The difference between seeing and seeing

by Mark Safstrom

In many places in the gospel, the disciples appear less as haloed saints, and more often as the very image of human frailty. Of the various character flaws they exhibit, doubtful skepticism is the attribute indelibly linked with Thomas. This “doubter” earned his nickname by refusing to believe until he had placed his hands in Christ’s wounds. After his skepticism was overcome by being allowed to investigate the physical evidence of the crucifixion, Thomas was given a back-handed compliment by Christ: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Whether our Lord was grinning or frowning as he facilitated this teachable moment, the words probably stung! Was Christ telling the disciples to ignore their doubts and skepticism, to simply “stop doubting and believe” anything and everything? Isn’t doubt an essential part of the life of faith, something that can be dealt with and transcended, but never eliminated? Weren’t the disciples also advised to be both innocent as doves and wise as serpents? One can certainly wonder what Christ meant with his rebuke here.

When devising his research agenda for investigating the claims of Christ’s resurrection, Thomas had set up certain conditions. These standards would decide whether or not he would believe, each one starting with the words “unless I see….” This is reasonable enough. In order for us to be able to validate our research and investigations of the world, we need to have standards so that we can evaluate our results.

But perhaps Christ knew that Thomas had a habit of setting up too many conditions, one after the other in an endless process, which prevented him from ever seeing the miracles right in front of him. Perhaps Thomas wasn’t able to live in the subjective reality of faith, but always on the objective outside, looking in. If this was the nature of Thomas’ skepticism, then there is much here that resembles the obstacles to faith presented by the modern world.

Are we “present” to the reality of people in our midst, of natural wonders and other daily miracles? Do we truly see other people? Is our neighbor a figment of our imagination, or do we see and encounter him in all his depth? Do we make too many excuses, set up too many conditions, make ourselves too busy?

A theme that emerges in the articles in this issue is that of “being present”in our daily activities. Helen Cepero’s opening article presents the regular struggle of truly seeing the beauty around us, even when we are in the most beautiful places on earth. Tom Tredway presents the tension between faith and reason, in which we are reminded that objectivity and subjectivity do not need to be at odds. Chrissy Larson encourages us to open our eyes to God’s assurances, even in the midst of encountering adversity and set backs. Elder Lindahl reconsiders the nature of intergenerational relationships, within our families as well as the relationships we have to our seniors in general. And an old poem by Carl Boberg urges us to attend to those who are hungry and struggling, particularly the most vulnerable among us, children. As you look for this theme elsewhere in this issue, take a moment to consider the difference between seeing and truly seeing. Stop doubting, and see!

Guds frid – God’s peace.

Mark Safstrom is Chief Editor of Pietisten, and an assistant professor of Scandinavian Studies at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

See all articles by Mark Safstrom