5. Choosing to See

You’ve got a choice in all this. To see the world as a “gift” and God as the giver, or not to see the world this way, is ultimately a choice each of us has to make because it involves going beyond the evidence. We can’t see God in the way we see the world. Equally, we can’t see there is no God! Whichever conclusion we come to is a position we choose on the basis of incomplete vision. Either way, we are looking at the same evidence; our choice will make the difference.

“Knowing” God is an ongoing process of personal conversion - from seeing the world only as a resource, to seeing it also as a gift....The choice we make depends on how willing we are to live with the consequences of that choice. Even in the ordinary questions we ask about life, there is always a little bit of our self invested in the question and at stake in the answer. When the question is about God, our whole existence is involved. The conclusion we reach depends on whether we are willing or not willing to live with the consequences of what we choose to believe.

In this sense, “knowing” God is an ongoing process of personal conversion - from seeing the world only as a resource, to seeing it also as a gift; from fearing the consequences of the choice we make to embracing the consequences.

The division between “seeing” and “not seeing” is not “out there” in other people; the ongoing conversion needs to take place in our own hearts. And like all conversion, this “seeing” is also a gift or grace, to be asked for and to give thanks for.

The book of Wisdom (dating from about 100 years before Christ) tried to account for how people could not “see” God. For a moment the author tried to excuse them: perhaps the very beauty of created things had led them to mistake these things for gods. But then he realised that even this could not really excuse them:

All were foolish who were unaware of God, and who, from good things seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is, or, by studying the works, have not recognised the Artisan. Fire, however, or wind, or the swift air, the sphere of the stars, or the mighty water or heaven’s lamps, are what they have held to be the gods who govern the world.

If, charmed by their beauty, they have taken these for gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord of these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them. And if they have been impressed by their power and energy, let them deduce from these how much mightier is he who made them, since through the grandeur and beauty of created things we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.

Yet, for these the blame is less, for perhaps they go astray only in their search for God and their eagerness to find him; familiar with his works, they investigate them and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty. But even so, they have no excuse: if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge to be able to investigate the world, how have they been so slow to find its Master? (Wisdom 13:1-9)

St. Augustine beautifully records his personal experience of this problem, showing that conversion is also the work of God’s grace:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty, ever ancient ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; But if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
(Confessions)

For Practice

At the end of the day, take a few quiet minutes to look back over the day, remembering any moments when you might have felt uneasy, and any when you felt glad. Then look to see what choices or decisions led to those feelings.

For Prayer

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.
My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.
That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge.
O see, in guilt was I born,
a sinner was I conceived.

Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart
teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all my guilt.

A pure heart create for me, O god,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your Holy Spirit.

For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit.
A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.

Psalm 51:1-11, 17