We’ve been studying the subject of blindness, based on the fourth woe of the Pharisees which Jesus had pronounced on them in the 23rd chapter of the book of Matthew. He calls them blind guides, blind men, and blind fools. Last week we began looking at the story of blindness from the context of the passage in John 9 telling the story of a man who was blind from birth. The long story (see last week’s notes) has many characters. We’ll take time to examine each of these characters and try to understand the meaning and the truth about blindness from each character’s perspective—the blind man himself, the neighbors, the parents, the disciples, and the Pharisees. We will put ourselves in each of these characters’ shoes, and try to understand what it was that Jesus wanted them to see.
It seems that the condition that we were created in, back in the garden of Eden, was blind in some way. Eve’s desire was to have her eyes opened. She was blind from creation, just as the man in the story was blind from birth. Our natural condition does appear to be blind, but blind to what? This is one of the questions for today. We’re talking, of course, not about physical blindness. We’re talking about spiritual blindness. We’re blind to judgment, to discernment, to discrimination, to prejudice.
The first question then, is, do we know what we are to be blind to? Or must we be told? In Genesis 3:5, it’s the serpent who informs Eve that she is blind. She did not know, and she did not know that she did not know. And in the book of Numbers, it’s the donkey who informs Balam that he’s blind and doesn’t know. So the question is, does the blind man sitting by the road know that he was born blind? It was pointed out last week that for a person to know that they’re blind, they would have to have the context of seeing. This blind man was in his own natural state. The question is, was Eve—with her blindness prior to the eating of the fruit—in her natural state?
In John 3, Jesus talks with Nicodemus about the natural state of being born again. Nicodemus doesn’t get it. What happens at birth is that the baby suddenly goes from darkness into light but they cannot see clearly. Their eyes do not focus. At best they see like the blind man we talked about two weeks ago—the man who could see men who looked to him like trees walking.
The new birth condition, the new creation, is also associated with imperfect vision, a partial and provisional blindness. This point is underscored by the action of Jesus. He takes dirt (dust, one of the primary elements of man’s original creation, the other being divine breath (Genesis 2:7)) adds divine water (his spittle) and re-creates. Note that putting clay in your eyes will not make you see. In fact, it will make you blind. So here we see Jesus blinding the blind man in order that he might see. It is mentioned in Revelation 3:18 that putting salve in your eyes will make you blind. It won’t help you to see, at least not initially.
The blind man’s spiritual vision is a progressive type of vision. In verse 11, he sees Jesus and calls him a man. In verse 17, he refers to Jesus as a prophet. And by the end of the story in verse 38, he sees Jesus as divinity and worships Him. The blind man’s vision is one of a progressive enlightenment about God. Jesus says in John 9:4-5, “We must work who works of Him who sent me as long as it is day, because night is coming when no man can work. While I am in the world I am the light of the world.” Jesus came that he might shed light on something. What is it that he is shedding light on? He is shedding light on his mission and on his message.
When a blind man’s eyes are open—any blind man, including you and me—what do we see? Eyes opened by God see God, his grace, and His deliverance. Elisha’s servant could not see a surrounding army until God opened his eyes. Hagar in the desert did not see the deliverance of water from a well until God opened her eyes. Something important happens when eyes are opened by God, but when Man opens his own eyes, as he did in eating the forbidden fruit, what is exposed is something which is not exactly what God wants to be seen. It seems that it has an element of judgment.
In this story the Pharisees judge everything they see: They judge the blind man, they judge the parents and of course they judge Jesus. The blind man is a sinner, generally and completely, according to them, meriting dismissal from the synagogue. His parents are afraid of that judgment. And Jesus, of course, is judged to be a Sabbath breaker and therefore a sinner who really should be stoned to death.
It seems that we should be blind to some things and our eyes have to be open to some other things. What is it that we should be blinded to? And how do we get to that blindness? What must our eyes be open to and how do we get our eyes opened? There’s an expression I think that fits here. Sometimes you hear people say, “I couldn’t un-see that.” This is a vision of something which is horrible or undesirable or traumatic or something that’s very extreme that sears the visual memory.
What would God have us “un-see”? What could Eve have seared into the mental vision of all mankind in the garden that now needs to be re-seen? Can our vision be born again? If so, how? In John 12:20-21, we see the existential request of some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem to worship at a feast and asked Phillip: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” How do we get to see Jesus? What is it that we should see about Jesus? How did the blind man see Jesus? What did he see? How about the disciples? What did they see when they saw Jesus? What about the neighbors and the parents of the Pharisees?
