Spiritual Blindness II

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus took the ostensibly rich Laodiceans to task for their blindness, in the same way Adam and Eve were tasked at the Fall:

Because … you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me … white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. (Revelation 3:17-18)

Ironically, the result of putting salve in the eye is to blind it, at least temporarily. In the garden of Eden, both the vision of God and the eyesight of Adam and Eve are brought into focus. God saw so many things in the Creation as “good” but the serpent convinced Eve that God had left her blind. It leads to the question: Can a handicapped creature be a good—even perfect—creation?

It is clear that God intended Wo/Man to have limited sight—or we might say limited insight—into the knowledge of good and evil. Perhaps the original plan was that they would not know evil at all, but would be blind to it, yet know and see the goodness in the garden.

It was suggested last week that what God wanted us to be blind to is judgment, the ability to discern good and evil; a capability reserved for the divine. Yet God granted Solomon’s prayer for precisely that ability:

“Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:8-9)

Solomon recognized that he needed divine intervention in order to make judgments. When God opens people’s eyes in that way, they do in a sense become like Him; however, He takes issue with people appropriating the power to judge without possessing the ability to judge. Adam and Eve’s first attempt at judgment—that they were naked—was faulty. “Who told you you were naked?” asked God. The opening of their eyes was not ordained by God and thus resulted in a different vision.

So who initiated the opening of Adam and Eve’s eyes? Scripture does not really say, but it clearly did not come from God, who forbade the eating of the fruit. It appears to have happened when the serpent suggested that Eve should eat the fruit, and to Adam when Eve gave the fruit to him to eat.

But when God does initiate eye opening, the visions change. Here are three examples:

So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die.” And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.
God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer. (Genesis 21:14-20)

Grace and salvation are the vision and the result of God’s opening of people’s eyes.

In the second example, Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, a name that means “teacher”, suggesting that there is an educational purpose in the story. Salvation and grace again are the outcome:

Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. (Genesis 22:6-14)

Finally, salvation and grace again resulted from the opening of Elisha’s servant’s eyes when they were surrounded by enemies and in apparent peril. But in addition, the enemies were themselves struck by God with blindness and taken into captivity by Elisha:

Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. When they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Strike this people with blindness, I pray.” So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he brought them to Samaria.
When they had come into Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. Then the king of Israel when he saw them, said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” He answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” So he prepared a great feast for them; and when they had eaten and drunk he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel. (2 Kings 6:15-23)

The opening of eyes by anyone other than God leads to judgment and evil, whereas the opening of eyes by God leads to grace and salvation. After Adam’s and Eve’s eyes were opened there is no more mention in Scripture of their ever seeing God again. In their desire to see more, they ended up seeing less. They became blind to the thing that mattered most: To their vision of God.

Why did God condemn the blindness of the Pharisees yet also condemn the unblinding of Adam and Eve? What did Jesus mean when He said:

“For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39)

Donald: “Sight” in this context is about knowledge that (we think) leads to understanding. More and more, we doubt the knowledge we accrue. Sight may be the primary port into the mind. If I don’t feel any heat from a glowing stove I would question my sight. We hold sight in great esteem—if not, we would be using the telephone rather than Skype for class. I have been leery of email for that reason.

Don: Adam and Eve’s search for a better picture of God only resulted in a worse picture of Him.

Donald: But they had a better picture of their nakedness!

Becky: Hagar…

…called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” (Genesis 16:13)

Anonymous: Do we not believe that if God does not open our eyes we can never see that we are sinners? If not God, then who made Adam and Eve recognize themselves as sinners?

Donald: We determine for ourselves whether we break the law, the Commandments.

David: The sight, the discernment, that God does not want us to determine for ourselves is morality. He does not want us to decide for ourselves what is moral (good) and immoral (bad). It strikes me that animals (which were present in the garden of Eden but presumably did not eat the forbidden fruit) do not make that determination and are incapable of understanding the concept of morality. Even so, they seem capable of appreciating good and deprecating evil.

Donald: God wants us to have some sight, just not total sight. What do I need to be more aware of? What insight is of value to me as a human?

