Seeing Is Not Believing

Why We Miss God in Daily Life

Perhaps you’ve had unbelieving friends or neighbors tell you they will believe when they see God writing his message in the clouds. I can tell you firsthand, this is untrue.

The cloudy letters began to appear one by one while we were on a family trip to a crowded theme park. As if scribed ex nihilo, they read,


And then minutes later,


Here they were, letters drawn in the sky by an unseen hand, exalting the Son of God and calling us to ask and receive from Christ’s goodness. Yet they incited little more than hurried glances. No one tore his garments in repentance or fell to his knees to worship Christ or cried aloud in gratefulness. Some already toting cross necklaces stopped to take pictures, but the masses continued unmoved, unmindful.

Seeing Is Not Believing

Moses tells us that God wrote the Ten Commandments himself, with his finger (Exodus 31:18). No one believed that these messages in the sky were written the same way. A man in a plane gave immediate causation.

But how did they know? The plane was nearly invisible to the naked eye. If you squinted hard enough, for long enough, you could catch the tiniest flash from the plane as he traced the letters.

Yet the masses did not stand staring at the clouds. The masses — some of whom believed in the existence of aliens and Bigfoot, or that men could become women — knew, without requiring a second glance, that this message could not be from God. Most did not see the plane — most did not need to see the plane. They already knew a human must have done it. If God granted their request and wrote the message himself, they would “know” in the exact same way.

All this to illustrate that seeing is not believing, as C.S. Lewis observes,

I have known only one person in my life who claimed to have seen a ghost. It was a woman; and the interesting thing is that she disbelieved in the immortality of the soul before seeing the ghost and still disbelieves after having seen it. She thinks it was a hallucination. In other words, seeing is not believing. This is the first thing to get clear in talking about miracles. Whatever experiences we may have, we shall not regard them as miraculous if we already hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural. (C.S. Lewis Essay Collection and Other Short Stories, 107)

The crowds could not be bothered to stop at the spectacle because all of life up to that moment told them that God, if God there be, would not do such a thing. He would not trifle in their daily affairs. The “god” of many who check the box is too often the distant god of good morals and clean living, not the God with inescapable actuality, breaking into our world without permission to write on tablets or with clouds.

Christian Naturalist

I thought these things as we continued walking when, like lightning, the realization struck me. Was I all that different? Their unbelief was clear to me — was mine? How had I received this message?

“Praise Jesus.” “Jesus gives. . . . Ask now.”

I knew that my God rules over all things. I knew that “The [the pilot’s] heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). I knew that my God made possible the weather conditions for that day — along with a million other factors that brought my family and me to that exact spot at that exact time to witness that exact message. I knew that in a real sense, God had in fact written in the sky that day — yet there I stood, wondering why other people weren’t getting the message.

Did any of my prayers find their response in this preordained spectacle? What, from a list of pressing needs, should I stop and ask Jesus for? Maybe God had something for me, a word for me, a desire to answer specific prayer and so liberate me from the barren land of “you have not because you ask not.”

Why had I assumed that God orchestrated all of this for the sake of unresponsive masses and not for his blood-bought son? If God scribbled his message in his clouds before my eyes, grinning, why did I reply unmindful, unmoved?

Devil in the Details

How would you have responded? How do you respond?

How many moments, big or small, do we miss given to functional naturalism, secularism, materialism? How often do we rise from our knees in the morning only to enter a world without God? The message written in the clouds, or the word given by a friend, or the “odd” coincidence we interpret as curious and causeless, as an unbeliever would. Do we often see the world as we ought? Can we also say of God, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5)?

“How often do we rise from our knees in the morning only to enter a world without God?”

The devil is busy in the details, providing reasonable explanations for this or that, assuring us there is nothing of our heavenly Father to see here.

And one of the strategies employed to keep us in a world without a personal God is to give us names for his created wonders. If we have a name to explain something, we can demystify it, taking something wonderful and making it dumb.

To illustrate, indulge me in a digression about lightning. A.W. Tozer quotes Thomas Carlyle as saying,

We call that fire of the black thundercloud electricity, and lecture learnedly about it, and grind the like of it out of glass and silk: but what is it? Whence comes it? Whither goes it? Science has done much for us; but it is a poor science that would hide from us the great deep sacred infinitude of Nescience [the state of not knowing], whither we can never penetrate, on which all science swims as a mere superficial film. This world, after all our science and sciences, is still a miracle; wonderful, inscrutable, magical and more, to whosoever will think of it. (Knowledge of the Holy, 18)

“We smear the wondrous fingerprints of God all around us by thinking that because we name a thing, we know a thing.”

We smear the wondrous fingerprints of God all around us by thinking that because we name a thing, we know a thing. “Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thunderings of his pavilion?” asked the ancient world (Job 36:29). “Oh, that blazing, electric fire flung down from the heavens? That’s just lightning,” responds the modern man. “Particles,” the more learned might say, “some negatively charged and others positively charged, separate and meet again in a massive current.” Wonder debunked.

Forgetting to Tremble

What is lightning, beyond the superficial facts and name? The unscientific poets outstrip us in seeing the manifest and untamable majesty.

He loads the thick cloud with moisture;
     the clouds scatter his lightning. (Job 37:11)

He covers his hands with the lightning
     and commands it to strike the mark.
Its crashing declares his presence. (Job 36:32–33)

He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
     who makes lightnings for the rain
     and brings forth the wind from his storehouses. (Psalm 135:7)

Let a man answer his God if he can:

Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
     that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
     and say to you, “Here we are”? (Job 38:34–35)

As we claim to be wiser than our prescientific ancestors, we miss what is most obvious. We wax eloquent about protons and electrons and miss God; we claim we’ve seen it before and forget to tremble.

Lives Without Lightning

As with naming lightning, we are tempted to miss the daily realities of God for a name. “Oh, that? It’s just some guy in a plane.” “Oh, that? It’s just a random text of encouragement from a friend.” “Oh, that? It’s just a lucky break, a random kindness, a smiling accident.” We even can wonder at answers to prayer: Can I really prove this wasn’t just a coincidence?

When did God leave his world? When did he stop intervening in its affairs and governing its happenings with purpose? In an effort to protect the overindulgence of the imagination that saw God “telling us” to do things irrespective of his word and wisdom, have we sacrificed interpreting our circumstances (even the hard ones) in relationship to our great God? Do we look at lightning as only lightning, setbacks as only setbacks, read the words written in the sky and miss their meaning?

Ours is a supernatural existence under a sovereign God. He uses secondary causes, but it is he who uses them — all of them — for our good. God is acting, today and every day. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28); “in his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). Let’s see his personal care and personal provision more in our everyday lives, composed for us daily, personally in the clouds.