Blindness X

We’re still in John chapter 9 for more lessons on blindness from a man who was born blind at birth. Today we will discuss the creation and recreation story played out and illustrated in a dramatic way.

In Genesis 1, we read that:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep. And the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night, and there was evening and there was morning. The first day.”

This is the condition of fallen man before God. We are without form, and void, and like the man born blind we are covered with darkness. What we need is a new creation, a re-creation. The Gospel stories of Jesus’ healing the blind include one who was led to Jesus (Mark 8). Luke 18 has a blind man hollering at Jesus. In John 9, the blind man simply sits by the road and Jesus finds him. It matters not, apparently, how you get to God or better yet how God gets to you. God’s job is to find you in your darkness in one way or another, and work his creative and recreative power on your behalf.

That this is a creative act is evidenced by the use of the dust that Jesus puts on the eyes of the blind man. Dust/dirt is the raw material of the creation of man that we see from the book of Genesis. This is us, all of mankind sitting in darkness from our birth, apart from God. All we see is darkness. Man is blind to the light. But Jesus says, in John 9:5, “I am the light of the world.”

We are blind to the light, and we are blind to God, we are blind to His grace. Seeing light requires God’s creative and recreative power. In Genesis 1:3-4 God says,

“Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

This is Jesus’s mission and his message: I am the light of the world (John 9:5). He came to shed light on who God is, and especially how God works with his grace.

Light is the very first product of creation. And bearing the torch—shining the light—is God’s eternal role. The works of God, which Jesus refers to (“it was neither that this man sin, nor his parents, but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him”) are equated with God’s creative works and his recreative works. These are to be displayed in this blind man. And what are those works of God in blind men if they’re not the recreation of light? “Let there be light” is Jesus’s modus operandi. He sheds light everywhere he goes.

But there’s more to the story, as the blind man’s eyes pop open and he sees light for the first time in his life. It is not just any light. It is Sabbath light, the daylight of the Sabbath. This is not by accident, I believe, because the creation of the Sabbath too is part of the creation and recreation story. The Sabbath is a memorial of creation, a celebratory pause at the conclusion of creation. And throughout the scriptures, we see the Sabbath as a promise, a covenant of recreation. For the Israelites, It was a reminder of their freedom from bondage in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). In Exodus 31:12-13, we read “I am the Lord who sanctifies you” and the Sabbath is a memorial of that sanctification.

This is the real meaning of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is God’s eternal symbol of grace. When his eyes pop open, the first thing the blind man sees is the light of God’s eternal grace. Time is given by God as a symbol of His grace because it is the most difficult thing to objectify. Time cannot be controlled by man. You cannot manipulate, move, muscle, control, contain, advance, or retard it. All you can do is possess it or it can better yet possess you. You can only experience it. You can enjoy it, you can lament it. Grace is like time: here it comes, ready or not. It comes weekly and regularly and immutably.

The Pharisees sought to objectify the Sabbath by controlling not the Sabbath itself, not time, but by controlling what should or should not be done on the Sabbath. That equated the Sabbath with the synagogue. For them “light” rested in their Sabbath-keeping in church or what they at least practiced in church, and they sought to return the blind man to his darkness by casting him out of the temple, out of the light as they saw it. But Jesus was making an important point. In Matthew 12:1-7 he says this regarding the Sabbath:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you [this is the key point he’s trying to make] that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

Here Jesus makes the point and establishes that being the head of the Sabbath, he is also greater than the temple. When we place ourselves and what we do (or maybe what we don’t do) at the center of the Sabbath instead of the Son of man who is Lord of the Sabbath and what he does at the center of the Sabbath, we objectify the Sabbath just as the Pharisees did, and create an idol of the Sabbath itself. For fallen man, to keep the Sabbath holy through effort and doctrine is impossible. Only God is holy and only God can sanctify the Sabbath. We serve Him by our recognition and our humble acknowledgement that He is the Lord of the Sabbath and that the Sabbath day and its light is a symbol of His grace.

