I grew up in the 80’s. Before David Blaine and Chris Angel there was David Copperfield. Over the course of several prime time specials he made the Statue of Liberty disappear, walked through the Great Wall of China and escaped from Alcatraz. Part of his appeal came from his sense of humor and showmanship on stage, but people tuned in to see the “magic.” The magic of course was really illusion; he wasn’t really sawed in half on stage. But you know what they say – Seeing is believing.
It is so easy to believe what we see. Illusion, special effects and camouflage all depend on it. That very fact can also get us into trouble at times. We had to see bacteria with a microscope before germ theory really caught on, and there’s an ever-present warning in your side mirror not to believe exactly what you see (objects are closer than they appear). We all know there is more going on than can be seen. Wind, gravity, magnetism, microbes, radiation, DNA and so on cannot be seen, but we either perceive their effects through other senses or else detect them with scientific devices. The earth appears flat, and the sun seems to move across the sky from east to west. Our understanding is no longer limited to what we can see with our eyes; but the tendency to do so will always be there.
In other words, things are not always as they appear.
The illusion is that we can better ourselves. While a self-help book might help us loose weight, quit smoking or become better organized, our sin problem is beyond our ability to deal with. We can’t keep the commandments, we can’t be “good enough,” we can’t do enough good things to make ourselves right with God. It’s not a case of do more good than evil, or even pass with a 70% average. God’s standard is perfection. God is holy (according to scripture God is holy, holy, holy) and only things that level of holy can come into his presence. We would never have the slightest chance left to our own devices, but Jesus has become our righteousness.
The illusion is that the wicked prosper. Hollywood movie stars drive the nicest cars and live in the biggest mansions. Oil tycoons and organized crime bosses have the kind of wealth that most of us cannot comprehend. Hard work and honesty appear to be the mark of chumps. The federal government has too much on their plate to catch every person that fudges those 1040 numbers right? While the long arm of the law may never reach you in this lifetime, we will all stand before God. Those with names not in the Book of Life will be cast into eternal darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. The Christian’s works will be tried by fire, and only things done for the Kingdom will pass through. To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48). The wicked may indeed prosper – for a while. There is pleasure in sin for a season (Heb 11:25).
The illusion is that sin satisfies. All sin is about settling for less than what God has in mind for us. Looking at porn is easier and more instantly gratifying than developing a relationship with a real person. Stealing seems like a quicker payout than earning something by working for it. Satan tempted Jesus (Matt 4, Luke 4, Mark 1) with three specific shortcuts. Jesus knew that the greatest reward would come after taking the long, slow road to the cross. Six hours in a Crock Pot produces a different meal than three minutes in a microwave. While there is pleasure in sin for a season, it does not ultimately satisfy. Ultimately the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
The illusion is that we are in control. We makes plans for the future. We save for retirement. We buy health insurance, life insurance, car insurance. And all our plans can melt away in the time it takes the doctor to say “it’s cancer.” My dad lived for seven months after being diagnosed with melanoma. He was 66. James puts it this way: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16). The illusion is that we are ever really in control of anything; the reality is that God has ordained the events of history.
The illusion is that this world is real, and that there is no heaven or hell. The illusion is that God is a creation of mankind, and religion is the opiate of the masses. The illusion is that those preaching the Gospel are wasting their breath. The illusion is that we can see with our physical eyes things that are real and actually matter. But the reality is that germs, radiation, magnetism and gravity are all real, and everyone accepts these truths. Radio waves cannot be seen, but that hasn’t stopped 100 million of us from buying cell phones. Yet many accept “I can’t see God” as evidence he does not exist. The reality is that what we consider real – those things we perceive with our five senses – are only temporary. The things many consider imaginary – God, heaven, hell, angels, demons, the human soul – are actually the most real. They will continue after the end of time. Our concept of real and not real is backwards.
Reality extends far beyond what we can see. Someday God will pull back the curtain and the illusion will be revealed. To the believer I wish to offer encouragement, to the unbeliever I extend a warning. And an invitation. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Cor 4:4 Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He has the words of life. Look to him and live.