A. Why we can’t see God
From the Epistle: “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”
1. We don’t always see God clearly. Ephesians tells us that the love of God is beyond human comprehension (3:19); it follows that we will not be able to fully understand God at first, second or third glance. Picture day one of man’s creation; at some point this intelligent being, made in God’s image, first encountered God. He could not fully understand what he saw. This was the beginning of a long process of revelation.
2. Evil and sin blur our vision. An innocent being, unfettered by temptation without and sin within, won’t fully understand God; but his vision will not be artificially obscured. Evil and sin cloud innocent vision with doubt and distrust. The tempter clouded the vision of the first humans by lying, charging God with false motives and appealing to their vanity. As we sin habitually this external cloud becomes an internal defect of sight. Thus, Ephesians describes those who do not know God as “having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (4:18).
3. People complain that God does not reveal himself. If there is a God why doesn’t he just speak openly and clearly so that people will be compelled to believe in him? The biblical answer is that he does reveal himself openly and clearly. The problem is that people are spiritually blind so that they cannot see. As Romans 1:20 says, “Since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”
B. How our blindness is healed
1. Spiritual blindness is healed through faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we turn away from sin and put our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God, we begin to see again. As we grow in grace and virtue, our vision of God becomes clearer; as Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
2. Faith in Jesus Christ does not immediately give us full knowledge of God. Faith restores us to the position of the first humans in the garden. Our sins are forgiven so that we can experience communion with God again. We can eat again of the tree of life. We can live again in God’s presence and talk with him. But we still have a lot to learn. We do not yet fully know God.
3. This is why Jesus tells us that we must become liked children to inherit the kingdom. The child-like trust and dependence that is planted within us by the Spirit must replace the doubt and cynicism that was planted by sin if we want to be able to see. The spiritual battle is a conflict between doubt, fear and despair on the one hand, and faith, trust and hope on the other.
C. Our restored vision is sacramental
1. Our restored vision is sacramental. Spiritual blindness caused by evil and sin leads us to see created things as ends in and of themselves. This leads to idolatry. When we see God and his creation clearly we see not only the outward and visible things, we also perceive the inward and spiritual meaning of those things.
2. Sacramental vision sees God in ordinary things. This is how God normally reveals himself to us—and it answers the objection that God doesn’t reveal himself to people. God’s presence and power are visible everywhere. We can see them in a majestic sunset, in the power and mystery of the ocean and in the grandeur of the sky and stars above. We can see God in our ordinary encounters with people who are made in his image, and in the gift of love and fellowship he gives us in relationships with others. Some protest, “Why doesn’t God show himself?” Wisdom answers, “Why don’t you open your eyes and see?”
3. The sacramental nature of the world is highlighted by the Incarnation. The One “by whom all things were made” became a flesh and blood human being in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The glory of God was both hidden and revealed in his human body. Many looked at the babe in the manger and did not see that he was the Alpha and Omega of the creation. But others, like the shepherds and the wise men, were given the gift of sight. They saw “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
D. Jesus can only be seen and understood through revelation.
1. We can only see if God restores our vision by revelation. The wise men and shepherds saw because God revealed himself to them. The apostles didn’t fully understand what Jesus was doing until they were given the gift of sight after the resurrection. When Jesus prophesied about his impending death (our gospel for Quinquagesima, Luke 18:32f.)), St. Luke says that the apostles, “Understand none of these things, and this saying was hid from them.”
2. Jesus gave his disciples the gift of sight in his various resurrection appearances. Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener until he called her by her name (John 20:16). Then she saw him. Two disciples walked with Jesus on the Emmaus for, perhaps, seven miles, but they did not recognize Jesus until he was “known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). The Apostles did not grasp the meaning of the cross until Jesus “opened their understanding that they might comprehend the scriptures” (24:45). St. Paul did not recognize Jesus until Jesus overpowered him on the Damascus road (Acts 9). Jesus gave St. Matthew the gift of sight when he said to him, “Follow me.” Jesus expressed this mystery of revelation in Luke 10:22.
All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
E. God’s revelation to us and through us
1. Each of us has been given the gift of sight, which is the gift of faith. The church is the community of people who see. By faith we understand the meaning of the cross. By faith we see the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the ordinary bread and wine of Eucharist. By faith we see the image of Christ in the members of his body.
2. As we go through our daily lives in the world, we see false images—false sacraments—that reveal human pride and arrogance. We see people exalting themselves against God, pursuing pleasure as the goal of life and acting as if there is no God and no judge to whom they will give account—“Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”
3. Sometimes the blindness of the world influences us and we are drawn away from faith and back into doubt and even despair. The Christian life requires continual revelation and continual healing of our sight. We gather at the altar of God on the Lord’s Day to restore our vision. Here we see again that Jesus died for our sins on the cross. Here we see again that Jesus is the risen and ascended Lord of all creation. Here we remember again that our sins are forgiven, that we are members incorporate of the Body of Christ and that our destiny is resurrection and life in the world to come. As Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear” (Matthew13:16).
4. St. Matthew wrote a gospel to show others what had been revealed to him. He invited friends to dinner to introduce them to Jesus so that they could see what he saw. Our ministry follows his example. We invite people to eat with us so that they can see Christ in our midst and know him as we know him. We tell people our stories—how we came to see—so that others can see what we see. Christ has revealed himself to us through the witness of others, and Christ reveals himself to others through our witness. The mission of the church is to be a light to the world that will help the blind to see; for, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”