“and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8–9, NASB95)
In Wikipedia, concerning the phrase “Seeing is believing,” we read that it “is an idiom first recorded in this form in 1639 that means "only physical or concrete evidence is convincing". It is the essence of St. Thomas's claim to Jesus Christ, to which the latter responded that there were those who had not seen but believed. It leads to a sophistry [wisdom or rhetorical teaching] that "seen evidence" can be easily and correctly interpreted, when in fact, interpretation may be difficult.” The reality is that there are also many other phrases that point to just how obscure seeing might really be when you cannot see what lies below the surface or around the corner. But the fact remains that we all tend to believe things more readily that we can see, touch, smell, taste or hear. We believe when our senses confirm for us that something is real.
This tension is in part what is at the heart of our inability at times to trust or believe. It speaks to those moments when we have might have “a crisis of faith,” such as when there is a real problem rushing in and we see no way to escape. We grab onto the idea that it truly is the end. And, oh how the Roadrunner has proven this one wrong so many times as the Coyote often suffered the consequences of his own actions. How can we enjoy a cartoon when it flies in the face of what we know to have real consequences? The reason is that we hope for another outcome. We trust that we will endure and that “this trial too shall pass.” We learn to hope in what we know to be true as opposed to what the world might accuse Christians of—a form of escapism from problems, a refuge for the weak, an opiate for the masses.
Before moving to the words of hope in verses 8 and 9, Peter first laid out the certainty of the hope we have which undergird them. We have the promises of God who created all things and who has proven Himself to us through not only His creation and how it works, but though His Son who He sent on our behalf. Jesus Christ took on the form of man and lived historically as a man. His death, burial, and resurrection are historical and real. His Word is testable and true. And, His work in the lives of those who believe are undeniable.
We have been made children of God because of His incredible love for us, and the world does not get it. “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” (1 John 3:1, NASB95) And, just as we have come to know His love, there is hope to those who don’t because we are His living proofs as we read in verses like John 13:34-35. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, NASB95) We have been shown the love of God and we are being enabled to love with that same love, and so declare His love for others.
Peter had seen Jesus. He was the first recorded disciple chosen by Jesus, and He was given a specifically recorded charge by Jesus to take care of His sheep. He spent years with Jesus. He was there at His crucifixion. He spent time with Him after His resurrection, and He was there at His ascension as He left to return to the right hand of the Father. Then even Peter did not see Him any longer. As He wrote this letter Peter addressed those who had not seen Him and had probably never seen him, but who believed because of what they had heard of Him and believed it to be true. They did not have to see to believe as the famous encounter with Thomas who insisted that he would not believe until he physically touched the marks on Jesus’ resurrected body. Even then Jesus told Him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:29, NASB95) Just a few verses later John added, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30–31, NASB95)
Peter’s audience was living between the resurrection and ascension of Christ and His return. They were living with the assurance that He had come and that He would come again, which is exactly where we are still living today. We love Him because of His love shown to us even though we have not seen His face or felt His physical hand. God has enabled us to know His great love and to respond to that love by loving Him and others. It is just one of those incredible proofs of His presence. And, we are enabled to rejoice in the hope of His certain return or our personal joining with Him through death before that return. We rejoice in the victory we have over death, and the promise of life given to each one of us. We rejoice in knowing that we have been brought into a vital relationship with the living God. He is on our side and there is no one that can separate us from Him. This is the truth, and it is our incredible hope. All the trials we face in life are fully within the scope of His care and His ability to handle, and we know that one day the salvation we have been given will be fully realized in His eternal presence. This is the outcome of our faith. One day we will see Him face to face and what a day of rejoicing that will be.
The incredible thing is that his readers “greatly rejoice[d] with joy inexpressible and full of glory” in the present because they knew their hope for the future. What an encouragement for us to do likewise as we live immersed in the love of our God.