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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Vision Thing (24): False Claims

El Greco, Christ Healing the Blind (c. 1570)
God is delighted to give true vision to those who lack it. But he is equally determined to withhold it from those who insist that they have it but do not. Making an empty claim to vision is the worst thing we can do.

John 9 contains a fascinating story about spiritual vision that involves literal, physical vision. Jesus heals a man born blind so that he sees. The Pharisees are trying to figure out how this happened, especially as it happened on the Sabbath when no work was to be done, and what this event indicates about Jesus. As the story develops, the once-blind man increasingly "sees" Jesus to be the One Sent from God while the Pharisees become hostile to the seeing man and strenuously reject his conclusion. "You were born completely in sinfulness," they say, seething. "And yet you presume to teach us?" (v. 34).

Upon meeting up with the once-blind man again, Jesus asserts, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may gain their sight, and the ones who see may become blind" (v. 39). In other words, Jesus came into the world so that those who lack vision could gain it. However, those who claim to have vision Jesus would judge on the basis of their claim. If these people actually lack vision because the vision they claim to have is merely self-invented, then Jesus would punish them by cementing them in their unwitting blindness. Jesus confirms this verdict when Pharisees around him bait him with the question, "We are not blind too, are we?" Jesus' reply: "If you were blind you would not be guilty of sin, but now because you claim that you can see, your guilt remains" (vv. 40-41).

I don't believe that God is pleased if a person has a vision of God and from God and modestly claims not to have one. Imagine what God would have done if one of the prophets had pulled that stunt! But on the other hand, vision is an awesome, precious thing, because it is a faculty of God himself that only he can bestow. If you don't have vision, and you humbly admit it, you're in a good place, because the Son may give it to you. But the false purveyors of vision that have concocted it themselves, copied it from others, or (still worse) mimicked it from the world get blinder all the time the more they claim to see.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Vision Thing (23): God Withholds It

If true vision comes from God, then not to have true vision is also from God in at least some sense. Undoubtedly our failure to see what God sees is because our perception has been obscured and perverted by our depraved nature. But if God bestows vision on some people despite their depravity, then God's disinclination to give it to others constitutes his decision to withhold it from them.

This idea might make people uncomfortable, but there is some subtle corroboration of it in the Gospel of Luke.

In Luke 9:43-45 Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to be betrayed. "But they did not understand this statement; its meaning had been concealed from them, so that they could not grasp it."

In Luke 19:41-44 Jesus weeps over Jerusalem: "If you had only known on this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes."

In Luke 24:13-35 two of Jesus' disciples (not among the Twelve) are walking to Emmaus two days after Jesus had died. The risen Jesus encounters them and explains to them why it was "necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory" (v. 26), but "their eyes were kept from recognizing him" (v. 16).

Who concealed Jesus' prediction of his betrayal from his disciples? Who hid the things that make for peace from Jerusalem? Who kept the disciples' eyes from recognizing the risen Lord? God did.

The underlined phrases above are best understood as what are called "divine passives." Divine passives are verbs in the passive voice that respectfully avoid identifying God directly—e.g., "they are hidden" rather than "God hid them." Divine passives are not unusual in the New Testament, and these three examples seem to fit the mold, because God could tear the veil off whenever he wanted to (as he did with Saul/Paul, for example). And in fact, he did.

Notice that though God concealed the meaning of Jesus' prediction of his betrayal in Luke 9, in chapter 24 Jesus "opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures" that were fulfilled by that betrayal.

In Matthew's rendition of Luke 19:41-44 Jesus says, "You will not see me from now until you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!' " The one who hid the things that made for peace will eventually make Jerusalem yearn for the one coming from him, and he will open their eyes to see him.

And with the two disciples headed toward Emmaus, God kept them from recognizing Jesus only until the moment that Jesus broke the bread, when "their eyes were opened" (v. 31, another divine passive).

So why does God do this? Why does he choose to keep people from gaining vision? Timing. God is a God who reveals, but he gives the vision at the right time for each person according to his perfect plan. So what does this teach us about vision? Two things.

First, we simply cannot take credit for vision, ever. The God who gives it is just as powerful to keep us in the dark. He deserves all the credit, we none.

Second, if we have the vision but others don't yet, we must remember that they never will until God is ready to open their eyes. Jesus did not successfully communicate true vision about his impending suffering to his disciples, and it wasn't because Jesus was a poor communicator. It was because God had concealed the plain truth that Jesus was speaking.

Though we can't blame people for our poor communication, our excellent communication of the vision must be accompanied by patience, because we know that only God will open their minds to grasp it. And the patience must be accompanied by confident trust that God's timing is always best, and he won't let them see until it is just the right time.