On August 30, 2010

Believing is Seeing

Mark Batterson, in his book Primal, writes about a fascinating study that was done a few years ago. It involved a group of Mexican people who had never been to America and a group of Americans who had never been to Mexico. The researchers gave both groups basically a ViewFinder, it was a machine they could look through that had two different images.

One image was a Mexican Bull-Fighter, it was directed at the right eye. And the other image was an American Baseball game, it was directed at the left eye. And the results were fascinating.

Because both images were shows at the same time the test subjects had to focus in on one or the other. They couldn’t focus on both simultaneously. And the Americans saw the Baseball game, the Mexicans saw the Bullfighter.

They saw what they wanted to see.

Actually, I think you could argue that they saw what they had been preconditioned for, or had categories to see.

In his book, Faith and Doubt, John Ortberg says that everyone has both of these in them. That in reality, nobody is without faith. By the mere fact that we don’t know everything, faith is non-negotiable. But by the same token, so is doubt.

But, Ortberg goes on to say, most of us have to be honest. We either want to believe, or we want to doubt. We’ve used language like, “We’ve seen too much to deny God, or we’ve seen too much to accept His existence.” But underneath that is a desire to believe one way or another.

One of my favorite philosophers, Soren Kierkegaard, talked about Faith as a Passion.┬áThat is to say, that it’s more than just what we think, or hope will happen in the future. It’s what our whole life is oriented around.

In the book of Exodus, God gives the Israelites the Law. He has told them what kinds of people He wants them to be, and their response is fascinating. They say, “We will do and we will hear.”

Which seems backward.

But I think that this is part of what it means to come to faith. We attempt to orient our lives around a God we want to believe in. So we create habits and disciplines to learn to look for His activity in the world. The same way that someone who chooses to not believe in God.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that God exists. And I believe that would be true whether I wanted it to be or not. But the truth is, often what we believe, and how we talk about what is true and real, doesn’t reflect what is actually externally true, as much as internally.

Think about it, the Psalmist, says that “The Fool says in his heart there is no God.” This isn’t a person who has weighed all the different evidence and then landed empirically on the side of atheism. This is somebody who approached life from a certain angle, knowing or unknowing, and saw what they already knew was there.

They saw the Bull or the Baseball game, because they had categories to see it.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, when Aslan creates Narnia, the children from the Wardrobe just happen to show up. But they bring their evil uncle Andrew. And the children love watching Aslan sing the world into existence. But Andrew doesn’t like it all. He said it felt bad in his bones. So eventually, Andrew convinced himself that Lions can’t sing.

And after a while, he could only hear a roar.

And C.S. Lewis, in one of his most profound quotes, has Aslan respond to Andrew by saying, “What you see depends on where you are standing, and even more so, on what kind of person you are.”

Because Believing is Seeing.

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  • http://feetwasher.blogspot.com/ Philip Cunningham III

    One of N.T. Wright’s favorite past-times: showing people that the reason they don’t believe is essentially that they don’t want to believe.

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  • http://dustcoveredtalmid.blogspot.com/ Dan Gill

    I think you’re right. Believing really is seeing.

    I love that part of the Magician’s Nephew. I think, though, that Andrew always thought that he heard only roaring and snarling from Aslan. He was pre-disposed not to believe.

    My favorite character there is the Cabbie. Down-to-earth, unpretentious, faithful, modest, and yet he becomes the first King of Narnia.

  • http://changedwithin.blogspot.com Maynard

    Keep ‘em coming. . .

  • http://www.stormented.com jonathan Storment

    Philip, I’ve also heard Tony Campolo talk about that. He’ll admit that he wants to believe, but he tries to show his unbelieving friend that the same is true for them.

    Bro. Danny, do you remember that story I’ve been wanting to tell you for months. The research project with the viewfinder was it. You’re right, I love how many levels Narnia speaks to me on. (And I also loved the Cabbie).

    Thanks Maynard!

  • http://dustcoveredtalmid.blogspot.com/ Dan Gill

    Okay, Jonathan. You are free of your obligation now.

    We have the Focus on the Family audio versions of the Narnia Chronicles on CD. On our recent trip to Red River we listened to all but the Last Battle. They are marvelous for long trips, especially those in West Texas with nothing but cotton fields to look at.

  • http://twitter.com/skelosh Brandon

    I think that study is very interesting. It’s often been proven in psychological studies that if you take a neutral paragraph and give it to two people of opposing sides of an issue to read they will come away from t he paragraph believing that it sided with them. It’s amazing how easily our brains can delude themselves if we don’t want to believe something.

  • Kathy

    Expressing a differing opinion to a sibling will prove this true quicker than anything I can think of. LOL

    Seriously, when we first study and converse with one that has not heard nor received the Gift of Jesus and His holy word, the truth of this experiment is quickly observed. The challenge is how to overcome that blind side, bringing ‘believing in seeing’? imho, this is when we quickly find one size fits all is not the answer. Rather, we are challenged to truly get to know the person we’re hoping to study with to find that one glimmer of belief in a “higher power” using that small sliver of light as a basis from which to build that belief that DOES see. Tough task but one that is fully God-glorifying!! PTL!!! \o/

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Bro. Danny, thanks…I just kept putting it off because I knew I wanted to write about it.

    Brandon, that is interesting. What I read you saying was that you totally agreed with me. :)

    Kathy, that’s true. One of the things that I’ve heard some people I really respect say, is that they try to show someone why they might not want to (or might want to) believe. We all come to God, or walk away from God, based on what is going on inside of us. You’re right that is the challenge. Thanks for weighing in!

  • http://twitter.com/skelosh Brandon

    Touche.