Before I begin, I need to say the condition of my soul is good…very good. I have my days where the challenges of this side of eternity are heavier than I would like them to be, but for now, it is well with my soul.
Now, I have a recurring thought that comes to me that I’ve been giving more attention. At first, it annoyed me that I would “think” it, but as time has passed and I’ve spent some time actually pondering this thought, it isn’t so annoying after all. Actually, this thought has become something of a friend…this is especially true during challenging times.
Here is the thought: It is tough to love, serve, worship, and obey the invisible God.
Life can be very good and exhilarating and rewarding and… all kinds of positive things, but it can also be hard and unfair and wearying… and all kinds of negative things too. If your hope is in the invisible God, it can be easy to a fault to give Him praise for the good things in life; it doesn’t require much thought or faith to do this. On the contrary, when life “goes wrong” it’s hard to hold on to that same faith when we feel that the God we cannot see is raining fire and rocks upon our heads. These extremes are not the only examples to show the difficulty of relationship with the invisible God; there are, of course, every point in between those extreme illustrations.
I’ve told myself that it wouldn’t matter if God were physically present because examples from the Bible prove that people’s faith failed them even in the manifest presence of God, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Why would I think that I might be different?
Loving an invisible God is also tough because we have so little to rely upon for affirming our faith and confirming His presence. I often use language saying; “I feel the presence of God” or “I sense His nearness” and other words like that. Truthfully, those words can be as misleading as the emotions that elicit them. Emotions, feelings, attitudes, and behavior can all be manipulated and it is not wise to use them as a measuring stick for the nearness or the reality of God. The very definition of faith from the writer of Hebrews instructs us; “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb.11:1). That seems a little bit like trying to hold on to smoke. It sounds good like one of those motivational quotes on the pretty landscape posters, but it’s usually the last thing I want to hear when life is going tough. Sometimes it’s hard to love and trust an invisible God.
I realize that the evidence of creation itself and all it entails points to the existence of God and the Bible tells us we will even be judged by that evidence (Romans 1:18-20), but that doesn’t belie the fact that God doesn’t make it easy for us to trust Him. It’s hard sometimes to trust the invisible God. This is especially true when we are taught that God “brings rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). I realize that it seems rather arrogant of me to think these thoughts out loud like we witness in the account of Job from the Old Testament. Ultimately, we read that God did “appear” (in some way) to respond to Job’s demand that he be heard. In the end, God’s appearance and questioning response to Job sent him (Job) cowering into a corner where he covered his mouth to keep any more words from escaping to the ears of God (Job 40:4).
All this thinking is a bit depressing or can be depressing, but Jesus calls us “better off” since he is not here physically with us (John 16:7). He calls us, who have not seen him, “blessed” (John 20:29). So, what gives? God knows it is tough living for and trusting the invisible, but visible God. We are better off because in His physical absence, He sent to us the Holy Spirit—the very Breath of God—who is one of the persons of the communal and Triune Godhead. It is with this always-with-us and indwelling presence of God that our faith can be made real and whole. Likewise, the evidence of the reality of this indwelling is made true to us when we fellowship and commune with other believers who are “filled” with this Holy Spirit. While my context might be misguided, I think the sentiment is true for us when Jesus said to his follower-disciples, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). I think we see evidence of this sort also in the account of the disciples who were traveling to Emmaus following the death and resurrection of Jesus (Luke 20:24). I think and I believe that the unifying Holy Spirit of God gives us substance and strength to believe in the invisible God. That doesn’t make it easier, but it makes it possible. I also believe this is why we need the community of fellow believers, because I need the faith and the witness of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others to help bolster and renew my own faith. I need the witness of seeing the working of God in other believers’ lives to help fan the embers of my own faith into a roaring fire. It isn’t easy to trust and believe an invisible God. This is why Jesus called those who do not see, but still believe, “blessed.”
Probably one of the greatest blessings is the promise that we will see Him in a way that no one living has (1 John 3:1-3)…and not only will we see Him, but we will be transformed fully into His likeness… the way it has always meant to be.