We talk about “hearing the word of God,” but it is interesting that the Bible frequently talks about both hearing and seeing God’s revelation. We see this, for example, in the book of Numbers when it speaks of “him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty” (Numbers 24:4), or in Jeremiah: “For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word” (Jeremiah 23:18). This duality of seeing and hearing God’s word has a specific application to us as Christians.
The first disciples of Jesus had the opportunity, of course, to see and to hear him – to see his actions and hear his words directly. As the apostle John wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life … We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard” (1 John 1:1, 3).
The original disciples experienced the word of God directly from “the Word” himself and sometimes it may seem to us that it must have been easier for those first Christians to experience and understand the word of God than it is for us now. But we should remember that just hearing the words and seeing them in action is no guarantee of truly seeing and hearing them at a level of actual understanding – even if we had lived at that time. As Jesus himself said of the majority who heard his public teaching: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13; ESV).
In saying this Jesus was paraphrasing God’s words found in the book of Isaiah: “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive’ … lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts …” (Isaiah 6:9-10 ESV, and see Deuteronomy 29:4; etc.).
These words show symbolically that our minds must be “opened” – made receptive – by God in order for us to hear and see the full significance of spiritual things. The New Testament makes this clear also in what the apostle Paul tells us: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV). Jesus referred to this when he said “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (John 6:45)
But this does not mean that the Christian somehow understands spiritual things without going through the normal process of seeing and hearing. What Ananias told Paul applies to all Christians to some degree: “‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14–15).
We are called to “see and hear” – to receive the information we are then helped to understand. So how do we see and hear the word of God today? “Hearing” the word of God is obviously accomplished through reading – or hearing someone else who is reading out – the words of the Bible. But how do we “see” the word today?
The answer is simple enough, yet we often do not think about it or utilize it in the way we could. We “see” the word of God today when we fellowship with those in whom the word lives today. The apostle John referred to this very fact when he wrote: “what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3 CSB). Paul makes the connection even more clearly: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) and “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). And in the Epistle to the Hebrews we read “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
Inasmuch as others follow God, we can learn from them by seeing the Word alive in their lives. We must also hear the written word in order to know when others are imitating Christ, but the combined hearing and seeing guides us in growing more like Christ ourselves. This is how we all have opportunity to hear and see the word and the Word of God – even those who are not blessed with physical sight or hearing in this life can see and hear the Lord in this way.