Adam and Eve were blind to the difference between good and evil. What we observe, or look at, and what we see, or what we perceive, seem to be two different things. We certainly don’t see what God sees. What God sees seems to be light years away from what we can see (Isaiah 55). This is particularly true about perception, about the meaning of what we see, about discernment, discrimination, and judgment. We may see the same thing, event, circumstance, or situation as God, but interpret it very differently. In the garden of Eden He asked Adam: “Who told you you were naked?” suggesting that what God saw was different from what Adam saw.
Jesus said he came into the world for judgment and so that those who are blind might see and those who see might become blind:
And Jesus 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.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (John 9:39-41)
What did He mean? What is the relationship between sight and sin? And how can blindness make one righteous, as Jesus seems to suggest. When Saul was converted to Paul, sight, insight, and vision is a prominent theme.
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. [Note that there is something to understand about the vision of each of the participants in this story. Those who are with him see nothing.] Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” [Note that Ananias has visionary sight.] And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. (Acts 1:9-19)
Think of Paul’s dilemma as he sat in Damascus, blind, thinking that he would never see again, knowing that:
Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. (John 9:32)
But he also would have known that a prominent characteristic of the prophesied Messiah was that when He came He would open the eyes of the blind (Isaiah 35:5). And when John the Baptist was imprisoned and asked if Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus told the disciples to tell him that He had made the blind to see. (Matthew 11:5)
The scales in front of Paul’s eyes seem to be metaphorical, spiritual rather than physical. As he was led into Damascus there is no suggestion that he had any blemish on his eyes. If he were interrogated he would probably have said he had no problem with his vision. In fact, he described himself thus:
If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. (Phillipians 3:4-6)
He had “confidence in the flesh”—he was in good health. But over a period of three days in the darkness on Straight Street he realized he was spiritually blind, and eventually the metaphorical scales fell from his eyes.
What is the relationship between sight and sin? Blindness and righteousness?
David: Jesus told the Pharisees that if they were blind, they would have no sin. In the garden, Adam and Eve could see physically, so they could see both good and evil, but they could not see the difference between them. They were blind to the difference between good and evil. To me this has extraordinary implications; for instance: As long as the Pharisees did not know that their behavior was evil, it would have been OK with God for them to continue in their wicked ways—they would have no sin. If you do something bad and know it, it’s a sin, but if you do something bad and don’t know it, it is no sin.
Robin: It sounds like it falls back to the ego, that when we think we know, we should know we don’t know!
Donald: Perception is based on what we think we know. It skews sight. Two people can see the same thing and interpret it totally differently, based on their cultural background and many other factors.
David: If we were blind to the difference between good and evil, would there be more good and less evil?
Jay: If the default state of humanity is goodness (it is, because we are born with the inner light) then we should expect there to be more goodness. Before the Fall, were Adam and Eve purely good? Could their behavior be nothing but good, knowing only God? Their environment, their reality, was of pure goodness. The discernment and judgment they got from eating the fruit gave them the ability to be evil. The only thing to compare with it is the fall of Lucifer, who made a judgment about God and was then able to do evil. Blindness is a state where discernment is impossible, or at least much more difficult. It is a state humanity is supposed to be in. A true conversion is the result of becoming so dependent on God or something else that we sacrifice everything for it.
Kiran: Jesus said “Judge not lest ye be judged”. If we could suspend the ability to judge, which we acquired after eating the fruit, then we would be back to blindness.
David: I don’t see pre-Fall Adam and Eve as being incapable of evil. Wasn’t the act of eating the fruit an evil act? Inspired by Satan, sure; but it was Eve’s and then Adam’s choice and ability to do evil even if they didn’t know what they were doing—even if they could not discern. If so, Eve would have been perfectly capable of murdering Adam (or vice versa) and would not have sinned, would have broken no commandment. This is a logical thought, but logic does not apply to things we accept we have no chance of understanding. Yet here we are, trying to understand it! It’s fascinating to try, but it can’t get us very far, if anywhere!
Anonymous: Absent the Ten Commandments we could not discern right from wrong and could not be guilty of breaking them, whatever we do. Saul thought he was in the right in persecuting the Jews; he thought that Jesus was a renegade who should be brought to justice. He was blind. Like him, we know the Commandments yet we still think we can see. Eve and Adam had one commandment: Do not eat the fruit! We know our Commandments and hate to be judged by them. We’d rather go our own ways. We are blind and will die that way if we do not judge ourselves and turn away from evil.
Donald: We in this group see things more or less the same way. We more or less agree on the “truth”. If we were to proselytize others to our views, to accept our “truth”, we would be on dangerous ground. We would be defining truth.
Don: Saul and the Pharisees had the Commandments and abided by them to the letter. Yet Jesus said they were blind. He chastised them for their tithing, but not for the concept of tithing; rather, for their rigid, infinitely precise interpretation and inflexibility in applying the concept. There is a balance between keeping the law and allowing for God’s grace, but they did not keep it.
Robin: It demonstrates the difference between regurgitating the law and having the law written on one’s heart.
Anonymous: It’s not enough to know the law.
Donald: In grade school I was frequently punished for breaking the rules, by writing “I must not [do X]” a hundred times on the blackboard. My head always got the message, but not necessarily my heart! The first reason I don’t want to sin is because I fear separation from my savior. The second is that I might hurt another person. Yet we are sinners. We break the rules.
Don: There seems to be a difference between doing and being, between behavior and the state of vision/blindness. What is the distinction?
Chris: The Pharisees knew and followed the law. It’s how they used it that was wrong. They made the law a burden for others. The Ten Commandments were intended to help with our relationship with God and our fellow Man. They were not made to condemn our fellow Man for not following them to the letter.
Donald: The Sabbath made the top Ten, but is it that important? Are the specific details we add to it that important?
Michael: The Commandments are too loose. Jesus was stricter. He said you were guilty of sin if you just called your brother a fool. Blindness is a state of being non-judgmental, of being blind to one’s own sins and to the sins of others.
Jay: Physical blindness has two characteristics: A lack of discernment of what is going on around one, and reliance on external assistance. Spiritual blindness shares these characteristics.
Kiran. In captivity in Egypt, the worth of Israelite laborers was based on the number of bricks they could make. Their value depended on their doing, on their productivity. But God counts people as valuable even if they do nothing. The Sabbath is focused on being rather than doing. When we can see we judge, when we are blind we suspend judgment. We measure our worth during the week based on seeing what we do; the Sabbath calls for us to be blind, to suspend judgment, and simply be.
Donald: We would agree that to pray to be non-judgmental is good. Is that the same as praying to be blind? If we are blind, is it impossible to misjudge?
Jay: If one is blind, one is unlikely to misjudge—one is more likely not to judge at all.
Don: Blind people are by nature prohibited from judging. They can’t tell if a person is physically attractive.
David: We use the law to judge. English and American common law is basically a massive, detailed breakdown of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not kill” is quite clear, emphatic, and utterly inflexible. It is not at all loose, as I see it. Yet we have found it necessary to break it down into first- and second-degree murder plus voluntary and involuntary homicide. And that’s just the beginning. A huge body of case law is applied to a murder case to differentiate myriad circumstances that vary the severity of the infraction. To me, what Jesus was getting at was that the Pharisees were (literally) hell-bent on following the letter of the law but were ignoring the more important spirit of the law. When we accept the spirit of the law, we may be less quick to judge.
Don: The spirit of the law is like blindness—it does not apply discriminating factors.
Jay: The spirit of the law also boils down to “Love God and your neighbor”.