In the Old Testament, breaking the Sabbath was grounds for the death penalty. This harsh judgment was to emphasize an important truth. When we work on the Sabbath day we, in essence, are rejecting God’s work and grace as inadequate. Fatal religion is a religion based on my work. Doing my own pleasure, as it is referred to in Isaiah 58:13, is not (as we’ve sometimes believed) doing things that we enjoy instead of doing things that we don’t enjoy on the Sabbath. Doing my own pleasure is to focus on me and what I do instead of focusing on God in His graciousness. This is the objectification of the Sabbath with which Jesus was condemning the Pharisees.

The making of the Sabbath as an idol of ourselves instead of seeing the Sabbath as just the opposite (a weekly demonstration of God’s grace) is what we are prone to do. In John 9:9, the blind man’s confesses in response to the question and the confusion by his neighbors: “Others were saying ‘this is he’ but some were saying, ‘No, it’s not him, but it’s like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the one.'”

Notice these words: “I am the one.” They are the same words in the I am statements of Jesus: “I am the light,” “I am the way,” I am the resurrection,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the gate,” “I am the door,” “I am the bread of life,” “I am the vine.” This is a confession that all of us must make before God: I am the one—the blind one, the one sitting in darkness. I need to see the light, I need to see the Sabbath day light, the symbol of God’s grace.

Jay: A property of light known as refraction is when light is bent as it travels from one substance into another substance. You see the effect in a straw in a glass of water, appearing to be bent, or an object on the bottom of a swimming pool, which is in a different location when you dive in to retrieve it. The medium through which light travels has a profound effect, skewing and bending the light. Think of that medium or substance as the time we live in, the place that we were born in, the influences on our lives—spiritual, religious, cultural and so on. Because we are immersed in the medium, we don’t see the refraction as an outsider sees it. But there’s no doubt that our cultural environment refracts the light. I think it’s important to keep in mind that our medium, like any other, makes it impossible to claim that our vision is “pure” unrefracted vision.

Donald: Hence we have to be careful at superimposing what we see onto somebody else. Daoism, as I understand it, is all internal, and that’s OK. If you see something different from what I see, it’s just fine. Given time, independent of what they’ve been taught, people will come to understand how to see without being told how to see. That vision may be enhanced by teaching them how to see more effectively. I think it is the role of the church to say: “This is the way we see the refraction process.” And if the church’s vision concords with my culture and my needs, then fine. Churches in North America today are struggling to concord with a culture whose needs have changed drastically compared to 30 years ago. I love the hymnal. I love reading the hymnal because it is not based on doctrine but on testimony about spiritual journeys. It does not try to convince anyone of anything. It expresses the value of a more pure, non-intellectual, view of what God is about. We have to be careful about throwing the word “truth” out there because when we do it becomes the way I see it (rightly!) versus the way you see it (wrongly!) We need to come to grips with that.

Robin: John 1:5 says “This is the message which we have heard from him and declare to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” And then verse 7: “But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Then it it starts pointing towards behavior. And in 1 John 2:9, it says, “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in darkness until now.” And finally 1 John 2:10, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” So he goes from identifying the light, to talking about the characteristics that someone who is walking in that light should have.

Rheinhard: I get two things out of the story of the blind man in John 9. One is about Jesus’ mission and the other is about Jesus’ background. These were the two things that always brought the Pharisees into conflict with Jesus. The story, of course, is mostly talking about the spiritual blindness of Pharisees, recalcitrant legalists who rejected the teaching of Jesus at every turn. They would not accept Jesus’ teaching and they would not accept his status as the son of God. His divinity was a big question mark for them.

Jay: There is a progression in John 9 of the blind man’s realization concerning the person with whom he was dealing. It is indeed a question of divinity. The realization was a spiritual enlightenment, a spiritual awakening.

