Recently I stood cowering under an overhang as hail dropped from the sky and rattled the ground beneath my feet. The sound was deafening — like a million little firecrackers going off at once. The clouds above me were black as coffee. The sky behind it a sickly green.
Isn’t it strange the way storms like these can distort our minds? This particular storm was short-lived, and yet my memory of the sun had been nearly engulfed in its darkness. With each roar of thunder, it became more and more difficult to recall the caress of its heat or the brilliance of its light. But even in this storm, I never concluded that the sun was gone forever. I never questioned whether the sun ever existed in the first place. Despite my fears and doubts, I knew that the sun is real, it still exists, and it is shining just behind the clouds — even though I couldn’t see it.
In knowing this, we demonstrate what John Piaget calls “object permanence.” Object permanence is the awareness that an object continues to exist even when it is not in view. Thus, when we trust the sun is there, even when we can’t see it, we are demonstrating we have developed our object permanence of the sun.
As adults, we have object permanence down. We know that the sun is in the sky, the car is in the garage, and the laundry is in the dryer without needing to check to make sure. We know that “sweeping something under the rug” doesn’t make it actually disappear. Although sweeping dirt away will hide it from our eyes or cause us to forget about it, that won’t change the reality that it’s still there.
Many unbelievers know this, and yet are inconsistent about it. When asked why they struggle to believe in Jesus, a common reply is that “if I could only see him, then I would believe.”
Seeing Is Believing?
Consider the ragtag group of Galileans who stood in amazement as they watched the Son of God ascend into the sky and disappear from their sight. The one they walked, talked, and ate with was now out of sight — but not out of mind. Many of these disciples had developed object permanence with Jesus, and despite the trials and persecutions that would later come their way, they continued to believe that he would be with them always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
And yet, not all who saw the resurrected Jesus actually believed in him. In fact, Matthew tells us that there were some who doubted even as they looked upon the post-resurrected Jesus as he stood on the mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:17). But if some of those who actually saw the risen Christ with their own eyes failed to believe, what hope do we have? We haven’t touched him like Thomas (John 20:27), walked with him like Cleopas (Luke 24:31), or ate fish with him like John (John 21:13). It would, therefore, seem that we are at an incredible disadvantage compared to those who witnessed the resurrected Jesus. The New Testament disagrees. In fact, Jesus said that it was to our advantage that he left (John 16:7). How can that be?
Jesus knew something the disciples didn’t. He knew that it was not sufficient to merely see him work miracles or teach in front of crowds (Matthew 13:13). Instead, what humankind most needed, and still needs, is to see Jesus with the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:18). Therefore, Jesus sent the Helper in his place, the Holy Spirit who gives spiritual sight and enables us to see Jesus for who he really is: the Lord and Savior of the world. In other words, Jesus disappeared from our eyes in order that we might see him with our hearts.
The Spirit Helps Us See
Object permanence, the belief that something exists even when you no longer see it, requires having first seen the object. You cannot develop object permanence with Christ unless you first receive a true Spirit-enabled sight of Jesus. This is the reason why some fall away in the midst of persecution, while others are choked out by the cares of the world (Luke 8:6–7) — they had never truly seen Jesus in the first place.
The opposite is also true. Those who have been given Spirit-enabled sight of Jesus have object permanence with him such that, even in the midst of life’s storms, one continues to hold onto faith that Christ is shining behind the clouds. This matters immensely, because in the midst of times like these, more than any other, we’re tempted to ask whether Jesus is really there.
Even in Our Darkness
In these times, Peter is especially helpful. In 1 Peter — a book largely addressing the suffering of God’s people — he affirms that “though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Is Peter foolish to write this? No. Peter knows that even in our darkest moments — when doubt looms largest in our minds, and we cry out, “Is Jesus really there?” — the Holy Spirit answers back, Yes, Christian, your Savior is here.
The Holy Spirit, not physical eyesight, enables us to have object permanence with Jesus. Our lack of physically seeing Jesus, while troublesome at times, will never ultimately make our faith in him cease. Perhaps that is why Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). As Christians, we can continually and confidently “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18) — at least for now.
Our object permanence with Jesus is sufficient for our faith and a glorious gift from the Holy Spirit, and yet, it is temporary. With each ticking of the clock, the coming of Jesus draws nearer, until the moment we will look upon him face-to-face as he descends from heaven to dwell with his people (Acts 1:11). On that day, our eyes will finally correlate with the vision of our hearts. Our dimmed sight will become entirely clear. We will see his face (Revelation 22:4).
Therefore, Christian, listen to the Spirit as he urges you to see beyond the dark clouds. Trust him even when the thunder is loudest and the Spirit’s voice seems only a whisper. Believe that the Savior is with you, and that he is coming to be with you again. You will feel his warmth, witness his brightness, and enjoy his light for all of eternity. The Son who reigns behind the clouds now will return on the clouds very soon, and we all will see him.