Donald: Adam and Eve were blind to nakedness and then they saw their nakedness. They went from seeing nothing to seeing something. A baby is born blind basically. Cognitively, a baby is a blank slate. Intellect takes time to develop. Where and how that happens—your culture, your family—defines who you become. Some of us were born into Seventh-day Adventist homes, and so our blank slate becomes a Seventh-day Adventist slate. Some of some of us were born in other parts of the world and so our slates are radically different. People who change faiths have to wipe their slates clean and start again.
Kiran: A Netflix series on babies talked about how babies learn a language. They are born as world citizens ready to learn any language. Their brains can adapt to any grammar structure but of course they fix on the one (occasionally two) spoken by their parents. Similarly, probably they are born ready to adapt to any version of God but are exposed to just the one featured in their culture. So the love that we have for our culture and our parents prevents us from seeing God in other ways.
David: Babies everywhere throughout the world have got exactly the same blank slate, as Kiran said. It can be written on, but is there not something else already on the baby’s mind at that point? According to the Bible, there is an “eternity set within the heart”. It is the inner light, the Holy Spirit. Therefore there can never be a time when one is closer to God, when one has a better picture of God, than when one is newborn. Everything that happens subsequently, every jotting on the slate will tend to corrupt that purity, that innocent picture of God. Jesus kept telling us to become born again, but he did not say to grow again. He wants us to be born again and stay there, spiritually. We can’t do that biologically, of course, but spiritually we can. We can do so by jettisoning the ego that fills the slate and drowns out the Holy Spirit. To be born again we have to wipe the ego slate clean. And that means if you’re born an Adventist it means wiping out your Adventism. If you’re born Hindu it means wiping out your Hinduism. It doesn’t matter what you’re born as. What matters is getting back to that clean slate with God. To me that’s what it means.
Donald: Yesterday being a beautiful day we drove out to see our Amish neighbors working the fields, playing baseball, riding in open carriages, with the kids in the back seats. The parents looked more or less sternly at us but the kids were all smiles. They had not learned “proper” Amish cultural behavior yet.
Robin: Jesus healed people in many ways, sometimes just by voice command, but this making of a clay salve and putting it in the eyes is hard to understand. Why didn’t he just place his hands on the eyes to un-blind them? There wasn’t any magic in the mud. It was the power of Christ that did the healing.
Jim: I think it was an example of re-creation. That’s how God formed man in the beginning. And he does the same thing in a re-creation so that Man can regain sight that he lost.
Jay: We can see a progression of spiritual growth, recognition, and awareness taking place as the blind man identifies Jesus as a man, then as a prophet, and finally as the messiah. So blindness seems to have been to his benefit. But what about those who are not blind and should be? I like the idea of a re-creative moment of gaining sight, but if I already have sight and I should be in darkness, where’s the benefit in that? What’s an example of moving from sight into darkness? Is it Paul? He gets back into sight eventually. Is it a different sight than he had before he was in darkness?
Donald: I think that relates to the idea of un-learning something. It’s pretty hard to do. If you are shocked by something it’s frozen forever in your mind, it’s something that’s pretty hard to shake. But as we know, in our childhood, we’re all affected by some good and some bad things, so to un-learn something is probably a much more difficult thing than a baby learning things, grasping things, and understanding things. It seems to come naturally as a child grows, but as an adult we become fixed and it can be difficult for us to change our perspective.
Don: How do we un-learn? How do we get reborn? And what about the fact that this man’s been blind from birth? Why or how is that important in the understanding of the story and what it is that that we should see.
Jim: Eve had perfect sight because she actually talked to God face to face, and became spiritually blind when she listened to the serpent. The blind man in Mark 8 had spiritual sight and lost it. Because when Jesus touched his eyes the first time, he could see movement. Men looking like trees, but he wouldn’t have known what men and trees look like if he hadn’t seen them before. And then he was touched again. And this was the start of his spiritual growth.
Kiran: We have to become like children to be in the kingdom. Jesus wants us to take a step back from our adult interpretations of things and become like children. I became Christian in the year 2000. For the first five years mine was a pretty simple faith. There was much I did not know but I trusted that God would take care of it. But I also had fears. Now, I intellectualize my faith and it has become much more complex. I would probably have been a much better person had I stayed like a child and simply continued trusting in God to look after me. Babies have no idea how their parents provide for them. They don’t understand the pandemic or that it could endanger their lives. They don’t understand anything. If they want something they ask and the parents provide, or try to. That’s the simplicity we need. And to get it, maybe we need a temporary blindness. Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus. He was left with nothing to do except look inside himself, at his persecution of Christians. When you are suddenly blinded you are helpless. So most of the time you sit there with nothing to do but reflect on the past. A sudden blindness helps us step back from the complexity that is strangling our spirituality, and look deep inside ourselves. That would make us realize the sovereignty of the garden and the kindness and mercy of God which will take us back to a childlike faith. That would be spiritual enlightenment or vision.
