March 23, 2006

"Of Things Not Seen"

f a tree falls in a forest and no one’s there to hear, does it make noise? Suppose the forest had only deaf people? Suppose the whole planet did? Suppose in all the universe no being had ears. Would the tree then make noise? It still would vibrate molecules of air, of course, but without a functioning ear, vibrating molecules of air can no more produce sound than a bowl of sugar can be sweet without a mouth, because just as the sound isn’t in the air but in the ear, the sweetness isn’t in the sugar but in the mouth.
Don’t believe me? Stick your finger, your ear, or your foot in the sugar. It might be crunchy, or it might be hard, but I can guarantee you--it won’t be sweet.
A man’s in a freezer at --10 degrees F; another man’s in a sauna at 110 degrees F, next to the freezer. Outside of the sauna and the freezer sits a bucket of water, 40 degrees F. The one man leaves the freezer, the other the sauna, and each one places his hand in the bucket of water at the same time. The man who had been in the freezer says, “Wow, this is warm”; the one who had been in the sauna says, “Wow, this is cold.” It’s the same water, 40 degrees F. Is it hot, or is it cold? In and of itself, it’s neither; it’s just 40 degrees. Hot and cold reside, as do all our sensations, only in us, not in the external objects themselves.
Even light and colors don’t exist independently of us. Streaming particles and/or waves of photons do, of course, but only after interacting with our eyes, optic nerves, and brains do they become light and color. Until then, they’re just electromagnetism.
Our minds create the realities we know. Another reality, one independent of our perceptions, exists; but we can know it only in the way our minds allow us to know it, only through the narrow, selective, and limited path created for us by our receptors. Who but God knows what reality is really like? Much of what’s out there, even what’s right before us, remains inaccessible to us, either because we don’t have the receptors to perceive it or because our receptors just aren’t up to snuff.
Chances are that right now millions of cell phone calls are in the air outside our eyes and ears. Television, radio, and satellite programs, too. Yet we perceive none of them because our bodies don’t have the apparatuses to sense them, even though they’re just as real as the breath we exhale or the chair we’re on. In the same way, the spiritual battle between Christ and Satan, between fallen and unfallen angels, is going on all around us, though we see none of it directly. No doubt, too, the work of the Holy Spirit is all over the earth, as real as our thoughts, yet even more unseen.
 Reality is like an infinite Euclidean plane we intersect at one small point, and all we know of this reality is what’s within that point. Scripture and other revealed truth can take us a little past where our senses can go, but there’s still so much more beyond what we, for now, can ever know or imagine. The rest we have to take, well, on faith.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1, KJV). There’s a lot of things not seen, even, apparently, the most important things. “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18, KJV).
How crucial, then, to trust God about the things we don’t see, feel, taste, hear, or touch; and even about the things that we do, because we see, feel, taste, hear, or touch them so narrowly and subjectively anyway. That’s what seeing “through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12, KJV) is all about. Living by faith, meanwhile, is waiting for the promise that one day we shall know, even as we are “fully known” (verse 12, NIV).
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.