Seeing the spiritual in the material

Posted by Travis Threats on

Why did those who knew Him not recognize Jesus after the resurrection? Various explanations have been given for each person. For Mary Magdalene, the first to see Jesus, some argue that the passages state she was weeping and thus the tears obscured her vision. It was also said here and other places in the Bible that there was poor lighting. For the disciplines fishing in the boat, that he was too far away to be recognized. On the road to Emmaus two of His followers have an entire conversation with Him before realizing who He was. Thus, they were not crying, too far away, or with poor lighting. Even when Jesus appeared behind a locked door at a meal some of His followers did not immediately recognize Him.

One possibility is that they were not expecting to see Him, for they did not truly believe that He would rise again as had been prophesized. This demonstrates a neurological fact about our visual system- it is heavily, more than we realize, influenced by our past visual memories and what we expect to see. A magician can trick our visual system by moving in such a way that we think we know how it is going to end. Of course, he just put the ball in his pocket, I saw it go in. In fact, it did not go inside the pocket. If we are not seeking something, we often cannot “see” it even if it is right in front of our face. This is especially the case when we expect to see just the opposite of what is actually there. The phrase “You see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear” has some neurological truth to it.

One explanation is that He was now a spirit and thus not recognizable as a person. However, Jesus was able to show them His hands and His side, which were evidence of His crucifixion and death. If he came back as a pure spirit, He would not have such injuries. They could actually touch Him, and He shared a meal with them. In all cases, His followers did eventually recognize Him. If He was completely different, they would not have ever recognized Him and if stated that he was Jesus they would have probably accused Him of being an imposter.

In both the cases of not expecting Him and something different about His material self, the followers did come to recognize Him. However, to overcome both, they had to really look, to concentrate. To see, even if He had some level of different features, that it was still Him. Whatever form He took, He was still the son of God. But just like everyone else I am initially drawn to only the material aspects of the world around me, not it’s spiritual truth. Thus, I would not have immediately recognized Jesus either. But this spiritual world is the true one, the only one that can bring true joy and peace, and communion with God.

The Bible passage 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 states “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (NASB).

 Is the material world not the one which we must exist in day by day? We need to know that there is food before us on the table. We need to get dressed appropriately for the occasion. We need to recognize that the dog barking at us might mean us harm. The material world is not innately bad or evil. Now the events of the world are definitely evil- witness the near constant state of war somewhere on the earth for the entire history of humans. Crime, both white-color and blue-color, is rampant. Greed and lack of concern for others is ubiquitous. These things are made by us humans, not by God. In addition, mankind regularly chooses to use the material world given to us by God for evil purposes. The material world is not bad, it is what we do with it. I state this because some would say that we need to divorce ourselves from this impure material world and just concentrate on the spiritual. That by attending to the material, it keeps us from being able to truly experience the spiritual realm.

The following passage from the Wiersbe Bible Commentary- New Testament (2007) by Warren W. Wiersbe explains it well:

“The things of this world seem so real because we can see them and feel them; but they are all temporal and destined to pass away. Only the eternal things of the spiritual life will last. Again, we must not press this truth into extremes and think that the “material” and the “spiritual” oppose each other. When we use the material in God’s will, He transforms it into the spiritual, and this becomes a part of our treasure in heaven. We value the material because it can be used to promote the spiritual, and not for what it is in itself” (p. 515)


A flower grows, blooms, and eventually dies. We can indeed materially enjoy the beauty of a flower, even attend flower shows and marvel at their sight. However, if we see the flower as a creation of God we will experience it so much more profoundly, spiritually, with true love. My biggest challenge as a Christian photographer is not mastery of light, the technical aspects of my camera, or digital editing. The biggest challenge is to try to see God in the world He created for us via nature. Much like Jesus’ followers, we do not recognize the spiritual immediately around us every day. It takes effort. On the drive into work, we see the other drivers, the person who cut in front of us without turning on their signal light, the person following us too closely from behind. We look at the time and think that in this traffic that we might not make it in work on time. Too many people check their email or texts while driving. We see a lot. But the person does not see the glorious sunrise or cloud formations in the sky. Even if someone pointed them out, the person might acknowledge that the sky is indeed beautiful. But does the person see this sky as God’s good morning to you, that He is helping you start off your day showing His love?


In the banner picture for this blog, is a dandelion from my front yard. Now some see the dandelion as a great source of nutrition and its positive aspects. Most, however, “see” it as a weed, a nuisance. A popular US yard treatment company states this about them “An icon of summer indeed, but a tireless, persistent weed all the same” The Meriam-Webster definition of a weed is a plant that is not valued where it is growing… one that tends to overgrow and choke out more desirable plants.” But look at it, it is beautiful and ironically unlike many flowers it is free!! The other picture within this blog is a single flower growing between the cement block cracks of our backyard patio.

Let us acknowledge the beauty of the world around us every day. Let us appreciate it and value it. Let us see the love from it and spread that love to others. Let us know this great truth. God is everywhere.



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