Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sight's Missing Link

One entire chapter of John’s gospel is devoted to a remarkable story of physical and spiritual healing. The ninth chapter of John chronicles the story of the man blind from birth whose sight was restored by one of Jesus’ transcendent miracles during his three year public ministry. The story is remarkable for different reasons. Physical blindness was overshadowed by the spiritual blindness of some characters in this scripture account. The healing of the victim’s physical and spiritual blindness and unbelief of the assembled spiritual leaders who witnessed the mighty miracle creates one of scripture’s most powerful multidimensional lessons.

Visual blindness is a malady of overarching significance as we consider a catalog of possible physical deficiencies. For the vast majority of sighted people, imagining life without vision is difficult. Nearly two million United States residents are afflicted with total blindness. Their adaptation to blindness is a tribute to their spirit and ability to adjust to a major life challenge. The absence of remote sensing visual capability, however, is a profound loss.

We may only imagine what caused the man’s blindness. Perhaps there was a congenital abnormality which triggered changes in the retina causing death of the photoreceptors. Infantile glaucoma is an elevation of internal eye pressure which causes damage to the optic nerve. The Bible story does not tell any details about the sight mechanism of the man blind from birth. It is likely he never saw any light at all, much less any images. His deficiency occurred in step 3 of the sight sequence. All his life he was surrounded by (1) plentiful light generation from light-producing objects and (2) transmission of light to his physical body. His physical eyes (3) were unable to process light for reasons we are not told. There was no reception of the light-generated electrical impulses through his optic nerve. But (4) his mind functioned normally, never having processed light images from the outside world. He was able to carry on a discussion of his healing, however, including the acknowledgement of Jesus as the divine Healer.

Normal vision surpasses the capability of the finest cameras. Former president George H. W. Bush popularized the expression “a thousand points of light” in a political speech while accepting his party’s nomination for president in 1988.
In a physical and poetic sense, visual information about our distant and close-up environment could be characterized as a million points of light. One may understand the literal meaning of this imagery by reviewing the physics of digital photography. Modern photographs are composed of “pixels,” the smallest picture element on a visual display. To produce a quality 9X12 inch photograph with a color printer, one needs the resolution of a million pixels (one megapixel). Human eyes define images with great resolution. With the processing our brains provide, our vision is far superior to images captured by high quality cameras.

Information in anatomy reference books provides details of the eye’s physical structure. Light passes through the cornea, the watery aqueous humor, the pupil, and the gelatinous vitreous humor inside the eyeball. The image is finally formed on the retina like pictures on the screen at a slide show. Images are transferred to the brain through the optic nerve for processing and eventual recognition. The man “blind from birth” in the 9th chapter of John provides a fascinating case study. Before Jesus healed him his disciples posed questions to Jesus on whose sin was responsible for his blindness. Was it his own sin or the sin of his parents? Jesus replied it was neither. God’s power was available and evident. The circumstances provided opportunity for manifestation of God’s power.

By human standards we live in an imperfect world. This universe was not created according to our idealized concept of perfection. It was created with an overlay of gradual decay according to the laws set in place by God himself. Ultimately the laws governing this universe will be replaced by the New Creation described in Revelation 21-22.