in full seriousness.
The disciple Thomas used this language in John 20:25. Jesus had appeared to the other disciples after His resurrection and shown them His hands and His side (verses 19-23), but Thomas had not been present. When they told him about it, Thomas said, “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.” Unless I see, I will not believe.
A friend, strong in his faith, recently was going through a time of legitimate suffering. He’s never wavered in his faith, but in the midst of his hurt, he said something along the lines of, “At some point, you just need to see God is there. It doesn’t feel like enough to just know it.” He knew all the right things, but understandably wanted to really see God’s active, visible power in the situation and experience anew His presence in it. He was articulating what we all can probably identify with and have perhaps felt in moments of acute pain.
As my husband and I listened to our friend, I could see the words “seeing is believing” in my head, words I have written along the page of my Bible in Exodus. The word “remember” came to my mind as a possible antidote to our friend’s questions.
In the Book of Exodus, which describes the Israelites “exodus” out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites had no trouble believing God when they saw active, present evidence of Him, such as when the Red Sea parted or when the manna first fell to the ground. But even in the midst of such stunning wonders and awesome acts, they were tempted to doubt and fear, to lack faith that God would act again to save and deliver them. They were a forgetful people.
In Exodus 14:10-12, the Israelites, who had fled from Egypt after the Lord sent 10 plagues to cause Pharoah to let them go, now stood before the Red Sea being pursued again by Pharaoh. What they saw (“seeing”) caused them to fear (“believing” they would die): “The children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid…. Then they said to Moses, ‘…have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? … For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.’” (emphasis mine)
Rather than remembering that the God who had just delivered them with 10 plagues could now deliver them again, they doubted based on what their physical eyes could see.
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’” (Exodus 14:13-14) (emphasis mine).
You know the rest of the story: The Red Sea parted, and the Israelites were saved, and “the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea” (Ex. 14:27). Moses and the children of Israel sang a song of praise to God in Exodus 15. But how long would they remember?
The next scene (Ex. 15:22-27) after their praise to God takes them three days in the wilderness with no water. They began to complain, and God gave water. Then there was no bread (“Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Ex. 16:3). And the LORD rained bread from heaven for them.
There were no limits to the miraculous acts the LORD could and would perform on their behalf, with great patience and mercy, and yet, there were continued complaints and lack of faith. For “seeing is believing” and whatever the present moment brought dictated the faith they had.
What if remembering – recalling to mind who God is and what He has done – is a key to ongoing belief? Rather than following the example of the Israelites or Thomas, needing to see to believe, I offered the thought to our friend that perhaps he needed to remember. Maybe he should write down all of the times he had seen God act and known His presence. Maybe he should also write down the promises of God given in Scripture. And then maybe he should cast his eyes upward to see the God who does act for good and in love for his people, even as we live in a sin-sick world experiencing the pain and suffering the Bible acknowledges we will and tells us to expect.
Jesus was gracious to give Thomas that opportunity to see His hands and side eight days later (John 20:26-29), to which Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
In the wilderness times – and at all times – we can go beyond seeing our present circumstances to remembering, and as we do, we can pray and expect and believe and look up and hope and praise. God is there, and we will see Him even as we remember and look to Him again to answer our cries in the way that He knows is best for His glory and our good. Remembering – recounting His awesome acts and presence with us – is an act of believing.