Rheinhard: In John 11, about the resurrection of Lazarus, I think it was mentioned that Lazarus was raised so that the power of God might be glorified. John 9 and 11 are both about healing and resurrection and are quite long, so it seems John wanted to emphasize the important teaching contained in them. The divinity of Jesus was a problem with the Pharisees, who wondered whether anything good could come out of Nazareth (see John 1:46, John 7:41-42, John 7:52, John 18:5-7, John 19:19; Acts 6:14, Acts 24:5). The messiah was supposed to come from Bethlehem. Where were the Pharisees some 30 years earlier when the angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds in their fields? The Pharisees never accepted Jesus. They were so very strong in their belief. From the Old Testament, we can see that the problem with the Israelites began with worshiping idols and ended with proclamation of righteousness by works.

Jesus broke the law by healing people on the Sabbath day and not washing his hands after associating with outcasts such as the tax collector and the prostitute. He contravened the religious culture. The lesson is that life is like driving down a road, sometimes reaching our goal, sometimes wanting to change direction. People like me who came from a non-Adventist Christian denomination may have the directional signs already written on our slates and just need to tune in to them, to wipe away the things that have been leading us down the wrong road. The basic appeal Jesus always made to all of us, including the Pharisees, is an appeal to mercy, love, compassion, and honesty. I think that’s what we need at this time. I think when when we point our eyes toward Jesus, his words stay with us.

Kiran: Refraction may be a good thing or a bad thing. In darkness, one would not even be aware of an object in the swimming pool, but in the light it will be visible even though refracted. If the object is dirt, I don’t need to worry about cleaning it up, because I can trust God to take care of it—and He will not be misled by the refraction. However, light may also reveal dirt in my neighbor’s pool. If I then use what (I think) I see to hurt, criticize, and judge my neighbor, then having light without understanding refraction is very dangerous. It is important to be humble in the light. Secondly, if a light is turned on and reveals everything all at once it can be overwhelming. For example, when God first came into my life and started revealing things about me to me, I don’t think I could have handled it if he had shown me eveything at once. We don’t try to teach children everything at once. We do it gradually so as not to lose their attention and slowly move them towards a better place. It’s a good thing that God keeps some things hidden, or partially hidden or distorted, to us. I am aware that something is wrong with me but I don’t know exactly what; so I don’t try to fix it myself—I will just make it worse. I leave it to God to take care of it, otherwise it would eat me up. Even worse, if I use my partial knowledge, my light, to judge others, I could destroy them.

Don: Is it possible that a photographer could use light to create an image that would so distort an object as to make it seem its own opposite?

Donald: Absolutely. A face in a dark room lit only from below is horror. For whatever reason, it looks scary. But add light from a “softbox”—basically a big umbrella that diffuses and softens the light that falls on the subject—and the face becomes gentle and mellow, the very opposite of horror. So photographers generally avoid taking portraits in direct bright light. But light can actually define the subject, independent of the subject, which is very significant. Most of us would probably say we get to God by finding a church. The local church is the hope of the world. So they get to God by that portal. And that church says: “We see life this way.” And we’re good with that. A neighboring church says, “No, it’s a little bit different. It’s refracted slightly different than that.” And that’s perfectly fine, too. It’s when the two of them start saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” that it becomes not OK.

So yes: light plays a huge role in helping us to understand the meaning of something. Light defines the essence of what we’re looking at. And that’s the truth.

Chris: Light is reflected as well as refracted. The reflection from a smooth surface is very different than from a rough or uneven surface. The surface of a lake reflects light differently when it’s windy, compared to when it’s calm. Spiritually, we are not a light source. But if we are to reflect the spiritual light that shines within us, how should we arrange our surface so as to reflect the light received to the best possible effect? I am not the generator of light. I can only be a reflector of it, therefore my actions and my behavior affect how other people see the spirit in me.

Jay: And we have to understand that as sinful beings we are incapable of being smooth reflectors. It is impossible for us to reflect the light of pure goodness. We inevitably reflect it in an adulterated form. This is not to say that we should not strive towards smoothness, but it is critical to understand that we are bound to distort the light as we reflect it and that it is impossible for us to understand how the light may have been distorted even before it reflects off of us. It is deeply humbling to acknowledge not only that we are receiving distorted light but also distorting it further when we reflect it; to acknowledge that we are in darkness. It forces a kind of self reliance, it brings the issue to the individual level.

