Blindness IX

The sense of sight is used throughout scripture as a metaphor for spiritual discernment. The Old Testament, the gospels, as well as the messages of Jesus and the apostles illustrate and give meaning to the concept of spiritual discernment and blindness. We’ve seen that there are two types of blindness: One is dark and deep and leads to outer darkness. The other results from death and re-birth—new life, blind but with insight. We’ve seen that God’s original intention was for man to have limited sight, that He would be our seeing-eye dog, and that He would take us by the hand and lead us to where we should go.

Our vision was to be subjective; that is, based on feelings, opinion and certain tastes—but God’s, not ours. We are in His service—He is not in our service. The original sin was not simply disobedience. It was Eve’s desire to see things objectively, things that were beyond the scope of her creation. This was the downfall. She wanted to see things objectively, and God wanted her (us) to see things subjectively. She was looking for sound judgment, wise discernment, and keen discrimination, but she lacked the necessary divine attributes.

Ever since, in every age, in every culture and in every religion, mankind has sought to objectify God, His voice, and His direction. It is remarkable that all studies of the history of religions show mankind’s overpowering desire to attempt to define God’s ways. Isaiah 55 says bluntly that our ways are not God’s ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. Yet we seek to make them ours and we seek to do so repetitively. God made us blind, it seems, to his ways to his methods and his modus operandi. He rooted our existence in one solid principle: To go where God leads. But we insist on finding our own path.

We seek to objectify God first by making Him into our own image, and second by assuming (those of us who view ourselves as religious) that we can speak on behalf of God because we know God’s ways and His will. Anthropomorphism means that we see God as if he is like us—like me, with white skin and white hair, but maybe a little thinner. He has a face and a heart and hands. Of course, He is bigger, stronger, and smarter but as technology improves and makes us effectively bigger, stronger, and smarter, the gap between Godspeed and my speed is diminished. Artificial Intelligence closes the gap between my brain and God’s brain. And the question really is, Can an anthropomorphic God stay ahead of technology? Will there always be a gap or will it close eventually?

The second commandment (Exodus 20) is not simply a prohibition about making idols. It is also an injunction against objectifying God. We seek to replace God’s subjective ways and means with our own objective explanation of them; however…:

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

We can’t live with that. Do we even know what it means? How am I to understand that, interpret it, actualize it in the various situations we find ourselves in. We demand more and more definition; we want always to see more.

Blindness removes all objectivity—you can’t see the shape or color, the size or age of anything. You can’t see movement. Blindness, by its very nature, removes your ability to judge and discern. The blind man in Bethseida was healed in two stages. Perhaps, like him, we’re at best able to see faintly, seeing men as trees walking. It is humbling, as Micah indicated.

Blindness limits our ability to show others the way. Blind people can lead neither blind people nor sighted people; the blind can only worry about themselves. What does that say about our soul-winning or about our evangelism? In the story of the man blind from birth we can see the contrast between the subjectification of God by the blind man and the objectification of God by the Pharisees. The Pharisees think they know God and what God’s will is. They “know” that God would keep the laws of Moses, would not break the Sabbath, would not hang out with sinners, and would excommunicate those they identified as sinners. The objectification of God emphasizes how things happen whereas subjectification emphasizes why they happen. The blind knew nothing except that one minute he couldn’t see and the next minute he could. His ability to comprehend and discernment was not of a high order.

God’s opening of eyes reveals his deliverance and his grace. The serpent’s opening of Eve’s eyes was apparently a look too far; for it looks beyond grace, which is unexplained kindness, unexplained forgiveness, and unexplained love. Grace, mercy and love are God’s face toward mankind. That’s what we see of God. To seek to penetrate beyond that, to understand God, to explain God, or even more perilously to speak for God, is to look too far. It’s to try to see too much. Ask Paul about how it worked for him on the road to Damascus, when he was talking about how to act on behalf of God; or ask Balam on his donkey, cursing the Israelites and speaking for God. God shut their eyes and led them in another direction.

Paul wrote: “…while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18). He then went on to talk about temporal and eternal conflict, and how it plays out in mortal life and in the person of man. He concluded: “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight….” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7)

We’re talking about blindness. We’re talking about objectifying God and looking beyond what God’s intention was for us to see. What does God want us to see? What must we be blind to? What is a “look too far”?

Donald: As infants, our slate is empty. As we grow, we fill it up with understanding and knowledge. I grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist home. So I came to understand Adventism as being the spiritual journey of a Christian. If I had grown up in a non-Adventist Christian home, my perspective would have have been somewhat different. But if I grew up in a non-Christian home it would have been really quite different. It’s one thing to learn your faith as part of your learning experience; it’s another thing to convert to another religion that provides a new, but full, slate already prepared. Evangelism—at least, the proselytizing type— is saying to another person: “I want you to erase your slate and fill it with what’s on my slate, which is the Truth.” That does not leave much room for any other perspective.

Jay: There are some intriguing statements at the end of this parable about the man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ real audience was the Pharisees. He made two bold statements: One regarding judgment—”I’ve come into the world so the blind will see and those who see will become blind”—and one about sin: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but since you claim you can see your guilt remains.” Truth and judgment are closely related in our minds. We often think in either/or terms: I’m a sinner or not, I’m a sheep or a goat. But our simplistic concept of judgment doesn’t seem to be the one that Jesus tried to explain through his ministry. It is not about proclaiming this good and that bad, her sinless, him a sinner. Since he came into this world for judgment but his ministry is unconcerned with right and wrong, good or bad, sinful or sinless, what then is Jesus judging? What is this “discernment” that he exercised in his ministry? The Pharisees asked if they were blind, and Jesus said “No, you can see, but badly.” Is judgment about what we think we see, what we think we discern, what we think we know? And if so, what what ramifications does that have for us?

Donald: Daoism does not seem to have much truck with judgement.

David: That’s true. It’s a distinguishing feature of Daosim. The Daoist perspective is that judgment is a matter of self judgment, of looking into your true self, as Jacob did. We must judge ourselves by examining the slates inside us. The cognitive slate is written on by Adventism or Catholicicism or Islam or whatever, writing lines of doctrine and dogma on it. Daoism tends not to, because there is really no doctrine. There is a statement that there is The Way, it’s all powerful, you can do nothing to control it and the more you try, the worse it will be for you. (If you are lucky, you merely end up with a dislocated hip, like Jacob). You have to accept the Way. What passes for its “Bible”—the tiny Dao De Jing—points essentially to our powerlessness and smallness, as God pointed out to Job and Isaiah.

The subjective approach to God makes it very personal. It brings us back to the God inside, to the eternity planted in the heart, to the Holy Spirit inside all of us—to the soul. To me, that is essentially Taoist. There is no church in Daoism (though the religious offshoot from the original Daoist philosophy has temples). There is no need for two or three people to gather in the name of The Way. The Dao just is and will always be there, available and accessible to anyone who wants to just go along with it. That’s the message I get from Jesus. The judgment for which he came is to encourage us to judge ourselves and only ourselves—nobody else. The judgment for which he came is our own self-judgment, and it has enormous implications, because it seriously questions the role of religion if God is not in your church but inside you.

Donald: It has implications for evangelism too. You are talking about reaching in, but evangelism is all about reaching out. Is there another type of evangelism?

David: I think there is. The evangelism of Jesus says: “Be good to one another; follow the Golden Rule; do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” By so doing, you are showing the way, the Dao. But you don’t need to mention religion—Jesus didn’t (except to excoriate it, at least in the form evangelized by the Pharisees.)

Donald: Is there such a thing as membership in Daoism?

David: No.

Jay: This relates to the picture of God, how you see God, how you visualize him. The blind have no picture of their guide, they don’t know if their guide is tall or short, ugly or beautiful. And it doesn’t matter. The blind don’t care what their guide looks like, about her characteristics, his attributes. That is very different from how religions approach God. There are very specific characteristics and attributes and things that we say are from God and of God. It’s interesting how, as soon as we start attributing characteristics to what our God is, that we start to really move into a place of judgment and discernment.

Robin: Humility is a theme that runs throughout the teachings of Jesus, but as soon as we let ourselves believe that we know the answers, and we can tell you the answers, then we lose our humility and act as though we had a mandate, the authority to interfere where in fact we have no business.

Don: Can a photographer take a picture such that 99 out of a 100 viewers will draw the same meaning from it? Or one that will lead to 100 different meanings?

