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From Seeing is Believing to Believing Beyond Seeing

August 18, 2013

angelsIn today’s world in which everyone wants the facts, in which human beings are skeptical more often than not, and in which we are all inundated with a flood of images from the media, it’s not surprising that most people live by the axiom, “seeing is believing.” The Creed, however, says something else: it calls us to a particularly Christian belief in the seen and the unseen. If we would make the creedal statement—“I believe in… the Creator of all things visible and invisible”—into a compass within our soul, it would alter the decisions we make and how we live, particularly if we were to pay closer attention to the “invisible” aspect of God’s good creation.

I suspect that in our fallen condition most of us only pay lip service every Sunday to the statement of faith that God is the creator of all things visible and invisible, but in our daily lives we live for, through, and in that which is visible or tangible as though nothing further exists.  In our spiritually weakened state, our five senses don’t give us much evidence of things invisible or how the invisible world is deeply connected to our daily lives and our ultimate destiny.  Our culture is firmly allied with maintaining the dominance of the physical, the material, and the visible.  We are taught to measure our lives by the materialistic yardsticks of professional success, domestic tranquility, and the esteem of others.  Saint Nektarios describes this situation aptly, “The eye of an unbeliever does not see anything else in creation but the forces of nature. The brilliant icon of the Holy Creator and its marvelous beauty for him remain hidden and unknown to him. His vision is out of focus in the immensity of creation. He does not see the beauty of creation anywhere. He does not find the beauty of God’s wisdom. He does not marvel at the great power of God. He does not discover the goodness of God; divine providence, justice and the love of the Creator toward creation. His mind cannot go beyond the physical world. Neither can he go beyond the realm of his senses. His heart remains insensitive before the image of divine wisdom and power. Being like this does not give birth to any feelings of worship. His lips remain sealed. His mouth is motionless. His tongue is wearisome. Wearisome is his turmoil. His turmoil is pain and his pain is despair. All things until now that attracted his attention have lost their grace. This is so because all the joys of life that he experienced are unable to make him happy.”

Yet, we are born with something called by the fathers a noetic faculty, the eye of our heart, which is superior to the rational faculty because it is the noetic faculty that allows us to recognize the invisible in this visible world.  The problem lies within the sick heart of man who through sin has lost his ability to tap into the noetic faculty.  The solution is not to be found in constructing rational proofs for the existence of God and immaterial world.  Rather it is in re-locating the nous in its proper place-within the heart.  Father John Romanides has written that the nous “which is supposed to be in man’s heart, but it is not in the heart when it is not functioning correctly”. The illuminated nous returns to the heart and humbly prays to Christ: “When man prays with his rational faculty, that is human prayer…When, however, his nous prays within the heart, then the Spirit is praying.”

For those who insist on accepting only what can be proven rationally, this is a fearsome catch-22.  In order for the nous to return to its proper place in the heart, the heart must first be purified.  In other words, in order to be able to recognize the immaterial and invisible, you have to posit a belief that it exists.  Faith necessarily leads to repentance and repentance leads to illumination in which man is able to perceive God working in our material world.  When Blessed Augustine writes in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee,” he is acknowledging that he had pursued happiness in all the wrong places.  His pursuit of material and sensual pleasure yielded nothing but pain and misery.  As a loving and merciful Father, God allowed Augustine to pursue earthly pleasure so that he would finally come to himself and recognize there is no lasting happiness in the material world.  When he had finally come to the end of his rope, Augustine turns to God and repents.  His noetic eyes are opened and he is able to exclaim, “Alas for me! Through Thine own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what Thou art to me. Say to my soul, I am Thy salvation. Say it so that I can hear it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am Thy salvation. Let me run towards this voice and seize hold of Thee. Do not hide Thy countenance from me: let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed.”

This prayer of Saint Augustine describes what is meant by believing in the Creator of all things visible and invisible. It is the revelation to the human soul that there is a wonderful invisible world within us and a glorious invisible world beyond us that find their rest, their source, and their perfection in God. If belief in the Creator of all things visible and invisible were to become one of our core beliefs, we would weigh things so very differently. No more would our outward appearance, our external possessions, or the bravos of outsiders hold such sway on us making us alternatively unreasonably happy or sad, for we would be concerned with the state of soul, the acquisition of virtue, and the regard of our Heavenly Father.  Suddenly, the scale tips heavenward for it is as though “on one side of the scale is a lake of molten gold and on the other a cloud of smoke” (Saint Nikolai of Zycha, Prayers by the Lake). And we joyfully choose that golden lake of God’s love, God’s light, and God’s holiness, invisible to the eye, but more real and solid than anything the physical eye can see.  Belief in the invisible world gives us new eyes with which to see beyond sight, the courage to act when we appear to be alone, and the joy of knowing God’s presence even when this world seems so dark.  For it is in belief in this invisible world and its power that we see the loving hand of God guiding all of creation to salvation and union with Him who made heaven and earth, all things visible and invisible.

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