The ninth chapter of the Gospel of John tells the story of when Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. The miraculous healing was one of the significant signs in John’s Gospel, pointing to the identity of Jesus as Israel’s messiah, the divine Son of God, and Savior of the world. The physical healing also pointed to the need for spiritual healing. The religious leaders who were so upset with Jesus for healing the man on the Sabbath, among other things, were also blind. They were blinded by unbelief. Their rejection of Jesus as their messiah was the end result of holding wrong ideas and expectations for the messiah inspired by desires corrupted by sin (John 8). They couldn’t see what they weren’t looking for and, therefore, were blind to the truth of who was in their midst. As John put it: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:10-11 ESV)
Ideas and beliefs based on those ideas either help us to see the truth or blind us to it. Ideas have consequences and one of those consequences may be severe spiritual blindness.
At one time I was convinced that Jesus could not be both human and divine. It seemed to me to be unreasonable. The paradoxes seemed to be outright contradictions. I was convinced if Jesus was truly human he could not also be fully divine. By the grace of God, eventually I humbled myself to accept the revelation of Jesus given in Scripture even though it is beyond the full grasp of reason. I submitted my mind to the revelation of God’s word and gained the mind of Christ (Philp 2:1-11). I discovered the difference between truth that is incomprehensible, beyond what our limited minds can fully understand, and beliefs that are merely contradictory. Even the nature of created things is beyond our full comprehension. As St. Anselm, who well knew the limitations of reason to comprehend and language to explain, asked, referring to the Triune God, the Creator: “and what after all, is as incomprehensible, as ineffable, as that which is above everything else?” (Monologion, 64).
Failing to recognize the limits of reason to comprehend is itself a form of blindness. Jesus said, he came into the world “. . . that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39 ESV). The religious leaders thought they could see just fine, but the man-made traditions they had added to the word of God had made them blind guides of the blind (Matt 15:13). Their cherished traditions had blinded them to the revealed word of God in Scripture. They didn’t believe in Jesus because they really didn’t believe the word of God revealed in the writings of Moses and the prophets, even though they claimed otherwise (John 9:28-29; cf. 5:45-47).
When we over estimate the power of reason and ideas derived from our own limited experiences it blinds us to the truth. To the Jewish people in Jesus’ day a messiah who would vanquish their pagan oppressors was reasonable, but one who came to vanquish the forces of sin, hell, and the grave by dying on the cross and rising from the dead was not. Consequently, they were blinded to prophecies like Isaiah 52-53 and Psalm 22.
I was blind to the reality that Jesus was fully divine because I underestimated the limitations of reason and became steeped in pride thinking that I had insight into something that I thought most of the Church had gotten wrong for most of its history. Wrong ideas led me to force fit certain passages like John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:1-11 into a paradigm where Jesus could only be human not also divine. Exalting reason above revelation leads to distortion of revelation and prevents divine revelation from acting as corrective lenses for reason. When we overestimate what we can see, we are blind.
We may also underestimate what we can see and become blind, even willfully so. Sometimes I see the meme below going around, sometimes to suggest that all truth is relative. One person’s 6 is another person’s 9. Neither are really right or wrong. This, however, is misleading. There are some things where differing perspectives may actually be complementary rather than contradictory as they may initially seem. In other cases, it is extremely difficult, to know what is right and what is wrong. This is not always the case though. In this world everything exists within a particular context and when we can adequately discern context it can help us accurately discern meaning.
In the following sentence there is no question that the number that is in question in the other scenario is 9 and not 6.
The Chicago Bears: 1985 Super Bowl Champions!
The surrounding context gives us a high degree of confidence that 1985 not 1685 is the year that the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl. If it read 1685 virtually everyone in America and much of the rest of the world would know that it must be a typo. Who would take anyone seriously for very long who tried to argue that the number could actually be 1685?
Sometimes people see more than they want to admit, and strangely this too is a form of blindness. Ideas are often resistant to adjustment in light of evidence, which sometimes leads us to distort or ignore the evidence that doesn’t fit with the ideas we hold. As Jordan Peterson says, sometimes it’s not that people possess ideas, but ideas possess people. Some ideas seem to take on a life of their own and become associated with ancient cosmic forces. 1 Timothy 4:1-2 warns about “deceitful spirits” and “teachings of demons” that work through liars who have seared consciences.
