Explaining a new concept is difficult, especially if your audience has little or no familiarity with the subject and/or terminology. Have you even wondered how challenging it has been for God to explain the plan of salvation and the results of sin to us? Sure He knows all our words in all our languages, but we really don’t get what He is saying because we just can’t see the big picture.
To assist, God uses symbols and illustrations — things we are familiar with — to help us understand what is far beyond our scope. Blindness is one of the illustrations that He uses. Through out the scriptures God’s people are compared to those who’s physical eyes are blind. Some people become living illustrations by being struck blind or by being healed of their physical blindness.
I would like to explore some of these Biblical illustrations along with some neuroscience with you to open our eyes to our own spiritual blindness. Once we realize our helpless condition, we can do the one thing within our power — turn to Jesus, who alone made the blind see — both physically and spiritually.
Neurology and the Bible
Some people don’t like science. I don’t understand why. Neurology is one of my favorite fields of science. Haven’t you ever wondered just how you think? How do you store memories and recall them? Does the flower you are looking at look the same to your friend? How does all of that work in your brain?
One of my favorite authors on this subject is the late Dr. Oliver Sacks. Although I’ve not read all of his books, I have throughly enjoyed the ones that I have read. It was while reading his book An Anthropologist on Mars that I began thinking about the symbolic use of blindness in the Bible. After all the blindness referred to in Isaiah 42:16 is not a blindness that effects our eyes or mind but our soul or spirit.
I will bring the blind by a way they did not know;
I will lead them in paths they have not known.
I will make darkness light before them,
And crooked places straight.
These things I will do for them,
And not forsake them.
I’m assuming that you, my reader, are not blind. But if you were (and perhaps you are), would you know that you were blind? Even if you have the faculty of sight, are you required to use it? Could someone convince you that you were blind? And just because you can see, are you really looking?
These seem like absurdly easy questions when you are speaking of our physical ability to see. Would you be surprised to learn though that there are people who are physically blind, but don’t know it? There are also people who are sighted, yet behave as thought they were still blind. Sound fantastic, doesn’t it?
So if there can be such examples of physical blindness, is it so easy to say that you know that you are not spiritually blind? Blindness is used time and again in the Bible to alert us to a spiritual reality. Jesus Himself gives the diagnosis in Revelation 3:17.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
Having a diagnosis doesn’t cure the condition. If fact, knowing this can lead to a different type of blindness altogether.
Blind and Don’t Know It
For a long time I’ve wondered at this somewhat odd pronouncement? How can a person not know that they are blind? But they can.
Dr. Oliver Sacks records the case history of a young man named Greg whom Dr. Sacks treated in 1977. Greg was admitted to the hospital with numerous problems, most of which stemmed from a brain tumor. The placement of this tumor put pressure on Greg’s pituitary gland and the “adjacent optic chiasm and tracts and extending on both sides into the frontal lobes. . . . Greg was now not only blind but, gravely disabled neurologically and mentally . . . .” (An Anthropologist on Mars, 45)
“If I were blind, I would be the first person to know it.”
One of the most curious aspects of Greg’s condition was his complete lack of awareness regarding his blindness. When Dr. Sacks would hold up an arbitrary number of fingers and asked Greg how many fingers were visible, Greg would, in effect, guess, but would maintain that he could see the fingers. Perhaps the most astounding statement is one made by Greg when they attempted to teach him Braille. . . . he was startled and bewildered at finding this imposed on him, and cried out, “What’s going on? Do you think I’m blind? Why am I here, with blind people all around me?” Attempts were made to explain things to him, and he answered with impeccable logic, “If I were blind, I would be the first person to know it.” (67)
That sounds like an absurd thing for a blind man to say, doesn’t it? Yet in 1 John 2: 8-11 we are warned that we can experience the exact same thing in our spiritual life:
Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shinning. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walks in darkness, and does not know not where he is going, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. (emphasis mine)
We can be just as blind to our blindness as Greg was to his. Indeed, we often are, and Jesus’ revelation of our condition in Revelation 3:17 testifies to the fact.
As we read the message to the Laodiceans, we nod our heads and say that we accept the validity of the statement, but do we? Being told you are blind does not mean you believe it. Just like Greg, we may be convinced that our vision is just fine. “After all,” we reason, “how am I spiritually blind? I’m a Christian after all. I know the truth. I’m not blind.”
What does spiritual blindness look like?
Have you ever stopped and wondered that?
The Laodiceans are poor of character, naked of righteousness, but blind — to what? I believe we are blind to our lack of connection with Christ. We say we are walking with Him, but are we? Even if we truly accept this diagnosis being aware of your blindness doesn’t cure it, but we often act this way.
(To Be Continued Next Week)