Donald: Novice photographers, given an assignment with parameters to include in all their photographs, will generally come up with 30 or 40 that do so. Asked then to pick their five favorites, they usually pick the ones their teacher also judges to best reflect the given parameters. But it’s not 100%. People of different cultures and character may view the same parameters differently. There’s no way an image will unfailingly evoke a common response.

Don: My point is that we take our own spiritual picture of God and expect others to draw from it what we draw from it. If that does not happen, it may affect the relationship between the picture-taker and the viewer.

Kiran: Jesus said: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:19-21) So judgment is actually not done by God, but by our own selves. The role of God is to bring light into our life so we can clearly see and judge ourselves. This passage says that evil people don’t want to come into the light because they don’t want their deeds to be exposed. But those who like the truth come into the light because they can be exposed. Our role is simply to let the light in.

I converted from Hindu to Christian. There is still some Hindu cultural influence in me. It’s not gone completely away. It’s not that I didn’t like my Hindu way; I just liked the Christian way better. I had a great desire inside me that something should change. My life wasn’t good. When I submitted to God the response was amazing. It became a real, two-way conversation. The loneliness, the extreme sense of guilt I had felt went away.

At the time I came to know Christianity, I was a member of a college gang. One day I went to beat up a man that happened to be my classmate. He had done something to earn the gang’s displeasure. I tried to goad him into starting a fight. I hurled insults at him. It did not work. He threw me off balance by speaking gently to me, and quoted Seventh-day Adventist founder Ellen White (I did not know that then) to the effect that you have to have guts to call a sin by its right name. “Guts?” I said. “What are you talking about?” He gave me a sheet of paper and asked me to list on one side all the good things I had done that day, based on my own judgment, and all the bad things on the other. I went along with him, and wrote 27 bad things and not a single good thing. He then quoted the Bible that all good deeds come from God and evil things come from the devil. He asked me to think about whose instrument I was. Even as a gang member I did not like to think I was all bad, and under control by another power. He then told me there was a God who could take my evil, my misdeeds, and transfer them from my slate to his, so that I would not go to hell. I asked why would he want to do that? And he said, because he loves you.

Hindu gods are feared. You do everything to appease them so that they feel pity and then throw you a bone. But here was a God who was actively seeking me. My friend said: He loves you and He wants to rescue you. If you don’t like, you don’t have to call Him “Jesus” but call Him “real God” and He will answer you. And I knew deep inside me that even though I enjoyed doing bad things, I was not OK and needed to be rescued, and here was an opportunity.

I still said something nasty to my friend at the end, just to save at least some face, but when I got to the college dormitory, I climbed a water tank with a view of the city on one side and the ocean on the other and prayed a belligerent prayer to the effect: “Hey real God, I’m giving you (God) one chance and if you want to do something, do it now or never, because I’m too far gone.” It was a stupid and irreverent prayer. It resulted in no magic, no lightning bolts. I simply began crying like a baby for things I had bottled up for years. I didn’t cry this much when my father passed away couple year ago. I couldn’t stop crying for half an hour. I thought my eyes were going to come out. But I also felt a heavy burden lifted off of me, which I couldn’t explain. I felt how a naughty child, worried that his parents are going to catch him in the act but relieved when they do and forgave him, feels.

I was a smoker. The next day, whenever I felt the urge to smoke, I repeated my prayer. A loud voice in my mind which I visualized it as a big wave said “Go ahead, smoke!” but a smaller voice in the back of the mind which I visualized as a tiny firefly would say, “Give me a chance, give me a chance!” When I closed my eyes to focus on that small voice, the nicotine withdrawal pains that set my teeth on edge and my fingertips aching would go away. If an ad for alcohol set me thirsting for a drink, I did the same and the craving would go away. There was no human intervention. This was how God answered my prayer. I had known the man I went to beat up for two years prior to this incident and I knew him as a Christian, but this was the first time he spoke to me this way. Next morning when I met him, he couldn’t believe that his words influenced me. I think it is God’s job to come to us in whatever form he wants to.

