Three kinds of human blindness: A scientific look
“At that time, as Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth…” (John 9:1-38)
The Lord passes by, He sees humanity, blinded physically, mentally and spiritually, and restores it, because, according to blessed Augustine, “the blind man stands for the human race” (Tractate 44, Ch. 9). My dear Christians: There are three kinds of blindness: physical, intellectual and spiritual. There are three kinds of darkness: the physical darkness, produced by physical blindness, the intellectual darkness, produced by ignorance, and the spiritual darkness, produced by a life of sin. Let us look at them briefly.
The first form of blindness, the physical, is the least noble form of the three, although we prize it more than the other two. The physical blindness causes the physical darkness. We loose a precious gift, our eyesight, which we share with the higher forms of the animal world. God gave it to us to see the world around us and to give glory to Him, as the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans.
The second blindness is intellectual. Intelligence separates us from all other animal forms that are not endowed with it. Only the immaterial beings (angels) have this attribute. This intellectual blindness is caused by ignorance. Although we see, we don’t understand. We see God’s creation, but we don’t recognize the existence of the Creator. We reject God on an intellectual level. Even if we have some knowledge of God, at this stage, it is an external knowledge. It is like the knowledge one has of a person, of an acquaintance, which is not an intimate knowledge, like one has of his or her spouse, for example. The end of our intelligence is to know God, first at the stage of intellectual ascent (confessing our faith in Him), and then at the more advanced stage of knowing God intimately, experientially, through prayer. In order to “see” and accept God, one needs to purify the intellect (better called nous) from impure thoughts. According to St. Maximos the Confessor, ignorance is the pollution of our mind (nous).
Ignorance of God does not mean unbelief. One who has ignorance of God, who does not know God, may know about God, without making such knowledge a guiding light in his or her life. We said above that it is a different knowledge the one we have of an acquaintance of ours, and another the intimate knowledge we have of a person such as our spouse. The knowledge of our spouse is an intimate knowledge. We have lived with this person, we have a deep knowledge of his or her personality, habits, ideas, and we know what this person truly is.
The third and highest [most severe] form of blindness is spiritual. Spiritual knowledge is the illumination we receive by the grace of the Holy Spirit. We share this “light” only with the good angels. This third and highest level of knowledge is the inner knowledge of things. St. Symeon the New Theologian speaks of the knowledge of the holy scripture certain people have, without really understanding its meaning.
The spiritual eyesight is obtained and refined through the virtues, assisted by God’s grace. This is why the hymnographer prays, “Lord, give light from within to the eyes of my mind, blinded by the darkness of sin. Anoint them, O Compassionate One, with humility, and wash me with the tears of repentance” (First Exaposteilarion of the Feast). The mind mentioned is not the intelligence, but the nous, the eye of the soul. The nous needs to be purified, especially by the highest of virtues, love, in order to live in the light of Christ. That’s why the apostle of love says that whoever loves lives in the light, and whoever hates lives in the darkness (1 John 2:9-11).
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Those who are physically blind may have the intellectual light, and they may also have the spiritual light, or they may have neither. The blind man of today’s gospel passage “saw the light”; whereas the Pharisees who had the physical eyesight and the intellectual eyesight, refused to receive the grace of God, and thus remained in their spiritual blindness, in the darkness of their arrogance and hatred.
The Creator creates an eyeball
The Lord is the author of Light: “Δόξα Σοι, τῷ δείξαντι τὸ φῶς: Glory to You who have shown [us] the light,” we sing at the beginning of the doxology (so called from the word doxa, glory, with which it begins). It was the Word of God who spoke and said, “‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). Jesus Christ, as the eternal Word of God, created in the beginning the light, and then all creation. In the act of giving the blind man his eyesight our Lord and Savior reveals Himself as the Creator. In fact, as He used mud to create the first human being, in a similar way He uses mud to create the most delicate part of the human body, the eye.
The Lord, according to St. John Chrysostom, does not simply restore the eyesight of the blind man, but He creates his eyeballs. And if the Lord can create the eye from the mud then He can create the other, less complex, parts of the body as well. The eye is the most complex physical organ. Who designed this miracle of engineering and how? The Lord transforms the mud into pupils, optic nerves, retinas, corneas, tiny muscles, blood vessels and membranes, layers of fiber coats, diaphragms, lenses with refracting ability, lacrimal glands, all extremely fine, intricate and delicate, balanced, with the proper curvatures, connected properly with the brain in order to carry correctly the outside images created by light into the brain. How could mud do that?
It is not the mud, but the Artificer who makes it be whatever He wants to. Why not? Mud is made up of the same elements as the human brain. Scientifically speaking, all atoms of any one element are exactly alike in all respects. Atoms of different elements have different properties, like different weights. The one who created these elements and their atoms can make them behave in different ways, so that the elements of mud will be behaving like elements of a human body, even a human eye. Is this possible?
Surely God can do it
You know I’m talking about things of which I know embarrassingly very little, although I have studied these things in college courses (I took three semesters of geology and mineralogy). I know this much, however. A battle is being waged today over fetal tissue research, and in particular over “stem cells” taken from the very earliest embryo. You see, what the scientists have found is that these “proto-cells,” as I baptized them, have an awesome power: they are capable of developing into any kind of cell! That means they can become kidneys, hearts, brain, skin, with the promise not only to cure such diseases as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, heart ailments, stroke, burns, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, etc., but to literally rejuvenate the human body. This is not the forum to address the morality of this research. Our point here is that we should not deny the Omnipotent God what we ourselves seem to be on the verge of “creating.”
When a human being is conceived it is no bigger than a dot, a speck of dust. Yet what color the iris will have is already established. The food turns into proteins, into blood, into brain, into intelligence. The same water with the same soil nutrients turns into grapes, which turn into wine, or into a fragrant jasmine flower. Everything has been endowed with an inner logos, an intelligent plan, by the All-wise God.
The Lord gives the command to the water to become wine, to the mud, or to the thin air, to become a human eye, to dead and decaying human cells to once more become living cells. Isn’t He the Master?
“But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use?” (Rom. 9:20-21)
Isn’t our arrogance great? We deny God what we are almost conceding the scientists as capable of doing. But this is precisely why the Lord performs this miracle: to show us, to demonstrate us His divine power, that if He can create an eye, He can re-create a soul: if only we become pliable in His hands. Just a little earlier the Lord had said, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). Now He gives a demonstration in this healing which, like other miracles, is a parable in action. He demonstrates that if He can heal our physical blindness, He certainly can cure our spiritual blindness.
What we should strive for in our lives is this: to acquire the Holy Spirit, that we may see the light: “In Your light we shall see light: “ἐν τῷ φωτί Σου ὀψόμεθα φῶς,” we sing in another verse of the doxology. May the Merciful Lord, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, purify our minds and souls, especially of indifference or even hatred for our fellow human being, and fill us with His love, and thus render us worthy to see Him in His uncreated light. Amen.
Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis