Eyes May Deceive But Ears Believe!


My mother-in-law, Grandma Kay, is dying. She is in hospice in Wisconsin. Her children and grandchildren come to visit her and to say goodbye. A month ago when my wife, Sonja, was visiting her, she announced to Sonja, “You are a phantom.”

Sonja protested to her that she was real but her mom would not change her mind. She was sure her daughter was a phantom.

One week later, I was with Sonja when we saw her again. She again was wondering if we were real. Certainly, as she passes in and out of sleep and has some strong dreams of heaven, she does struggle with what is real any longer. So Sonja asked me, “Can you give her any consolation?”

What do we say to someone whose sight is no longer trustworthy?

The book INCOGNITO is written to inform people, that seeing may not be believing. The author, David Eagleman, is a neuro scientist who argues that the brain is unable to discern what eyes may see if there is no history for the information that the brain is receiving through the eyes.

He tells the story of a man named Michael May who was blinded by a chemical explosion when he was 3 years old. At the age of 43, after succeeding as a father to two boys, becoming a businessman as well as a high speed downhill ski racer, a special surgery restored his sight. Naturally he was excited to see the faces of his boys and wife for the first time. But when they came into the room after the surgery, “He wasn’t experiencing his sons’ faces. He was experiencing only uninterpretable sensations of edges and colors and light. Although his eyes were functioning, he didn’t have vision.”

Now we know that once enough of these new images were stored in the brain with repeated interpretations, the once confusing images were transformed into 2 sons and a wife.

So, is Grandma Kay like Michael May? In her case, her brain no longer can tell the difference between what is real and what is dreamed.

How can I help her see what is really there? Remember Thomas when he was in the doubting mode?

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” – John 20:25

He also had his determined mode. This was when Jesus said He was going to Judea to heal Lazarus and Thomas said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:16) Unfortunately the determined Thomas is not remembered as well as the doubting Thomas. And one reason we remember the doubter is due to our eyes. We think that if we could see, we would believe.

But do we see?

Fast forward to Easter Sunday. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb and discovers Jesus is gone so she runs to tell Peter and John that someone has taken the body. Now comes the famous footrace. John wins it. He steps into the tomb and “bleppos” the joint. “Bleppo” means to check things out. Peter then “theoreos” the tomb. He observes, makes assessments of the details. Spectator. Then John goes back in. This time he “eydos” the tomb. This “eydo” seeing leads to believing. He knows. And then they leave.

Is there any hope for Grandma Kay here? Even though John has used three Greek verbs to demonstrate that “seeing is not believing” (unless it comes with knowing as in “eido”), he does not leave us without some hope for her.

And it is found in the next few lines.

Mary stays behind. She sees Jesus in “theory.” But she thinks he is the gardener. So Jesus says to her, who are you “zayteo”… seeking in order to find? But she still can’t see him until Jesus says to her:


And then she can see and believes.

Jesus calls His sheep by name and we hear His voice (John 10:3-5, 27). And again Paul says it, “faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

So, Grandma Kay’s eyes are confused. She does not know what is real right now. What does she need? She needs to hear her name spoken to her just like Jesus did for Mary.

And so after Sonja asked me to give her consolation, I could say to her, “Kay, listen to the word of Jesus for you.”

“Kay, before you were born I knew you. I formed you in your mother’s womb. Even your inmost parts are known to me. I chose you Kay, you did not choose me. I appointed you to go in my name and to bear fruit for me and your fruitful life will last. Kay, I have forgiven you all your sins. Nothing is held against you. I have removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. You are my precious little lamb, Kay. I hold you in the palm of my hand and nothing can snatch you out of my grasp. You are precious to me, Kay, and I love you.”

She squeezed my hand, thanked me, said goodbye to Sonja and me and said, “Unless I go home tonight, I will see you in the morning.”

We did see her in the morning. And we were not phantoms to her anymore.



Johan Hinderlie spent a long career with Mount Carmel bible camp in Alexandria, Minnesota, before finding his way to Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Afton, Minnesota, as Interim Associate Pastor. Johan feels the real life-change that is happening at Shepherd and still feels the transformation in his own life through the Grace of God. With his wife, Sonja, Johan enjoys leading trips to Israel, Nordic skiing, and wearing Norwegian sweaters.