Cynthia: We are all sick, like the man who lay by the pool in Bethesda, waiting for Christ. We are all blind like the blind man that was born blind. We’re born in sin and iniquity, and we’re all waiting for the power of God to save us. Jesus said, you have not chosen me, I have chosen you. Regardless of whether or not we have blank slates, before God we are all blank. He can reach us wherever we are, and he seeks and saves us. We can show the power of God by sharing our testimony as Kiran just did. I don’t know where to start or how to put things together. It’s just overwhelming.

Anonymous: This is probably one of the few times that I feel the presence, the holy Spirit, guiding me and my thoughts. Every comment today struck a chord. It’s as though we are of one spirit, of one mind. I was thinking about us Seventh-day Adventists because for a while I’ve been thinking about the interpretation of Revelation and how we are so adamant about what we believe. And then David talked about why can’t we just love God and not be in a group, a denomination. And then Jason and Kiran and everyone said something that struck a chord in my mind today. I was already thinking to tell Dr. Weaver after class that this was an exceptionally fruitful class today.

Jesus said “I am the light of the world, and who walks with me will never walk in darkness.” And I believe, with all my heart, we don’t need anything more than that. We just need to know Jesus because He is the light. And when we get to the light, our life changes. And that’s basic in everyone. As soon as we see the light we’re different people, we have different thoughts, principles. It’s not a product of our past lives, it’s not by interpreting the Bible, it’s not by by judging right and wrong, it’s not by going to church, it’s not by being in a denomination, it’s not even by seeing the whole picture. After four years of reading the Bible. I still come to places where I say, I don’t think this is right! It was written long ago, it’s the thoughts of ancient peoples. You cannot have everybody look at one thing and see exactly the same thing. It is impossible. If I tell two people what I heard the pastor say in church this morning, each of them will have a slightly different understanding of my understanding of what the pastor said. The two tell it to two others each, and on it goes in an exponential fashion until the message is totally different to what the pastor actually said.

We think we’re doing good, warning people about the Last Days and telling people to repent and interpreting the Book of Revelation as if it is already a foregone conclusion. But we cannot be sure we ourselves understand the Bible and the Book of Revelation. In hindsight, we may see things clearly, and the effect may be strengthening of our faith. But to claim foresight and predict a future we don’t understand is wrong.

Every denomination has its interpretations. I love to know more about the Bible, understand more, see more. But the truth is, the most important thing that we really need to see is ourselves. Just look inside. The more I know myself, the more I come close to God. Knowing one’s self doesn’t have to be in a spiritual way. Just understand your own motives, your own thoughts, understand why you’re doing something or just understand yourself and you’ll see everything clear and God will walk you towards more light.

Donald: What is it that we do have in common without a set of guidelines? Do human beings all have common needs that drive us? Photography students are able to to come to understand the beauty in a picture on their own. Are we really empty slates wanting to be filled, and then once we come to understand God’s will for us we can be on our way? Or does it begin really with a common set of things throughout humanity?

Don: What is the importance of light in photography?

Donald: Everything. Without it, there is no vision, no sight. Light defines what we know and light can redefine what we’re looking at. Light that comes low from the side is quite different from light that comes from directly in front. Depending on its angle and other characteristics, it gives character and shape to the object. It defines how we see and understand things. It can define edge. It can define texture, or it can soften, as you might want to do with a portrait of a child. A man born blind will have a different perspective from one who lost his sight.

Don: One of the blind man we have been discussing was blind from birth. The other one, in Bethseida, was perhaps not born blind, because he had some some sense of what he was seeing when he saw “men like trees walking.” So maybe he already had something written on his slate.

Donald: If we have a common thought amongst ourselves, it’s because we’re seeing something that is being lit the same way. And we would not agree with each other if one saw an object that was lit one way and another one of us saw the same object lit another way. With evangelism, we’re trying to shine a light on Christ. If all evangelists could shine a light from the same perspective, just maybe it might work.

David: I think we heard evangelism today, from Kiran. It was, it was very successful and very moving. All of us here could relate to what he said, we all could identify with his experience. And to me, his experience was that he simply got in touch with his soul. If there’s one thing that’s common among all of us it is that we have a soul—the Way lies within. I think we could have brought 20 people at random in from off the street to participate today and that every single one of them would have been able to relate to what Kiran said. Even an atheist, though he might have scoffed at the idea that it was God who was talking to Kiran, would not have denied that inside the spirit or the mind or whatever you want to call it, something transformative can happen.

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