Michael: We see evil all too readily. Perhaps God wants us to have more insight into what is good—that is to say, the grace of God—and less into what is evil. We are blind to the goodness of God and His grace.

Donald: As a photographer, my profession requires that I include the positive and reject the negative in my images. I have to exercise judgment about what to include in an image. The viewer does not see and know everything I saw in the original image. The photographer controls what the viewer sees and knows. This is Advertising 101.

Is it better to know more? To have greater awareness? I want to reinforce what I think I know through my other senses. Sight is only one input. What do we want to see more of? Surely, it is God?

Kiran: When Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, they became scared of God and scared of their relationship with Him. They felt alone. In the three passages we’ve discussed, the people whose eyes God opened no longer felt alone. Blindness may be going it alone, while having sight is going with the bigger relationship.

Dewan: Ignorance is a cause of blindness. Moses asked to see God, but was told he could not do so without dying.

Donald: We often use the phrase “blissfully ignorant”. We don’t want to be there, but we may be predisposed to it.

David: Animals, like Adam and Eve before the Fall, are in that state of blissful ignorance. But they know what they like (and what they like tends to be good) and what they don’t like (and that tends to be bad). They cannot and do not judge to discern and decide what is goodness and badness, but they can and (in my observation) they do appreciate the good things in life and they do deprecate the bad things in life. We could do the same, if we took our minds from it (from judgment).

Donald: Did Adam and Eve know the consequences of evil?

Kiran: They knew they were going to die. But they were very smart. They named all the plants and animals. They were botanists and zoologists.

Michael: The immediate consequence of their act was to feel guilt and shame, where none had existed before, for their nakedness. Shame and guilt tend to make people defensively hostile.

Kiran: But they were alone in their shame. There were no other people around to witness their shame.

Don: Is shame imposed from outside? We seem to judge others to be “x” on the basis of our own subjective vision.

David: We are at liberty to make judgments and discern between worldly things, but not between morality and immorality, which are the province of God.

Don: I repeat the question: What did Jesus mean when He said:

“For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39)

This might be the key to unlocking the mystery of blindness.

Donald: It is rare, but usually welcome, when someone says they have misjudged you with regard to some perceived moral failing.

Kiran: The primary function of the physical senses is awareness of the physical environment. Following the Fall, Adam and Eve remained sighted in this respect. They only became blind to their spiritual environment. But spiritual sight acts as a filter on top of physical sight, so when we become spiritually blind, we see a different physical reality—one which leads to bad judgment. They lost the insight that precludes bad judgment.

Anonymous: Then how do we account for the Fall if they possessed the insight that would have precluded their bad judgment regarding the fruit? And lacking insight after the Fall, how could they have the insight to know that they were sinners?

David: Did they know it, or did they merely assume it? After all, it was not a sin to be naked in the garden of Eden, before or after the Fall.

Anonymous: It became a sin after the Fall, when their eyes were opened.

David: The sin was in their exercise of judgment; it was not in their nakedness.

Anonymous: God asked them: “Who told you you were naked?” Perhaps the right answer was “Your light showed us that we were naked.”

Michael: God created them without clothes, so how can their nakedness be sinful? They did nothing wrong in that respect. They did wrong in disobeying God.

Anonymous: They had become spiritually naked.

Kiran: They could see God before the Fall. By the time of Moses, to see God was to die.

Michael: They could have asked God for help but instead chose to cover their nakedness without consulting Him. They relied on their own judgment.

Donald: At what point does a child develop a sense of shame at being naked?

Shakir: The story of Adam and Eve is recounted also in the Qur’an. It seems to me to be about temptation, and their failure to resist it. It is not so much a desire to the wrong thing; it is more a failure to resist the temptation to do the wrong thing. Is it a test? I don’t know; but I do see the issue as having less to do with discernment of what is right and wrong and more to do with resisting the temptation to do what is wrong, which is usually something that gives immediate gratification.

David: Whether the issue concerns our ability to judge evil or our ability to resist evil, underlying both is the freedom to exercise the ability. It seems to me we are inexorably heading toward a discussion of free will. Given that we are all born with the holy spirit, the inner light, then the ultimate act of free will is to follow or reject its guidance.

Don: We have much more to discuss on this topic.

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