David: That’s exactly what Paul got. He went back and his soul was wiped clean of its tainted record as a Christian-persecuting Pharisee. All that disappeared. The interesting thing is that Paul had no one other than God, other than the inner light, to direct him, to be the midwife in his rebirth. He heard the voice of Jesus in his head, he responded to his inner light. There was nothing on his slate, nothing in his ego, that pushed him to do any of this. He went back of his own accord to be born again. There was no coercion nor any kind of external influence whatsoever. It all took place within himself, and that seems to me to be the only legitimate way it can happen. When Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born again he wasn’t talking to Nicodemus just as a Pharisee. If Nicodemus had been a Seventh Day Adventist, would Jesus have said anything different? I don’t think so. What does that imply for spirituality? I think it’s too easy to conflate material considerations such as how do I get fed, how will I live in this world, with spiritual considerations such as what should I do if I meet someone in need. Yes, we do need to write on our slate in order to live in this world. But in order to relate with God, it’s the last thing we ought to want to do.
Donald: Our slate provides the context in which we come to understand everything else, right or wrong. In order to interact with each other in a meaningful way, we try to understand each other’s context and background, to get a sense as to how we’ll respond to what each other says or does. So to evangelize or witness, I need to do so understanding the context of the other person’s slate and not my own. I think we impose our slates upon each other rather than learning to understand one another.
Kiran: God asked Jacob his name and Jacob responded. But when Jacob asked for God’s name, God refused to give it. That is one way God is trying to prevent us becoming boxed into one kind of slate. But every time he reveals himself, he keeps saying “I’m the God of your forefathers, of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac.” So every time we ask his name, he points us towards the relationship he had with our forefathers. Is that the way God is trying to unbox us, to get us to widen our viewpoint? To take us back to being world citizens able to see God in many different ways? If I said that I only see God through my Adventist faith I would be lying because I don’t know if that is true. It’s what I believed 20 years ago but not now. I realize you can see God whether you’re an Adventist, a Methodist, or whatever—including even if you’re an atheist (you just won’t admit you see him). God places no limits on how people anywhere can reach him.
Dora: Children are inherently inquisitive about their environment. Their slate is not meant to remain blank, but to become filled through inquisitiveness. That growth is very apparent in this blind man, who—once he began to see—saw Jesus first as a man, then as a prophet, and eventually as divinity.
Donald: Parents provide the context for the lives of their children, including the context for their spiritual lives. That’s a huge responsibility when we can barely manage to be accountable for our own lives.
Jay: The learning progression that takes place in this blind man contrasts with moving from darkness into light as a natural consequence of physical awareness, discernment, learning, interactive inquisitiveness with the environment. But there definitely seem to be two ways that that can go. It can either go a human route, or it can go a divine route. The divine route is not under our control. The human route is definitely under our control. We tend always to take the human route and eventually reach the point Nicodemus reached when Jesus told him his slate needed to be wiped clean. It becomes filled it with too much bias and prejudice. We’ve messed it up to a point where extreme measures have to be taken: “Paul, you’ve got to be blind. I have to take away your sight.” “Nicodemus, you have to be born again” (leaving him so confused, wondering how he can go back into the womb). Extreme measures are necessary because as human beings, we clutter our brains with things that are not supposed to be there. The most frustrating part is that we were never supposed to be in this mess. The garden of Eden was not a place of discernment, it was supposed to be devoid of discernment. But we chose to say, No, we can work it out for ourselves, we can handle it, we can really truly understand everything about what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong. And when we make that very bold statement about our abilities, we end up at the point where extreme measures of blindness and rebirth become necessary.
David: The blind man recovered his sight in three stages, seeing Jesus as a man, then as a prophet, and then as God. Is there a stage 4? Probably not. It seems that recognizing God is as far as we can go and as far as we need to go. Once you recognize and accept God you have reached the end of the journey. For the blind man it was a very short journey of just a few minutes. It’s not like the journey of the ego, where it takes 18 to 20 years to reach a level of maturity sufficient to leave the nest and take on the world. But spiritually, it takes only a heartbeat to recognize and accept God. It doesn’t take a lot of writing on the slate, it just takes a quick wipe with an eraser.
Don: Next week we will look at the story from the Pharisees’ point of view. See if you can see yourself as a Pharisee in this story. The interesting thing about it is that all of us are the blind man, all of us are the disciples, all of us are the neighbors, all of us are the parents, and each of us finds ourselves in these positions as these characters at different times in our existence. Seeing it from these various points of view may be educational.
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