Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
This summer my family had the opportunity of a lifetime when we traveled to Alaska to celebrate my father's retirement after over 40 years as a college professor. We traveled up the interior by train, with single day tours and excursions from each location we visited.
A trip highlight was our day in Denali National Park. To preserve the wilderness, only one road runs into the park, and most of that road is only accessible by tour buses. We loaded a bus for a half day trip deep into the middle of the mountains, to see the scenery and the wildlife (yes, we did see moose and bear, but that's a different story!).
The bus turnaround point is a spot where, if the conditions are right, you can have a beautiful view of Denali mountain, with its crags towering at 20,300 feet and covered in snow year round. It's an amazing sight to behold. However, the conditions are rarely just right. We traveled in late July, and we were told by several guides that there are usually only a handful of days in the entire month that Denali is even visible, because the mountain is so large that it makes its own weather. Usually it's shrouded in clouds, and even when it is visible, people often just see the tip of it. Many people have traveled to the park five or six times just to get a glimpse of the mountain, and still have not seen it clearly.
I find this interesting. The entire 6.1 million acre park is named after this mountain- this mysterious, incredible mountain that is often hard to see with absolute clarity. People continue to travel to Denali knowing that there’s a significant chance that they might not actually see the mountain in all its fullness. And yet at the same time, the journey is never a waste. Though there might be some disappointment on a cloudy day, there is so much beauty to behold on the path toward Denali, that it makes the experience worth it every single time, even if you don’t get that ultimate glimpse. You can sense that you’re in the presence of the most majestic point on the continent, even if you can’t see it.
Jesus talked about how some people get to see and people don't. Some got glimpses of the resurrected Jesus with absolute clarity. Others did not, and they had to trust. Today, some people sense the presence of God easily, and faith feels a lot like plain sight. For others, faith is a deep mystery and requires walking through some disappointment, longing for a clear glimpse that doesn't come. And Jesus understands both. And Jesus says a special blessing to those who try to trust him, even when every question isn't answered and every longing isn't satisfied. He blesses those who don’t see and still trust.
From one angle you could suggest that we're all in that second grouping, since we never witnessed Jesus with our own eyes. From another angle we might say that some people simply have the gift of faith and for others it's a real act of faith... to have faith.
But in either category, we can take heart. The journey of faithfulness is a breathtaking one, even when we are having trouble seeing God in direct and majestic ways. The path of love, forgiveness, and compassion as we trust Jesus holds immeasurable beauty, whether or not we see miraculous moments or feel the presence of God every day. The way of discipleship is meaningful as a way of life, and the glimpses of God that we will see, sometimes regularly and sometimes only occasionally (in our perspective) ensure that journey is not worthless.
So resist the temptation to think that your faith is a waste if you don't always feel like you can see and feel God clearly. It isn’t. Jesus, in all his love and grace and majesty, is every bit as present with us when we can't see as when we can. And knowing that we are in the presence of such love and beauty is enough to make us look around with fresh eyes. And when we do, we will notice that along the journey, glimpses of God's kingdom are revealed in so many surprising and beautiful ways.
We did have the fortunate pleasure of seeing Denali in all it's glory during our trip (see that photo??). But Denali would still have been just as glorious, even if we didn't see it that day. So don’t get discouraged if you’re having one of those days where the mountain is shrouded in grey clouds. It’s still there, and there’s much to see as you travel toward it. Keep your eyes open and your heart pure (Mt 5:8), and in the words of Jesus, you will see God.
Jesus, today I'll keep walking in faith toward you, even when it's hard to see you there.