Is it fair for Jesus to bless those who believe without seeing when this is so hard for some people?

Q.  “Blessed are those who believe but do not see.” Some people have a very hard time with this.

I can understand why you say that.  People tend to be oriented towards one of the senses as their chief means of acquiring information and making sense of the world.  We speak of people as being “visually oriented,” or as “auditory learners,” etc.

For a visually oriented person, seeing literally is believing.  The best way to get them to understand something is to show them.  The world around them registers vividly in pictures in their minds, and that’s how they grasp things and make coherence of them. So it can be discouraging for such a person to encounter biblical statements such as, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

However, we need to appreciate that when Jesus said this to Thomas after inviting him to touch the wounds in his hands and side (was Thomas actually a tactile learner?), Jesus was actually observing that Thomas had the privilege of being an eyewitness to his life, ministry, death and especially resurrection.  Everyone afterwards would have to believe in these things based on the testimony of those who had witnessed them.  And so Jesus pronounces a blessing on all who believe in the witness of His chosen messengers.

Jesus isn’t privileging one way of knowing over another.  In fact, in the Bible we often see God “speaking the language” of visually oriented people to help them believe and obey.  He told Abraham, for example, to look up in the sky and count the stars, because that’s how many descendants he would have. Many of Jesus’ parables are actually vivid word pictures, like the ones about a camel going through the eye of a needle or a tiny mustard seed growing into a great tree.  You really need to visualize these to “get” them.  So God is an equal-opportunity communicator!

I was struck by this distinction between the visual and auditory styles when I was working on the Isaiah study guide.  Some people believe the words of a single prophet are found throughout the whole book of Isaiah, while others who are equally committed to the inspiration and authority of the Bible as the word of God believe that a second prophet speaks later in the book.  In the guide I explain the reasons for holding these different understandings.

One reason why many people believe there are two prophets is that in the first part of the book, God communicates with the prophet primarily through visual means, including an amazing vision of heavenly worship that becomes his calling.  For his part, this prophet communicates with the people largely by acting out “signs” and even by putting up placards.

In the second part of the book, however, God communicates with the prophet primarily through speaking.  This prophet is called when he hears and answers a voice.  He later describes how God speaks to him as he awakens each morning.

This illustrated for me how God graciously adapts his communication to each one of us, “speaking our language” to help us understand who he is and how we can follow him.  God knows that for many of us, seeing is believing.  So he shows us things visually and then expects us to trust and obey him in light of those things—that’s where faith comes in.

So I’d encourage you to remember times when God has spoken to you through visual means.  When have you experienced God in the beauty of creation?  What objects has God brought into your life that speak of his love and care?  What things have you observed that have served ever since as mini-parables about some aspect of God and his ways?

I think that if you reflect on experiences like these, you’ll find that you truly have been blessed, through what you’ve seen.

Thomas verifies the reality of Jesus’ resurrection (painting by Caravaggio)

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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