When I was in college, my English professor told me something I never forgot: “You know English by ear”. I didn’t know what she meant until I realized that even though I had grown up in the inner city speaking English as my first language, for whatever reason, I had learned it by hearing it but didn’t really know the grammar behind it.
Job was stricken by a similar realization when he encountered the living God.
I’ve heard You with my ears; and now I’ve seen You with my eyes.
It is possible to know God with our ears, but not with our eyes. We can know God by traditions, doctrine, Bible knowledge, scholarship, catechisms, Christian culture, and experiences and yet never really see Him.
When I use the word “see”, I do not mean visual confirmation with our physical eyes, but an inner vision of the soul – The kind of revelation that Abraham, David, and Elijah lived from – One that knows Him beyond the five senses – Beyond empirical proof.
This is counterintuitive to knowing something by the senses – In this case, by “ear”. We can study the sounds and movements of religious culture and still be no closer to knowing God than finding what happened to Amelia Earhart.
Isaiah thought he knew God thoroughly until he saw Him.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple.
One way to know you have had a vision of God is when you see yourself not in the light of a Smartphone “selfie”, or biased parents, or flattering friends, but in His light. It is a terrifying prospect to see God, because in seeing Him, we catch an unsettling glimpse of ourselves . . . But He doesn’t present us such an ugly “self” revelation to drain us of all hope – In fact, it’s the very opposite.
We must know we are lost before we can be found. If you throw a life raft at a person who is tanning on a beach and reading a book, they would wonder what hospital you escaped from. This is no different than modern day teachings that dole out grace without the need for repentance.
But throw a life raft to a man drowning in the ocean surrounded by sharks and you would not find bewilderment but gratitude.
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.
But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47
God shows us Himself as an invitation to engage in deeper relationship. This is a process, and like Isaiah, we see ourselves and are horrified – but then the Father beckons us to look beyond the scandalous sight and find the life raft – His grace – and move further into relationship. Once Isaiah was purged by a coal from God’s altar (representing grace), he didn’t go back to canonize his experience and remain there, but he looked up and saw the ocean of lost humanity and asked to be commissioned on the spot.
“Here I am! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8