See what you see. This is the meaning of a Jesus saying in the Gospel of Thomas,
Jesus said, “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed” (Logion 5, trans. by Marvin Meyer).
Not long ago I went into the kitchen to fix a piece of toast for breakfast. I opened the pantry door and looked in the basket where we keep the bread. No bread. So I looked around in the pantry. Couldn’t find it. I opened the cabinet where we keep the cereal. It wasn’t there. So I did what many people do. I blamed someone. I’m thinking, “Ok, where did my wife put the bread?” In the meanwhile I cracked my boiled egg, peeled it, and as I tossed the last piece of shell in the trash, I glanced around in the pantry one more time and guess what? There was the bread. Guess where it was? In the basket where it was supposed to be. So how did I miss it? How did I not see what I was obviously looking at it?
While this may be a rare kind of experience in the physical world, in the spiritual world it happens all the time. We tend to see reality as we are, not as it really is.
Consider how two Christians can read the same biblical text and interpret it not only in different ways, but opposite ways. We all know how the Bible has been used to support slavery, violence, patriarchy, oppression, elitism, nationalism, bigotry, etc.
In the hands of an unenlightened, unloving person even the most enlightened, progressive texts can be employed in oppressive, punitive, and destructive ways. On the other hand, in the hands of a truly enlightened, compassionate person even the most unenlightened, regressive texts can be used in positive, healing, and liberating ways. It all has to do with how one sees.
According to Luke’s version of Paul’s encounter with the Christ, when he was awakened to the truth and beheld the light, when “something like scales [the scales of illusion, pride, self-righteousness, false assumptions, etc.] fell from his eyes” (Acts 9:18), Paul could then see Christ in the very ones he had been persecuting (Acts 9:5; Rom. 8:9-10).
The command to see what is, to discern the truth in any given text, situation, relationship, event, or experience requires real faith. By real faith I don’t mean belief in dogma or certitudes, I mean a dynamic trust in the power and reality of unconditional love. Seeing what is true involves looking at life – ourselves and others, as well as our sacred texts – with humility, honesty, compassion, and a genuine desire to find the truth. This is when the previously hidden mysteries are revealed.
How might we ready ourselves to see what is?
In his letter to the Philippians Paul says,
Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about [or take account of] these things (4:8).
In 1 John the writer says,
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. . . . God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them (4:7, 16b).
So how might we prepare our minds and hearts to see what is really real, to see more clearly what is clearly true? By thinking about, focusing on, and orienting our lives around what is good, right, fair, and praiseworthy, and by engaging in acts and deeds of compassion and love.
However, what is real and true, as well as the real and true God remain hidden to those whose only interest is in protecting their ego, defending their beliefs/certitudes, and guarding their turf. Religion (God) can become a way to further a person or group’s own ends and justify their egocentricity and self-righteousness.
Our present situation and circumstances can conceal God or reveal God. It all depends on how we see.
The story of Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Gen. 28:10-17) is a wonderful illustration of this. The text says that Jacob came to a certain place – it was just any, ordinary place where Jacob stopped for the night. He had a dream of a ladder that stretched from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. The Lord appeared in his dream and promised him land and descendants and that he would be an instrument through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The Lord promised to be with him and keep him wherever he went. When Jacob awoke from his dream he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it! . . . How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
This suggests that in the very ordinary places of our lives – our daily activities, responsibilities, relationships, periods of rest and work and recreation, etc. – God is present. There are angels descending and ascending, that is, there are spiritual powers and forces at work in this place at this moment in our very ordinary lives and relationships. This is all right before our face. Can we see?
Can I see God in the face of a child?
Can I see God in a selfless act by a friend or loved one?
Can I see God in the joy and laugher of friends sharing a special moment?
Can I see God in the forgiving embrace of a wife or husband for some stupid remark or foolish act?
Can I see God in the trees dancing in the wind or in the red bird on my deck?
Those who are advanced in the spiritual life can even see God in suffering and death.
Thomas says “the mysteries will be revealed to you” – the ultimate mystery is the mystery of the Christ/God/the Spirit dwelling in us. The writer of Colossians declares that Christ in us is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27). This means we are capable of reflecting the Christ image. This means that we have the potential to live and love like Christ.
What possibility and potential resides in each human being! If only we could see what we see.
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to the blog Faith Forward and Baptist News Global.