They say “seeing is believing,” but sometimes seeing is doubting.
The craft of the illusionist is based on this idea. The illusionist tells us he is about to do something amazing (“Watch as I cut my assistant in half!”), and our mind immediately jumps to all the reasons why this is not possible. (“Didn’t he do this show last night? I’m pretty sure that’s the same girl.”) But then we watch in amazement as he takes a “real” saw, places it in the box, cuts her in half, and then separates her lower half (legs kicking) from her upper half (smiling and waving) to a cheering audience. We wonder, “How did he do that?” Our amazement has less to do with the bisected anomaly and more to do with how he made an obviously fake trick look so real.
In a similar way, even though God doesn’t play tricks on us the way illusionists do, he does put us in the midst of circumstances that can be just as confusing (and not nearly as entertaining).
Take the Israelites, for instance. In Exodus 16, they find themselves smack dab in the middle of a desolate, sun-baked landscape where all they can see is starvation, dehydration and imminent death.
But looks can be deceiving. What the Israelites thought was a death sentence was actually a training camp.
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
— Deuteronomy 8:3
Did you catch that? God let them hunger. He did so in order to turn their attention to the only one who could truly satisfy them — something mere bread could never do.
But, in the moment, the Israelites couldn’t see this. They were thirsty. And their thirst caused them to doubt God, even after all they had experienced, simply because of the reality of their present situation.
Seeing really can be doubting. But it doesn’t have to be.
Perspective plays a big role in our perception, especially in times of crisis like the one the Israelites were facing. In those times, we can allow ourselves to get overwhelmed and put all our focus on what is happening and how we are feeling or we can center our thoughts and attention on the one who has promised to carry us through it (see Romans 8:31–39).
It’s more than just a mind game, more than an exercise in positive thinking. It’s faith in action.
Faith is so strong that Paul in the New Testament compares it to a shield (Ephesians 6:16). Just as a good shield can make all the difference when heading into battle, so our faith can be the determining factor of how we experience our wilderness.
Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves, “What is the illusion? Does our wilderness journey suggest that the idea of a loving, caring God is itself just an illusion? Or is there something happening behind the scenes, as it were, that points to a reality far beyond our current circumstances?” It is a question worth answering.
God may be the Master Illusionist, but he isn’t into pulling rabbits out of hats. Instead, his signature performance — the one he’s most famous for — is when he takes someone through a wilderness and brings them into a promised land, and leads them to himself in the process.
Now, that’s worth the price of admission.