When you look up on a starlit night, what do you see? For those of us who live in the glare of modern city lights, it may not be much.
But some three thousand years ago, under the clear desert skies of ancient Israel, King David thought that he could clearly see God’s invisible hand in the starlit heavens: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2).
Like King David, most who will read this will probably also see God’s hand in the creation – that the vastness of the heavens and everything in them could come from nothing, without cause and design, seems unimaginable to us. Yet although some people feel they see the clearest evidence of God in the creation and in events in their own lives and in the lives of others, other people see nothing meaningful there at all. It certainly isn’t a matter of wishful thinking or lack of education or intelligence on the part of those who feel they see an unseen God, as some cynics would like to believe. The fact that there are equally intelligent and emotionally mature people on both sides of the “Is there a God?” debate demolishes that fiction.
So why is it, then, that some people see God where others see nothing? The apostle Paul gives at least part of the answer. After affirming that: “… since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made ...” (Romans 1:20), Paul goes on to show that many people do not see God because they do not want to see him (vss. 21-23). Not wanting to acknowledge God’s authority in our lives usually means we will not see it. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah put the situation this way:
“If favor is shown to the wicked, he does not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly and does not see the majesty of the LORD. O LORD, your hand is lifted up, but they do not see it” (Isaiah 26:10-11 ESV).
Isaiah’s point is that whether or not people are faced with blessings (“favor”) or punishments (“the lifted hand”) – the “carrot or the stick” – in their lives, those who do not want to see God’s presence will not see it. But there is a lesson in this for those of us who do acknowledge God’s existence and presence in our lives. We do have to look and continue looking, with spiritual sight, to keep that which is not physically visible clearly in our minds. That is what the apostle Paul meant in saying “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen …” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
But the word Paul uses for “look” or “fix our eyes” connotes much more than just “looking.” The Greek word skopeó that he used essentially signifies that on which we focus intently – as with a point of aim or a target we intend to hit (it is, of course, the root from which we get words such as telescope, microscope and rifle scope). It is that kind of ongoing focused “looking” and “seeing” that helps us to recognize God’s presence in our lives and to live accordingly. As the Book of Hebrews tells us of Moses: “He endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27 ESV).
A thread that connects all these biblical writers is that they all show it is only as we look that we see God. It is only as we fix our spiritual sight on the unseen that we succeed in our Christian walk. Illogical as they might sound to the world in which we live, Paul's words remind us that we must constantly “fix our eyes not on what is seen.”