How do you know what’s real?

Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” –John 4:48

Dear members & friends of the Swedenborgian Church,

We often spend a lot of time, money and resource to make things and matters certain. Yet definite certainty seems to always stay just beyond our reach. Perhaps it is the contradictory nature of life that we desire stability and permanence while continually drifting on the waves of change. Or perhaps it is our own mind that simply cannot be certain about anything because it is made to doubt. As far as I know, having certainty about anything is simply impossible for one simple reason: what I am certain of is not the thing that I am certain about. What this means is that ‘what I am certain of’ is the product of my own subjective perception and judgement, while ‘the thing that I am certain about’ exists outside of my mind and brain. So, how can we be certain of any one thing, matter or person?

In John, the father of a dying child came to Jesus and asked for healing. Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” When I read this a long time ago, I simply thought Jesus meant that the father should have more faith. But after becoming a father myself, I read this same story again and felt totally different because I could personally and experientially relate to the story! If one of my children were sick and dying and the only the the person who could cure them repeated Jesus’s words to me, I would probably shout out, “I am willing to believe anything! Just tell me what to believe.” But the truthfulness behind my conviction, which came from desperate heart, would certainly be doubtful.

When Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe,” he did not mean that the father needs more faithful nor that the father has to believe in Jesus immediately. What Jesus is teaching is the very nature of the human mind and how it gains certainty: for our mind to be certain of anything, first that something needs to be existentially and experientially realistic to the mind, thus the mind can form a clear concept and interpretation of that thing. The good news is that both the existence and presence of God can become existentially and experientially real to our mind if we are willing to see and acknowledge how God is working within us. As we open our minds, our brains are able to notice and acknowledge the inevitable presence of God in everything we see, touch and interact with. This is true not just because we are capable of it, but also because it is the mandate of our being.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee