As my school year is drawing to a close, I reflect on one particular class that I had. There were three students that insisted that God should show Himself to them. They said that they asked God to make Himself known, and yet He did not. They took this as evidence of His non-existence.
My response to them was, “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” the student responded, “I don’t see Jesus! Do you?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Where?” the student asked.
I looked intently at the student and said, “I’m looking at Him right now.”
One of the things I have learned in my many years as a teacher is that there can be an enormous gulf between what is said in class and what is heard. I think a mistake we commonly make is that we think we are clearly communicating the ideas in our mind to another mind.
Sometimes this is our fault, when we use poor, vague, or incorrect language to illustrate our thoughts. Sometimes it is the other person’s fault for not taking the effort to understand what was said (we see this especially in political arguments). Sometimes it is no one’s fault. Sometimes our personal life experience colors the way we hear and see things in a way that you cannot anticipate in another person. When I tell my students that God is their Father, I have a very clear image of a benevolent and loving parent. Someone else who only has had abusive father figures, may bristle at this revelation of God’s nature and have difficulty relating.
But the question remains from my students: “Why can’t I see God?”
There may be any number of reasons, but there is one that very few people like to acknowledge:
May I cannot see God because I am not really looking.
This may sound harsh, but it is amazing to me how much (to quote Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) our focus determines our reality.
One of my favorite movies in the whole world is It’s a Wonderful Life. There are so many amazing things to enjoy in this film from the directing to the performances and its overall themes. But one of my favorite aspects of the film has to do with the title. The main character, George Bailey, has a wonderful life. That is an objective fact. And yet, at the beginning of the movie, he is in such despair that he is thinking of killing himself. Why can’t he see that he has a wonderful life?
George’s problem is at the heart of the problem of seeing God. George is focused on all of the bad things going on: he is about to be arrested and his business is bankrupt from the stupidity of his uncle and mendacity of Mr. Potter. There is no doubt that these are truly bad. He thinks that if he kills himself then his life insurance will save everyone else.
Clarence, his guardian angel, tries to explain to George that he has a wonderful life, but George won’t listen. When I try to explain to some of my students that God is all around us, they cannot see. George needs to have his perspective changed.
Even though George is a good man, he is focused on himself. When he finally sees what life would have been like without him, he comes to finally see that his life is wonderful. The best part about all of this is that it occurs without any of his problems going away. Many people remember the happy ending where the people of the town donate money to save him. But George’s epiphany occurs before any of that. Even though he is bankrupt and going to jail, he is filled with joy because he can see he has a wonderful life.
God is all around us. He is in your neighbor. He is in your heart. One of the most important things you can do is take your perspective off of yourself and open yourself to the beauty around you.
Many years ago, a young woman confessed that she had romantic feelings for me. I did not return those feelings, but since we were very close friends, I decided to go out with her and see where things would lead.
I will never forget that moment four months later. We were down at Franciscan University on a warm July night. I looked at her under the golden glow of a street lamp. And it was like I was looking at her for the first time. It felt like my head finally caught up with what my heart had been telling me: here before me was the most amazing and beautiful woman in the world. And it wasn’t that she suddenly transformed into this vision of loveliness. The amazing part is that I came to realize she had always been this beautiful, only I hadn’t realized it.
If you don’t see God, trust me, He is knocking at the door of your heart. Take a chance and spend time with Him, even if you have doubts. Take your focus away from yourself and how you feel about God. Instead, focus on God and what He wants of you.