By Rev. Kyle Norman, Crosswalk.com
Jesus talks a lot about eyesight. He heals people born blind and critiques religious leaders for their lack of vision. In fact, in the Gospel of John, Jesus states that he had come into the world “so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39). Throughout Jesus’ ministry, spiritual blindness is highlighted as a perpetual problem for the people around him.
We rarely talk about this today. We may even assume that it is not a problem for a society as advanced as ours. After all, in a pluralistic world, with a myriad of viewpoints and opinions, what right do we have to charge someone with spiritual blindness? This may sound reasonable, but Jesus was clear about the reality of this condition. What is more, the first-century world was as pluralistic as our own. Spiritual blindness isn’t about opinion, it is about being unable to recognize the power of God revealed in Jesus. Given this, how might we guard against our own blindness?
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What Does "Spiritual Blindness" Mean?
Blindness is an inability to see; Spiritual blindness, therefore, is an inability to see the things of the Spirit. Jesus frequently heals the blind as a testimony to his messianic status, and his divinity. Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 35 that “the eyes of the blind will be opened” (John 35:5). Such activity, however, is often met with disbelief, or even ridicule. As the blind are made to see, those who “see” refuse to accept Jesus’ words or actions. This is spiritual blindness. Whenever someone is unable to recognize the activity of God, through the work or words of Jesus, they are considered spiritually blind.
Importantly, spiritual blindness is a condition that afflicts the religious. Jesus’ harshest criticisms regarding it are reserved for the Pharisees and the Scribes, those who make up the religious elite of the day. Jesus never charges a Gentile person with spiritual blindness; the broken and hurting do not suffer from this condition. Instead, those who believe that they have mastered the ways of God often find themselves dumbfounded by Jesus’ ministry.
John’s account of the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41) is a wonderful depiction of spiritual blindness. After Jesus restores the man’s sight, the Pharisees are unwilling to accept this healing. Despite evidence, logic, and good theology, the Pharisees simply refuse to accept the truth standing before them. First, they point to the fact that healing on the Sabbath was against Jewish law. Then, they question the man’s parents to see if the man was truly born blind. The insinuation here is that this healing is but a trick from a charlatan prophet. Finally, the man himself is ridiculed and insulted. They label him a sinner undeserving of God’s love and healing.
This blindness of the Pharisees is contrasted beautifully with the vision of the blind man. Throughout the entire exchange, it is the blind man who speaks truthfully the things of God. He testifies to his experience of miraculous healing in the words “One thing I do know, I was blind, but now I see” (vs 25). He even schools the Pharisees on a point of theology! “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person how does his will. Nobody has ever heard of the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (31-32). The man born blind sees Jesus, and the power of God, rightly. He has true sight, whereas the Pharisees are nothing more than blind guides.
How Do We Become Spiritually Blind?
If spiritual blindness is a condition that affects the religious, how do we, as Christians, ensure that we do not fall into this trap? How do we become spiritually blind? The gospels make clear that it is a misdirection of our vision. Jesus says “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of life. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23). Spiritual blindness is an internal condition. It occurs when we focus our attention upon our own pride, desire, or limited understanding.
This is exactly what the Pharisees exhibit. Their prideful assumption that they were “experts” in the things of God made them inhospitable to Jesus. Because Jesus often called people way from the blind execution of religious rules, the Pharisees could not accept the incarnation. God, they believed, only worked in the context of their limited understanding.
Because of this pride, Jesus calls them “blind guides” (Matthew 23:16). Their hearts were set more on following the rules of the Temple than on observing a heartfelt devotion to God. Jesus criticizes them for “giving a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin, but neglecting the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). The Pharisees frequently had their eyes set upon the praises of others, rather than on truly walking the way of holiness and righteousness. Their life, and faith, served their own glorification.
Before we become overly critical of the Pharisees, we must recognize that this also happens with Peter and the other disciples. When Peter rebukes Jesus for speaking about his upcoming death, Jesus turns around and declares he did not have in mind the things of God” (Mark 8:33). In that moment, despite his desire to be faithful to his Lord, Peter’s vision was set upon his own understanding of God’s ways, rather than the humble acceptance of Jesus. Similarly, the disciples argue about who is the greatest, and who will sit on Jesus’ right and left hand in the kingdom. Each of these instances is an example of spiritual blindness because the disciples turn their spiritual vision to their own glorification and exaltation. While they claim to understand the nuances of Christ’s Lordship they fail to recognize the way of redemption and grace.
Whenever we believe that we have plumbed the depths of God, we act in spiritual blindness. Such an attitude does not embody the grace of Jesus. It does not take into consideration that Jesus may do something unexpected in our lives. God’s ways and thoughts are always beyond our own. We always have something to learn, and we can always use more healing in our life.
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How Do We Break Free from Spiritual Blindness?
Given that spiritual blindness afflicts the faithful, from the Pharisees to the disciples, how might we ensure that we keep ourselves from this condition? How can we break free from spiritual blindness if it occurs in our lives? The answer is relatively simple: we look to Jesus. Looking to Jesus is the only antidote to spiritual blindness.
Prior to healing the man born blind, Jesus famously declares “I am the light of the world” (9:5). Jesus is the light that illuminates the fullness of God’s identity, love, power, and grace. Spiritual sightedness is not about the wealth of religious knowledge, scripture memorization, or an understanding of intricate liturgical rules. Having true, authentic, spiritual sight is about seeing, and receiving, Jesus. Anything within ourselves, or within our own religious or spiritual identity, that gets in the way of receiving Jesus eventually moves us to spiritual blindness.
We are called to be like Paul, who declared “I resolve to know nothing except Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Our vision is cast solely upon Jesus. The author of Hebrews reminds us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus is to be the one to whom all the faithful look upon in humble obedience.
This is easy to say, and easier to write, but harder to do. Too often, the root of spiritual blindness is pride. This pride keeps us from the necessary disciplines of humility and trust. Yet the call of faith is to believe in the guiding, healing, power of Jesus. We stubbornly look to him, even in those moments where we can’t understand what Jesus is doing, or where he is taking us. As we intentionally place Jesus at the center of our lives, the Spirit will lead us to deeper experiences of healing and grace.
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The Necessity of Prayer
Ultimately, the only true way for us to ensure our spiritual sightedness is to continually pray for a clearer vision of Jesus Christ in our lives. We never arrive at a place where we progress beyond the danger of spiritual blindness. In fact, if we think that spiritual blindness is not a problem for us, that may be a good indication that it is closer than we think.
We are to cast our eyes upon the Lord, faithfully and diligently. In raw and unhindered honesty, we are to pray that his will be done in our lives, and not our own. We radically accept his vision of who we are, and who we are called to be. Undoubtedly, this is an act of faith and one that requires a constant lifting of ourselves before the Lord. Warding off spiritual blindness involves the willful laying down of our own pride.
What would it look like for you to pray for a deeper vision of Jesus in your life? Just as Moses asked to see a vision of God’s glory, and just as the Psalmist exclaims “Your face, Lord, I will seek” (Psalms 27:8), and just as Paul prays that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened (Ephesians 1;18), so too can we ask for a deeper vision of Christ’s presence. It is when we seek the face of Jesus that we can be assured of true spiritual sightedness. As we look to him, Jesus fills our vision and lightens our way.