Donald: In other words, it’s impossible for us to reflect God 100%. We’re bound to do it through our own filters. We can’t help it and no matter how hard we try to be pure, we’re probably going to fail. That being so, what’s my role? Does God even need to be reflected, to be channeled through us? Is there not already a direct spiritual pathway between God and myself? Does God need me to reflect Him?

Adaure: I read once that our state of mind at any point in time is either going to bring us towards God or away from God. And when we’re thinking about God as the generator of light and ourselves as the medium of light, in the context of the story of the blind man in John 9 and his progression from being physically blind to being spiritually blind to the ideas and opinions of the Pharisees, you can infer the light that Jesus gave to him by considering how his thoughts progressed throughout the story. He willingly obeyed Jesus’ instructions to go and wash away the clay from his eyes. His state of mind progressed at each point in the story vis-a-vis Jesus and the Pharisees to the point where they cast him out of the temple because he would not agree with them that Jesus was not from God. Jesus made him see physically but at the same time made him blind to the doctrines of the Pharisees regarding breaking the Sabbath and so on. His reflection of the light Jesus shone upon him could perhaps have been smoother but the important thing is that he internalized it.

Jim: We see a progression in the blind man in Matthew 8, too. It wasn’t until he looked up that he saw clearly. Up until that point he was not seeing clearly. He had to put away all the things that he had grown up with looking at and instead look up to God and Christ. We see this through the Pharisees in John 9. What Christ was really telling the Pharisees was “In your sight, you’re still blind.” It’s a message to all of us as we go through life, that even though we see, we’re still blind, until we take and look up to Christ and what Christ really represents.

Kiran: Yes, vision is not only to look inside. It is also is to look up and to look at others. The only thing we need is to look up to Jesus because: “When you look at me, then you’ll be healed.” So if I just keep looking inside me, nothing will happen. It’s just going to make me more miserable. The realization that I need help is enough. By looking inside and realizing I’m not good enough, then I will be helped. That’s the purpose of looking inside. I should not look at others with that light and judge them, because I myself need help. The only thing I need to do and should always do is look at Jesus. I can look at him from any angle. Some people might look at him from the very bottom of the cross and then all they see is a piercing nail. Some people look from far away and see a shadow. Some people look from behind. It doesn’t matter; you just need to look at the cross. If there is any evangelism in this purpose it is to help people to look at the source of light. No matter the reflection, refraction, or anything else we can all see where the light is coming from. I think that’s one thing for sure we can agree on.

David: I would throw in a Daoist observation not specifically relevant to all the comments today, but maybe relevant to our general discussion of enlightenment. It goes: “The ancients who showed their skill in practicing the Dao did so, not to enlighten the people, but rather to make them simple and ignorant.” (古之善為道者,非以明民,將以愚之. DDJ 65.) In my interpretation, it means that the ancients (enlightened sages—like the biblical prophets) basically practice the Dao, the Way. In Christian terms, they acted like Jesus, they were humble, they cared about their fellow man, they were not self centered. But they did this not in order to enlighten other people. They did it so that other people, observing them, would also do things in a simple and humble way. This ethos is common across the human race. Other traditions can and do “look up to Jesus” without knowing his name.

Donald: We’ve talked about context and we’ve talked about culture. Another aspect that would be interesting to ponder is that of personality. Different personalities have different needs, and reflect things in different ways. It’s just the nature of who we are. Siblings don’t have the same personality, so some of it must come from within. It’s not environmental, necessarily.

Don: Next week we’ll discuss further the question of the role of light in vision and in spiritual vision. What kind of angles of light do each of us experience in our own spiritual vision? Is the light that we have all the same? Are there different lights? What is it that we should see? Should our spiritual light be a backlight? Should it be a sidelight? Should it be a headlight? Should it be subtle light? Or should it be blinding light?

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