The saying goes: “Seeing is believing”. This comes from someone who needs to be convinced about a statement, that it is correct, or true, or believable. On face value, it is an incongruous remark: “seeing” surpasses “believing” in establishing the veracity of a statement. So it makes little sense to identify the two of them by saying “seeing is believing”. It’s more than believing. With regard to the final destiny awaiting us all, we maintain that the transition from this life, where belief is our mainstay in adhering to God, to the next life, where vision becomes our new mode of adherence to God. And we regard vision as an improvement over faith. So, should not the remark “seeing is believing” read “seeing surpasses believing”? That is what the apostle Thomas discovered in the upper room in Jerusalem during the days following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, for he was one of those who said about the appearance of the risen Lord to the Apostles gathered there: “Unless I see the mark of the nails…, I will not believe.” (Jn 20: 25)
If it were accurate to identify seeing and believing, we would have to settle for what we now see all around us, and affirm that it is the totality of our belief system. But would not this be a discouraging realization, that the future folds into the present? This would destroy the attraction of the future for us, and leave us with the unsettling realization that “what we see is what we get”. Hope would be snuffed out, along with ambition and effort. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again”, would lose its challenge for us, leaving us high and dry.
And for the sight-impaired among us, whose vision is diminished, it would be a blow to hear that the impairment currently afflicting us represents the most that we can anticipate. On the other hand, of course, there are ways of improving eyesight, such as a pair of glasses, or cataract surgery, and those of us able to benefit by improvements are thrilled at the benefits accruing to us in the form of improved eyesight. In this way we can gain some slight appreciation of what it means to improve on poor eyesight, and thereby better value the promise made to us that, in the next life, we are destined for the gift of vision in a way that totally surpasses any partial eye improvements we gain in this life.
And then, of course, we can always regard the remarkable powers of eyesight from the vantage point of the animal world. Some of them enjoy sight far surpassing the best among us, such as the eagle, that can spot prey far below them on the earth, and swoop down to make their kill. So eyesight comes in various degrees, but no matter how penetrating it might be, it too pales in comparison with the vision awaiting us in another life, a vision we now have access to only through the medium of faith, thanks to which we believe in things—Persons—far beyond our current powers of sight. And so we have deep convictions about the vision awaiting us, but have not yet sighted it.
We do, of course, especially in our Catholic tradition, speak of visions that have been granted a chosen few among us, visions of Mary especially, and of the Sacred Heart. But the church is always slow to certify them, and tends to classify them as private visions. But there are visions that she readily acknowledges as fully legitimate, such as the remarkable vision the fiery Saul had on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians there (Acts 26.13), when he saw a bright light and heard a voice from the heavens. And even prior to this, did not all the apostles see the risen Christ on Easter Sunday (Jn. 20.19, ff.) These are all legitimate and duly approved visions, where seeing begets and precedes believing. These are verifiable instances where seeing precedes and begets believing.
So, is seeing believing? Certain instances of seeing undoubtedly generate belief, as the resurrection appearances illustrate, and legitimately so. Other instances of seeing (private revelations to saints) can beget belief in the one receiving them but the church herself is very slow to legitimate them as the basis for faith or belief for the faithful at large. Our faith is based on what the apostles saw, as reported in the scriptures. In their case, seeing WAS believing. In the case of the rest of us, believing is seeing, as was true of the two blind men encountering Jesus, whom He restored to sight because they believed in Him (Mk 9.27-31).