When I talk with modern men who dismiss God without a second to even consider him, I cannot help hearing a herd of cows mooing upon a hillside. These scientifically minded men (they claim) live to stare at the patch of grass in front of them and call the scheme real life. That is all they can prove exists, after all. They can feel the field under hoof, chew the cud in their mouths, feel the rain upon their backs — these are objective realities.
They show no interest in anything beyond their immediate experiences and senses.
Sure, crows may bring them tales of mighty birds exploring worlds above the clouds, or rumors of far-off sea kingdoms and mythical beasts buried in water, or even of goats prancing upon mighty rock hilltops in the skies — but they see no towering mountains, nor swelling oceans, nor lofty heights — nothing to even suggest such a possibility. Foul tales from fowls is all; ravens raving ill dreams. Cows who live to watch the skies have more than sun dropped in their eyes.
Myths and stories, like viral diseases, infect some in their farm society, but not them. Some hoot and chirp and baa of worlds elsewhere. But claiming to be wise, they always knew some chickens are a few eggs short of a dozen; some pigs hit their heads rolling in mud; some horses will remain unbridled. Truth be told, if these dreamers did not bring ethical claims with their feverish imaginations, they might deserve pity. Who wouldn’t mind worlds beyond this? But reality, they’ve come to know, is less enchanted. These hills and gates and patches of mud are all that have been or will be.
Foundation of Reality
We live increasingly in a culture of cows. These do not need to cling to children’s tales or superstitions. They know the world is not flat. Science and reason solve mysteries formerly left to religion. Now we have morphine and highways and YouTube. As David Wells stated of our modern world, “The hand that gives so generously in the material realm also takes away devastatingly in the spiritual” (No Place for Truth, 56). What spiritual realm? many even ask.
But such questions are nothing new. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” wrote the ancient poet (Psalm 14:1). They cannot tell us who or why man is or how he got to this hill — but here he is and here he remains. Nothing lies above or beyond his existence on this patch of earth. He has bravely looked the situation in the face and contents himself to live head down, grazing this world for all it’s worth, unbothered by distant horizons. Out of sight, out of existence.
Christians know better. We understand that the physical realm — full of bones, flesh, trees, stones — is derivative of the spiritual. It must be so, for the God who created the physical is spirit (John 4:24). His immaterial speech created the material world; the invisible begot the visible. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).
But we must ask how much of this secular spirit we have unknowingly adopted. Here is probably the most important question you will be asked today: What is most real to you — this world or the next? What holds greater reality — the seen or the unseen? What is more ultimate — this physical realm or the spiritual?
“Can your life be explained apart from faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ?”
You don’t necessarily need to tell us; your life answers well enough. Where do you spend your attention, energy, affections, time, talents? Can your life be explained apart from faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ?
This can be a Copernican revolution, or a caution and reminder, if you accept it: The invisible world — the unseen, untouched, unmeasured — is most substantial, most enduring, most real. The immaterial world does not orbit our physical realm; the physical orbits the immaterial. Theirs is the unyielding reality; we inhabit silhouettes and shadows.
People Who Saw the Invisible
Faith, in other words, tells us that the world is turned upside down, flipped inside out. Faith does not regard the physical as unreal or unvaluable simply because it is physical — what the apostles saw with their eyes and touched with their hands is paramount to their witness to Christ (1 John 1:1). But faith sees beyond to the unseen. It demotes this world — its values, its dictates, its desires — in preference for the world to come. And it waits for this current physical world to be remade into that place where spiritual and physical perfectly abide: the coming New Heavens and New Earth.
Our spiritual forefathers — though without flushable toilets and supercomputers — knew to give precedence to the just-out-of-view, and wagered their very lives upon it. The history of the saints in Hebrews 11 shows the contrast of sights.
They were convinced of things they hoped for, were assured of things they could not yet see (Hebrews 11:1). Noah, for example, spent decades building a boat on dry land, preparing for the unseen flood. Abraham looked upon the only home he knew, turned his back, and wandered into the unknown to live in tents. He and Sarah then eyed wrinkled skin and aged bodies and waited to see children more numerous than the stars. Moses gazed at the shackles and the scarred backs of the Israelites and chose these over the gold coins, luxuries, and lush pleasures of Pharoah’s house — “for he looked to the reward” and “endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:26–27).
Others gazed past beatings and mockings and jail cells and death in this world to see a resurrection to a higher life (Hebrews 11:35–36). Salvation from their God was more real than swords of the enemy; conviction about the Christ felt more solid than their chains. They were those of whom this world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:37–39).
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised,” the writer admits. But notice their vision: “Having seen them and greeted them from afar,” they “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Their hearts smiled as they bowed into the grave because they saw promises coming. Promises more powerful than death. They declared plainly that they sought the life over the hill, their distant homeland (Hebrews 11:14). And their God did not disappoint, and will not disappoint them, when they awake in the better country they longed for, a city built by God, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:14, 16). Do you see as they did?
This World, a Dream
This passing world is the phantom, the shadow. While great things are gained or lost in its short span, this age will soon break upon eternity as a tiny bubble against the rock shore. This life, so fragile, so fleeting. “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4). The wind passes over us, and we are gone (Psalm 103:16). Only a few more sunsets, a couple more nights of sorrow, a handful more days of laughter, and you will be gone. To chase this world and all its pleasures is to chase nothing but the wind.
“This age will soon break upon eternity as a tiny bubble against the rock shore.”
What is coming, what is near, what is not yet seen with physical eyes is most real. Light and momentary were Paul’s calculations of all his heaviest sorrows compared to the nearing “eternal weight of glory” for Christ’s people (2 Corinthians 4:17). He saw as we must see: “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).
So what now? Henry Scougal paints it perfectly when he writes in a letter to his friend,
We must therefore endeavor to stir our minds towards serious belief and firm persuasion of divine truths and the deeper sense and awareness of spiritual things. Our thoughts must dwell on divine truths until we are both convinced of them and deeply affected by them. Let us urge ourselves forward to approach the invisible world and fix our minds on immaterial things till we clearly understand that they are not dreams. No, indeed; it is everything else that is a dream or a shadow. (150)
Indeed; it is everything else that is a dream or a shadow.
So turn off the screen and gaze — and keep gazing — up at the heavens, where Christ is (Colossians 3:1–2). Despise the tantalizing trivialities, and keep your heart fixed on the next world — its glories, and foremost, its God. Wipe the crust of materialism from your eyes, wake from the sedative of worldliness, rise from slumber in this Enchanted Ground and look at Christ by faith until you see him more clearly than as trees walking. Spend your life exploring the mountains of glory summed up: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
“Though you have not seen him,” Peter wrote to the early church, “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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9).
Beloved, we travel to a world unseen, a place to make this all a dream.