A certain theologian is reported to have said on his death bed, “Life is a riddle and death is a still greater one.” In this statement there lies a challenge. Indirectly we wish to meet the challenge in this essay. Certainly if “life is a riddle” the most “prudent” must attempt to solve it.
Is life a riddle? Is it one great night-mare, in which one feels ever more perplexed, lost at sea, groping in the dark?
If so the “pessimistic” world- and life-view is the correct interpretation of the universe.
With these things in mind we deem it profitable to place ourselves before the above-captioned question. Every day of our life we stand in the midst of the things seen, the unto-us visible world, and by faith we reach out toward the things that are not seen.
Is this not the height of inconsistency? Should we not set our affections on the things that we can see, that we can handle and touch, measure and weigh, buy and sell, if we wish to move and live in the realm of the things that are certain? Is it then not utter folly to change the order of things about, and to cling to the things that are not seen as the ultimate solution of life, the hope of the future, the end and destiny of man?
Is not possibly our whole life, our whole system of faith, after all a “shot in the dark,” missing all purpose, and ultimately leading us to the point proving that faith in the unseen is a great delusion?
One cannot help but ponder upon these and similar problems. Problems! Yes, no less than the problems of life and death, time and eternity.
No, we do not ask these questions without due reverence. Neither do we ask as the unbelieving skeptic does. We ask these questions in the full light of the Word of God, clinging to His promises by faith. We ask these questions, as walking in the light, and as seeing the unseen. And so we ask the question: Are the visible things less certain, than the things invisible? What do we mean, what does Holy Writ understand by “the things not seen”? In Heb. 11:1 we read the following: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
It is very plain that the “things not seen” are the same as the “things hoped” for. Now the things hoped for are our objective hope “laid up for us in the heavens,” the heritage incorruptible, undefilable, and that fadeth not away, and which is ready to be revealed in the last time. They are the things that eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, and which hath not entered into the heart of man. It is the sum-total of all the heavenly gifts, which shall be the radiation of the divine perfections.
But they are not seen. And that for a twofold reason. The first reason lies in the things themselves. They are in heaven. They are hid. With relation to us they are under a covering. And the covering is the separation of the earthly from the heavenly. Heaven and earth are as yet not united into one—the new heavens and earth where righteousness shall dwell. And as long as this separation is, the things of the perfect covenant of God with man shall not be seen. The second reason lies with us. We are in no condition to see the heavenly things, the things hoped for and yet not seen. We are of the earth earthy. And as earthy we belong to the earth, and not to the heavenly. And as long as we shall bear the image of the first Adam, we cannot see the heavenly face to face. Presently this shall all be changed. We shall bear the image of the Lord out of heaven, the second, the last Adam. Then the things that are now “not seen” shall then be the “things seen,” for when Christ shall be glorified, we shall be glorified with him. We must therefore wait till we shall see “face to face.”
Upon these things we set our hope, our longings and inward affections. Do I hear someone say, that this is strange, paradoxical: To stand in the midst of the things seen, and to live by the things not seen.
But what are the things seen, the things of which we now form an integral part? For we are part and parcel of the things that we now see. For this reason we see them.
We answer: the earthly creation, the earth and the fullness thereof.
But again we ask: do not the things seen have a greater degree of certainty for us, than the things not seen? The things which we can handle and touch, measure and weigh, buy and sell, eat and drink, hear and see, are these not the things of which we can be certain? And can we not say of these, that we are more sure that they are and what they are, than we can be of the things that are not seen?
To be sure, it is in the sphere of the things seen that men can be busy in “scientific” research. Here at least man can attempt to find the ultimate origin and essence of life. And is this not the sphere where man in the way of research can come to rest?
And therefore shall a human mortal have certainty let him delve into the “things seen.” These he can place under the scrutiny of the microscopic eye, and so ultimately let him come to “first principles” of life.
Let man find these in the very phenomena. No need then of wrestling with the problems of the unseen. Away then with the “folly” of standing in the midst of the things seen, and which are therefore certain, and “speculating” upon the uncertain, the things hoped for and “not seen.”
Thus unbelieving man speaks. Yes, even unbelief in our own hearts. This is the language of the man who will not walk “by faith.” He is not regenerated, “born from above” and therefore cannot see the Kingdom of God. He does not walk “as seeing the unseen.” He has not received out of mere sovereign grace a mind to discern spiritual things spiritually. He is blind with the prejudice of sin! He says as the fool: There is no God!
This little essay is not meant to teach the unbeliever. Its purpose is rather to orientate the man of faith. For the Christian must at all times know his directions spiritually; he must not be lost at sea, and suffer shipwreck in the faith. For this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith! To be more than conquerors through Him who loved us unto death, that is our hope.
And with the believer, who will bow before the Word of God, and live by faith, we ask: Are the things that are seen more certain for you in their origin and existence than the things not seen?
