Suffering changes our vision.
Just as our natural eyes can’t see as well in the dark, in suffering we struggle to see beyond our pressing needs. Everything looks hazy — except our problems, which seem disproportionately clear and intense. It takes the eyes of faith to see past our present circumstances to the presence and provision of God.
Seeing with the eyes of faith requires us to be intentional about where we focus. I recently took a picture in portrait mode on my phone, and I noticed that what I focused on was remarkably vivid and sharp, while the surroundings were fuzzy and blurred. I could barely identify what was in the background. The same is true in suffering. Whatever we focus on will capture our attention, and everything else can fade into the background.
Looking Through Another Lens
When God first brought the Israelites to the edge of the promised land, Moses told them to spy out the country God had given them. The spies returned after forty days, acknowledging that the land was flowing with milk and honey, but focusing their attention on the giants who lived there (Numbers 13:31–33). God’s promises and provision faded into the background, and the people succumbed to fear.
“It takes the eyes of faith to see past our present circumstances to the presence and provision of God.”
Forty years later, Joshua led the Israelites to the border of the promised land with even more obstacles. The same giants inhabited the territory, but now they needed to cross the overflowing Jordan River and conquer a walled city. But this time, the people didn’t hesitate or mention turning back. They focused on God, taking courage that he was with them, and the hurdles disappeared into the background. Rather than looking through the lens of fear, they looked through the lens of faith, focusing on God’s presence, protection, and provision.
Faith allows us to see far beyond our natural vision, assuring us of what we hope for but cannot yet see with our physical eyes (Hebrews 11:1). This spiritual sight is a gift from God, and with it we see our lives through a different lens. But why do we need it? When God opens our eyes, what can we see?
Show Us Wonders
Scripture becomes alive with meaning when God illuminates it for us. The Bible is inspired by God, and we need his Spirit to understand it (1 Corinthians 2:14). We can research and analyze Scripture and even read the original in Hebrew and Greek, but if God doesn’t reveal the truth to us, we cannot see it.
“Even when we feel as though we’re lying in the dust, God’s word can revive us.”
One way to get that sight is to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Just as the resurrected Jesus opened the disciples’ minds on the road to Emmaus to understand Scripture (Luke 24:45), God can do the same for us. The Bible moves from mere typewritten words on a page to Spirit-breathed words that change us — words that give life to our souls, give us wisdom and joy, and help us see the deep things of God. Even when we feel as though we’re lying in the dust, God’s word can revive us.
When God revives us, our spiritual eyes can see his protection as we look into the heavenly realms. Even though we may feel alone, outnumbered by our troubles and enemies, we can be certain that, in Christ, heaven’s armies are with us. When Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the Syrian army, Elisha prayed that the eyes of his servant would be opened. And when they were, the servant saw that the hills were filled with horses and chariots of fire. The heavenly realms surrounded them, and they both knew that there were more with them than against them (2 Kings 6:15–17).
Likewise, believing that the help of heaven is surrounding us can change how we face battles, whether we’re struggling against hostile people or alone in our rooms. Wherever we are, we are never truly alone.
In addition to his protection, God opens our eyes to his provision right in front of us. When Hagar was sent away with her son Ishmael, she wept when their water supply ran out and feared Ishmael would die. Then God opened her eyes to see a well of water that would provide for them (Genesis 21:19), most likely reminding her of years earlier when she declared, “You are a God of seeing. . . . Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13). Hagar understood that God provides for and looks after us, even when we have no resources. The ability to recognize God’s provision is a gift, so those who don’t trust in God may not see good even when it comes.
Perhaps the greatest gift of spiritual sight is to recognize God’s presence. Jacob wrestled with God, at first not knowing who he was, but eventually realizing he had seen God face to face (Genesis 32:30). This encounter changed Jacob forever — leaving him with a limp, but more importantly with a faith that never turned back. After seeing God, like Jacob, we will never be the same.
Even though we may intellectually know God is always with us, we need to pay attention to see him and be aware of his presence. Signs of his love are all around, but we need to connect them to him. It may be as simple as noticing the wisdom we have when we ask for it. Or the inexplicable comfort we receive when we cry out. Or the unexpected phone call after we pray. Connecting those gifts with God’s presence in our life can transform our suffering. Both Mary Magdalene at the tomb and the disciples on the road to Emmaus were dejected and discouraged until they recognized Jesus, and then they were filled with joy and peace. So it is with us. Knowing that God is with us, not just intellectually but experientially, can radically alter how we feel in our suffering.
Sight That Changes Suffering
When we turn to God, he opens our eyes and shows us hidden treasures of darkness that we might know him (Isaiah 45:3). But since our vision is limited in the dark, we need to be purposeful about where we focus. If we view life through the lens of pain and discouragement, we will focus on all that is wrong and difficult. We will see our problems more than God’s provision. We will see our loneliness more than God’s presence. We will fixate more on our fears than on God’s promises.
What lens are you viewing your life through? Are you asking God for supernatural sight as you focus on him? Are you looking at the obstacles in front of you, or are you beholding the God who can move mountains? Are you trusting in your ability to fix the situation, or are you entrusting yourself to the God who commands the dawn? Are you focusing on what you don’t have, or are you centered on the fact that our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills?
What we look at and focus on will change us. As we behold the Lord Jesus, he will transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18), but if we concentrate on our fears, they will consume us. If we put God’s steadfast love before our eyes (Psalm 26:3), then we will see his presence, protection, and provision more than we see our problems. He will delight us with Scripture even in our deepest affliction. We will rest in his protection, knowing he goes before us and will fight for us. We will see his marvelous provision, sending manna from heaven and water from a rock. We will know that he is with us, as our spiritual eyes will see our Teacher (Isaiah 30:20).
And as we walk by faith and not by sight, relying on what we know to be true rather than what we see, we will not be disappointed. “For we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).