The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 19, 2023
Can those of us who aren’t mystics “see” God?
Today’s scripture says that Moses and 73 other leaders “saw the God of Israel”.
In saying that, the Hebrew text uses a word for “seeing” that is not the one normally employed for seeing with physical eyes, but the one normally employed for seeing with the heart and/or the mind.
In English we don’t have a pair of verbs that as clearly distinguishes these two kinds of seeing, but we manage to make the distinction anyway.
When in 2021 astronomers announced that they were “seeing” for the first time the huge black hole at the center of our galaxy, the New York Times noted that they were claiming to “see” what was technically “unseeable”.
The same thing happened a decade before when physicists claimed they’d seen “the Higgs boson particle”, a mysterious subatomic particle which no one has ever seen in any usual way, whose existence no one thinks is proven, but whose presence is theorized to explain the fundamental shaping of the universe.
This kind of “seeing” by scientists is not a very distant cousin to the kind of “seeing”, from the more heart-oriented side of the visual family, that people engage in when looking at great art.
Paul Tripp describes what happened when he took his teenage son to a national art gallery in Washington D.C. While Dad’s mind was blown by the stunning beauty of the paintings, the boy’s mind was bored. While Dad was moved to tears by the art’s magnificence, the boy only yawned and kept asking when they could leave. Though surrounded by masterpieces, the boy saw nothing to stir his soul to awe. As Dad put it, “His eyes worked well, but his heart was blind. He saw everything but saw nothing.”
The kind of seeing by which astronomers see black holes and physicists sub-atomic particles is also not so distant a cousin from the kind of seeing people engage in when they “see” someone’s heart and know their true character – or, for that matter, from the kind of “seeing”, say, hymn composer Fanny Crosby, a woman blind from infancy, engaged in when she wrote lyrics about “seeing” God’s heart, goodness and glory.
In all these kinds of seeing, there is a lot more seeing going on than with the eyes of the head. Some may rely more on the eyes of the mind and some more on the eyes of the heart, but all of them involve both – and each eye impacts what a person sees.
The late physicist Stephen Hawking asserted that it is a certainty that no one lives again after dying. He saw it as a self-evident truth that only the willfully blind could deny. Yet, it is self-evident only on the basis of the faith that science can grasp the entirety of reality. For those who appreciate that there is a huge part of reality that is hidden from discovery by the scientific method and likely, by its very nature, forever so hidden, Hawking’s dogmatic assertion is not self-evident at all.
In fact, the present day consensus among astrophysicists is that over two thirds of the universe consists of dark energy, which we can neither see nor understand, and that over a quarter of the universe consists of dark matter, which we can neither see nor understand, so that about 95% of physical reality is hidden from view, and probably permanently so.
So much of life is like those simple line drawings that can be seen two ways. Is it a rabbit or a duck? Is it a young woman or an old one?
The state of the heart affects the eyesight of the heart. The certainties, hopes, fears and desires which the heart harbors open its eyes to some things and closes them to others.
It is significant that those 74 leaders of Israel “saw” God (to varying degrees of course) after something happened with everyone in the community. They all had just renewed their covenant with God by swearing to submit to God’s rule over them and to obey all God’s commandments. Their hearts changed thereby.
Since the heart’s state determines the heart’s eyesight, we have a problem. Our problem is that we can never change our hearts very much or very long. Yet, though we can’t significantly change what our heart is like, we can change who governs them. We can give them over to God, and that decision transforms them.
When Dan Meyer was young, a caring Christian mentor name John would gently but forthrightly point out ways in which his conduct and character needed to be improved. But back then Dan’s heart was such that he couldn’t see what John was talking about. Finally, John said, “The things about you that most need changing you can’t change, because you can’t see them. And you can’t see them because you are using them to see.”
We use our heart to see our heart. So, if our heart is twisted and distorted in any way, our view of our heart will be twisted and distorted.
In the same way, we use our heart to see God. So, if our heart is hardened to God, we can hardly see God.
So what can we do? We can make our heart God’s and submit to His authority. Then God can give us a new heart, a heart in which His Spirit can dwell and from which His Spirit can lead us into all truth, about ourselves and about Him. Let us then submit to God, and see Him and the wonders of His love!