We answer: Of course not! But, pray, why not?
The deepest and ultimate reason is that God is the Creator of both the things seen and the things not seen. God as the Causa Ultimata Causarum, (the ultimate Cause of causes) gives being to and upholds both the visible and the invisible thing. He it is that gives certainty to both from moment to moment. Both hath a certainty, a derived certainty, both the visible and the invisible, the temporal and the eternal!
It is therefore our conviction, that the visible and the invisible things are equally certain.
But the objection can be raised that this is sidestepping the issue. It may be objected that the believing child of God, must have more certainty of the reality of the things seen, of the temporal, because these he can see, feel, taste, smell, and hear. That with these he therefore need not exercise faith. But relative to the eternal he must live by faith. And that even though the essence of both be equally certain and real, for us bearing the image of the earthly this is not the case.
Now it is true, that the element of perception which is present in man relative to the things seen, that this is wholly lacking relative to the things not seen. This we grant the objector without hesitance.
But this is not the point! The question is this: Is the certainty of faith less certain than the certainty of our senses and of our perception; or if you will of our sense perception. Is not “faith the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”? And does Scripture ever present the assurance that the believer has relative to the unseen realities of the Kingdom of God, to be less than the assurance we have of the things that are earthly and seen? If the latter be the case we will grant that the above objection is valid.
But this is not all.
The question still remains whether there is not a tremendous amount of faith exercised by the Christian relative to the certainty of “things seen.” To state the matter still more pointedly: whether in the last analysis all is not faith. Can we understand anything apart from faith in the Word of God, even pertaining to the things that are seen?
Relative to this last question there can be no argument among those who profess to believe the infallibility of the Scriptures!
We read in Heb. 11:3, “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the Word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.”
This passage of the Word of God deals with our “understanding” of the things that are seen. And the key to the correct understanding is faith, i.e. faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
But the careful reader will have observed, that this text does not merely speak of our understanding of the things seen, but of our understanding their origin, their genesis. Also this is true.
But again I ask: What do I know of the certainty of a thing, if I don’t know from where it has come? And certainly the origin of a thing must also determine its destiny and end. If therefore I must know the “wherefrom” of a thing to know what it is, and that it is, and if this only can be known “through faith,” the certainty of the things seen lies for the believer in the last analysis in his faith.
Indeed the child of God walks by faith, with a view to the certainty of the things seen. Thus it was “from the beginning.” From the beginning we understood by faith that the worlds were framed by the Word of God. Man must walk in obedience. God has “from the beginning” decreed that man shall never find the solution to the question of the origin of the things seen, out of these very things. Man must first through faith and obedience rise to “seeing the Unseen,” and from that lofty position of faith, the “Archimedisch Punt” (Dooyeweerd) God exhibits to him the origin of things, and assures man of their certainty.
If man will not rise to the position of faith, the “uitzichts-toren” he must needs be foolish and attempt to find the origin of things in the things. And to be sure this is the method and aim of the “scientist,” of the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God. Then we get “evolution with all its attendant monstrosities. Man from the ape, the ape from the lower animal, this one in turn again from the higher plants, and these from the lower plants; the plant-life from the anorganic, and this again divided into its last and smallest indivisible unit.
Does this bring us to the desired end, to wit, the origin of things? Of course not. It merely divided the things, and gave us more things, which each in their turn cry for an answer to the question: what is our origin, and our destination?
The origin of things does not lie in the category of things. It will never be found there. For by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things that are seen, have not been made of things which do appear.
If then, as we have seen, both the seen and the unseen things are equally certain, and both can only be apprehended through faith in God the Unseen, to whom be glory and honor everlasting, where is then the paradox in the faith of the child of God? The child of God does not walk “by sight” relative to the things seen; “by faith” relative to the things not seen, but he walks “by faith” with a view to both.
Thus also we can understand that the apostle placed this text relative to the things seen and the operation of faith with respect to them, at the head of the record of the “heroes of faith” who embraced the promises. True the world did not want them. They were laughed at. But these heroes of faith returned to the original way of life, as God had it in the statute books “from the beginning.” The just shall live by faith, whether this be in the state of original righteousness, or in the state of the imputed righteousness of God in Jesus Christ.
And so we see that the solution to the problem of life and death is faith. Life is not a “riddle” for the “wise and prudent” to solve, but it is the unfolding of the wisdom of our covenant God, which He hath made known unto babes! For the babes walk by faith as seeing the unseen, both in the visible and the invisible, the temporal and the eternal things!
Are there then no questions left? O, don’t be mistaken. Many are the details of life that defy our attempt to explain them. But in faith we know that hereafter we will understand them far better, when we shall see face to face. Now we see in a glass darkly, but then face to face.
Thus we have attempted to show, that if we will not live by faith, skepticism is the only other alternative with a view to both the things seen and the things not seen.
And what did we see?
The things visible are not more certain than the things invisible!