There are people who couldn’t care less about what is right or true. Some today have been convinced by some relatively recent French neo-Marxist philosophers that all truth is relative and that any claim to truth is merely a claim to power. Ultimately these are incoherent and self-contradictory claims. Is it really “true” that all truth claims are merely a claim to power? Is it absolutely true that all truth is relative?
Nonetheless, those that adhere to such notions are ironically absolutely committed to certain narratives, so much so that they refuse to allow any evidence to the contrary to led them to adjust the narrative. The sad case of Breonna Taylor is a case in point.
Despite the fact a Black attorney general and the former head of the Louisville chapter of the NAACP insist that the police officers were within their legal rights to fire back once they were fired upon by Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, some refuse to accept it. The grand jury and the attorney general concluded that the evidence didn’t fit the narrative that the police simply murdered a young woman while she lie asleep in bed simply because she was Black. Her death, while tragic, was not a racially motivated murder. The attorney general of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron, and the grand jury concluded based on the contextual evidence that the officers involved did not deserve to be indicted for homicide. Aubrey Williams, former president of the Louisville NAACP agreed.
Yet in spite of this, many who are absolutely committed to a particular narrative of systemic racism refuse to accept any other explanation. Some even accuse Daniel Cameron of blatant corruption and compare him to the notorious white supremacist from Alabama in the 1960’s, Bull Conner. Ideology prevents them from seeing the obvious differences between the two men.
It’s this ideology that drives some to believe they know exactly what happened and why with any incident involving police using force against Black men or women even before any meaningful investigation. It also drives them to refuse to accept any alternative explanation that may exonerate the police or America as a whole. This is the case with Michael Brown who was killed by the officer in Fergusson, Missouri over six years ago. The claim was that the officer shot Brown even though Brown supposedly had surrendered and with his hands raised said, “Don’t shoot!” The FBI, a grand jury, and the Department of Justice led by Eric Holder of the Obama administration all exonerated the officer involved in the case as acting justifiably in self defense. They concluded that rather than surrendering, Brown had attacked the officer and tried to take his gun and was charging at the officer when he was shot. Yet many still to this day cling to the false narrative.
This ideology leads many not only to condemn police agencies, but to condemn the entire American system of government as systemically racist. They insist that racism is pervasive in the system even though it is not explicit. The fact is the legal system in the United States now is explicitly anti-racist by virtue of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Twenty fourth Amendments as well as all the Civil Rights Legislation of 1866, 1871, 1957, 1964, 1968, 1991, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and countless other laws and polices that have been implemented in government, academia, and business to prohibit and punish racial discrimination. All of the above were achieved by champions of equal civil rights for all people regardless of color because they appealed to and called America to live up to its most basic principles of freedom and equality found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Today in many settings, even slight or merely perceived racial insensitivity can result in swift and harsh punishment. An Illinois State college football coach was recently fired for posting the message that “All Lives Matter to the Lord.”
Yet in spite of all this, many still insist that the American system is hopelessly corrupt and systemically racist even though it is explicitly systematically and systemically anti-racist. Bias and unfair application of the law by law enforcement and judges is still possible and still happens, but the ideology of systemic racism conflates prejudice of the heart with the system itself. The former is often explained as an unconscious manifestation of the latter. Racism is assumed to be the only or primary cause for any and all racial disparities regardless of the evidence. Racial disparities in the impact of policies have long been considered. Disparities in themselves are not proof of racism. Discernment requires at least a modicum of consideration of the context and many other factors that may be potential contributors. Unfortunately, some are really not interested in explaining the truth as much as they are in gaining power over those they see as ideological political enemies. This seems to be the case with people like Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility, who dismiss appeals to objectivity as a manifestation of white supremacy and leave us at the mercy of the subjective will to power. If we don’t have the ability to appeal to standards outside ourselves, what else is there, but the blind bludgeoning the blind?
Sometimes ideas blind us to the truth, sometimes willfully so. Fear, the fear of being canceled, also blinds us, or at least renders us mute to speak what we know to be true. I’m mindful of the parents of the man born blind. Out of fear of being cast out of the synagogue by the religious leaders who opposed Jesus and called him insane, they refused to acknowledge the plain truth that their son was able to see because of the encounter he had with the Truth in the person of Jesus, the Light of the world.
There are multifarious modes of blindness and more than one way to be rendered mute. Jesus is still able to open blind eyes and set bound tongues free.