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Seeing Isn’t Believing

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroMarch 26, 2019
A dog wears sunglasses


Seeing is the opposite of believing, writes contributing editor Rabbi Rami.

A new Eastern Illinois University survey shows that spiritually independent Americans (Americans who don’t identify with any specific religion) outnumber Evangelical Christian Americans 23.1% to 22.5%. I shared this fact with a neighbor who said, “I grew up Southern Baptist with a Southern Baptist dad, but the more I learned about other faiths the more I saw through the truth claims of my religion to see the Truth that is greater than religion. I guess it’s true that seeing is believing, right?”

Wrong. Seeing is the opposite of believing.

You believe only what you cannot see. I don’t believe I have a dog, I see my dog. I may believe my dog is outside peeing, but unless I go outside and look, I don’t know that for certain. That’s why I say I believe she is peeing rather than I know she is peeing. The same is true of God. (Not that God is peeing mind you … that would be terrifying!) I don’t believe in God. I see God.

Not everyone wants to see God, and for good reason: the God you see isn’t the God in whom you were taught to believe, and this, as Jesus said, is troubling: “Let those who seek keep seeking until they see. When they see, they will be troubled. When they are troubled, they will triumph over all” (Gospel of Thomas, Logia 2).

Let’s go into Jesus’ teaching a bit. Keep in mind: Jesus says seeking isn’t troubling, seeing is troubling.

Seeking God isn’t troubling because seeking God involves working within a system and working within a system is comforting. Working within a system means that we already know the God we seek. This is why the Christian seeker expects to find the Christian God, and the Muslim seeker expects to find Muslim God, and the Jewish seeker expects to find the Jewish God.

So, seeking God is safe; finding God, seeing God, is troubling. Why? Because seeing God requires stepping outside all systems of seeking, and working outside all systems is troubling. No, it is terrifying. It isn’t that “seeing is believing,” it’s that seeing shatters believing: the seeker of any religion finds the God beyond religion. And because she does, she triumphs over all.

What shall we make of “triumph over all”? When you see God as the nondual reality beyond all labels and religions, the One “in Whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), you will triumph over and hence be free from every system, ism, ideology, thought, feeling and person who tries to blind you to seeing and bind you to believing what it wants you to believe.

Seeing isn’t believing; seeing is freeing.

Most of us don’t want to be free. We want to be comfortable. If this is you, my advice is simple: listen to the prophet Micah: do justly, act kindly, and walk humbly with your beliefs about God (Micah 6:8). If, however, you want to see, don’t stop when the troubles start.

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art: Shattering the Illusion of Control and Falling into Grace with Twelve-Step Spirituality.

He has this to say about religion: “To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence.”

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