Friday, July 27, 2007

Here's Mud in Your Eyes!

One day, walking into philosophy class, I paused to consider two syllogisms which had been written on the board. The intention, no doubt, was merely to annoy our professor, a logician.

The first syllogism was as follows:
God is love.
Love is blind.
God is blind.
Taking this conclusion as the major premise, the second argument ran thus:
God is blind.
Stevie Wonder is blind.
Stevie Wonder is God.
We'll ignore for the moment the fallacy involved here which conflates a class with divisions or members of that class, for that is inconsequential to my point in this article. It should be acknowledged, however, that, spurious though this argument may be, the phenomenon of pop star worship is a reality that could be dealt with at length in another post; yet, that is not my concern here. Suffice it to say that I have indeed met some who regard Stevie Wonder as God, or at least as a god. If you ask me, it's very superstitious...

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

Anyway, my concern here is with the conclusion of the first syllogism.

While the statement "God is blind" might at first sound utterly blasphemous, I think that a reverent spin might be put on the expression with a bit of meditation. We have learned from Saint Paul that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men: and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Cor 1:25) Ours is a God who exalts the lowly, humbles the proud, enriches the poor, and strikes poor the rich. He "looks with favor" on the lowly; He sees largeness in faith the size of a mustard seed, but sees mountains as small enough to be moved. In the world's reasoning, such things are madness; but is this not because we see things differently? What we are told to believe so often seems to contradict the evidence of our own eyes. It seems almost that a blind man might have even an advantage in this regard: "Blessed are they that have not seen...." Is it not true that as the wisdom of men is the foolishness of God, so is man's true sight the "blindness" of God?

Tradition is filled with illustrations of God's apparent "blindness" in earthly terms. Consider the two famous cases of patrimony in Genesis where favor and covenental promises were passed down according to the literal blindness of men:
"Now Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, and he could not see... And Jacob said: I am Esau, thy firstborn: I have done as thou didst command me: arise, sit and eat of my venison, that thy soul may bless me." Genesis 27
And Jacob himself would similarly decide his heritage:
"... Israel's eyes were dim by reason of his great age, and he could not see clearly. And when [Ephraim and Manasses] were brought to him, he kissed and embraced them... [and] he, stretching forth his right hand, put it upon the head of Ephraim, the younger brother; and the left upon the head of Manasses, who was the elder, changing his hands." Genesis 48
With the blindness of men, these two patriarchs had the vision of God and saw His will through to completion despite apparent absurdity. The most powerful lesson in the Old Testament of the difference in sight between man and God came to the prophet Samuel, when God rejected David's brothers one by one in choosing Israel's King. Of the most estimable brother, God said:
"Look not on his countenance, nor on the height of his stature: because I have rejected him, nor do I judge according to the look of man: for man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart." (1 Sam 16:1)

The greater weight of this contrast is brought to bear in the New Testament, with relation to man's sin. These Old Testament types still have somewhat to do with earthly matters: earthly kingship and exaltation and glory and prosperity. But in the New Testament a new lesson is taught about God's blindness in earthly terms.

In the Gospel, it is the places which are dark and hidden from earthly sight that Christ reveals as the object of God's gaze. This "comes home" in the story of the Prodigal Son. In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen meditates upon the image of the father in the story as a representation of the Heavenly Father. When the son returns, Jesus tells us that the Father sees him from far off - He has been watching for him. Nouwen muses that the Father had watched like this every night since the son had left, and had seen with gifted vision all of the many sins in which the son had engaged among the foreigners. Yet, when the son returns, the Father "sees past" all of these sins: He sees a son back from the dead. Often forgotten is the smaller parable which immediately precedes this one in the fifteenth chapter of Luke's gospel, in which a woman lights a candle to search for a lost coin. Again, we see that God's sight is turned to the dark places, to seek out the lost and discover what lies hidden.

The full paradox comes to light in John's gospel, in the ninth chapter. Here we find the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. It has always struck me that Christ heals this particular man in a very graphic way. He does not merely touch or speak a word. Instead, Jesus makes clay with His spit and spreads the mud over the man's eyes. After washing, the man is made able to see. I've often wondered what this mud is meant to represent. Often it has been interpreted as the obscuring power of sin. Yet, Christ tells us that "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him [has he been born blind.]" (v 3)

If you take the chapter as a whole, it seems almost to indicate that only by becoming "blind" in earthly terms can man learn truly to see. In order to see as God sees, we must stop seeing as men. We must embrace as our wisdom the folly of the Gospel. We must let the paradoxical teachings of Christ which so affront our earthly sight to be as mud in our eyes if ever we hope to see things aright.

Christ's exchange with the Pharisees at the end of the chapter enforces this point:
And Jesus said: For judgment I am come into this world: that they who see not may see; and they who see may become blind.

And some of the Pharisees, who were with him, heard: and they said unto him: Are we also blind?

Jesus said to them: If you were blind, you should not have sin: but now you say: We see. Your sin remaineth.
Let us then be fools for Christ's sake, and blind to the world for the sake of the kingdom.

Christ came for judgment... and it is at the judgment that we will know the full extent to which God's vision is blind in earthly estimation. Those blessed enough to arrive at that day with their souls well prepared will greet a smiling Father who has been watching long for their return. They will learn that He is all-knowing and all-seeing, and that He gazes upon all times and places at once. And yet, as He welcomes them home, and they remember their sinfulness and failings in this life, they will not fear that He will remember those past sins. Having been forgiven, it will seem to them as though He had never even seen those things at all.



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