“Things unseen” is a motif that runs throughout Scripture—and what is not visible to the eye often presents a significant challenge to those unable to discern God’s presence and purpose when God seems silent.
As I write, I am at home awaiting a plumber. My water bills over the past few months have been slightly higher than usual, but I hadn’t noticed a leak until my neighbor informed me that she saw a small amount of water pooling near my meter. I have mowed over the spot on several occasions and never sensed anything out of the ordinary, yet the invisible leak is finally visible and now trickling into the street.
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
The apostle Paul speaks of “things unseen” when he writes, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). You could say that “things unseen” is a motif that runs throughout Scripture— and what is not visible to the eye often presents a significant challenge to those unable to discern God’s presence and purpose when God seems silent. Consider barren Sarah and her husband, Abraham, who is told by God, “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth” (Genesis 13:16). And yet twenty-five years pass before Sarah bears Isaac. In the meantime, the couple attempts to take matters into their own hands to fulfill God’s promise only to experience more heartache (see Genesis 16).
Then there are Jacob and Moses, who flee their homes without seeing God’s purpose or promise for years, and Joseph, betrayed by his own brothers and dragged to a foreign land where he is falsely accused and imprisoned. Did they not wonder if God really had a better story for their lives in the face of “things unseen?” Or how about Elizabeth and Zechariah who pray for decades for a child but seemingly see no evidence of God at work? Even though they are “righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly,”1 barrenness in their culture symbolized shame, scorn, and God’s supposed disapproval. They live with the heartache of being both childless and greatly misunderstood. Not surprisingly, when an angel finally tells aging Zechariah that Elizabeth would bear a son who would be the forerunner to the Messiah, he doesn’t believe him and asks to see with certainty that this would be so.
Yes, this long road is riddled with love, loss, and bewilderment, and perseverance tests the faithful to the core when we “labor under the misimpression that we see what we see, that seeing is believing, that either I see it or I don’t.”2 Yet it is in such places, Scripture tells us, that God “longs to be gracious” and promises that all “who hope in him will not be disappointed.”3 Indeed, “by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise” and “by faith [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.”4 Each of these characters’ journeys through things unseen allows their faith, once small as a mustard seed, to become visible, and their trust in God to grow deep roots. Such faith, the writer of Hebrews says, “Is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).
Moreover, Scripture reveals that long before we may see God’s hand, He is at work on our behalf. For instance, the prophet Daniel mourns and fasts for three weeks earnestly seeking God’s wisdom. Twenty-four days later, he is visited by a heavenly being who announces, “Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12). As A.W. Tozer notes, “Wherever faith is present, we touch and handle things unseen.”5
I have had the privilege of working alongside Ravi Zacharias for nineteen years now and have heard him speak about the founding of RZIM on numerous occasions and been asked about it myself —as I was just the other day. And it never fails: every time the story is recounted, I get goose bumps. As Ravi writes in his autobiography Walking from East to West, he was on a flight back from Amsterdam where he had addressed a large gathering of those “inside the faith” when he became more burdened for those on the margins and for the “happy pagan” who expressed little interest in (so it appeared) spiritual concerns. Who was addressing their heartfelt and challenging questions, he wondered. So Ravi and his wife, Margie, began to pray about their next steps yet chose not to disclose this burden but rather wait on God’s leading.
The more they prayed, they sensed that if Ravi were to leave his comfortable seminary teaching post, they would need a certain amount of money in order to move forward with a ministry that would respond to the needs of inviting bodies such as universities with little to offer beyond the great privilege of answering student’s genuine questions. One day, after Ravi’s last lecture at a conference where he was speaking, he decided to ask those present to pray for him and his wife as they wrestled with a decision but said nothing more. Ravi was in the hotel lobby preparing to leave when a gentleman whom Ravi didn’t know asked to speak with him a moment.
The man said, “I went to my room and got on my knees, and I asked the Lord to reveal to me the wisdom you need. I asked him if there was anything I could do to help in the decision you’re making. Now, I don’t know what that decision is, but the Lord did impress me that I could help.”6He then handed Ravi a check for the exact amount that he and Margie had prayed about for several months! (As Ravi notes in his autobiography, he did not accept the gift until after getting to know Mr. D.D. Davis and sharing more about his vision; Mr. Davis, in time, would become a father figure and mentor in Ravi’s life.)
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!
For a season, a couple journeyed through things unseen—and in a sudden moment, God revealed his answer to them through a complete stranger. Like the slow leak in my yard, just because we cannot see God at work doesn’t mean that He is not. As scholar Timothy Paul Jones observes, “When [God] doesn’t seem to respond to our prayers, it may not be because He’s chosen not to speak; it may be that His answer is already on the way.”7
Danielle DuRant is director of research and writing at RZIM.
Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003), 99.
A. W. Tozer, Living as a Christian: Teachings from First Peter (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2009), 25.
Quoted in Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows by Ravi Zacharias (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 197.