The story of the Damascus Road, of Saul’s becoming Paul, is known well. It is the original “Blinded By the Light.”
Do you ever wonder what went through Paul’s mind immediately after blindness struck, while he was still on the road toward Damascus? He had not yet met Ananias. What he would later describe as “scales” had not yet fallen from his eyes. He was just blind.
Put yourself there for a moment. Saul/Paul knows what he saw… whom he saw. He knows the voice he heard. He knows that he is different, but what now? What difference will it make that he saw that light?
The truth is that there are many stories of blindness throughout scripture, and even beyond scripture, that teach us much.
Samson had it all. He was a judge, which was about as important as he could be. He had fame, a sexy girlfriend, and power. He could do whatever he wanted, and he knew he was destined to deliver the people of Israel from the horrid Philistines. But it was not enough for him. He got lazy, and he forgot who gave him his power. He lost it all. And then, he was blinded. Not by a light, not in the same way as Paul. No, Samson was blinded by the bad guys. But he was blinded just the same. And Samson learned. He began to understand what he had thrown away. He knew that he could never get back what he had lost. And yet, he felt power return, and he knew that God had not forgotten him. Even at the end of his life, he fulfilled God’s destiny.
Jonah could tell Paul, and us, that sometimes the dark is the best place to learn. Jonah spent three days in the dark. Not because his eyes did not work, but because the sun does not shine inside the belly of a big fish. Whether or not the Jonah story is a metaphor is not the point. The point is that Jonah was so far onto the wrong track that God had to stop him cold to get his attention.
Think back further, to a ninety-year-old woman. It was not per se blindness with her. It was something different, and perhaps more personal, than that: pregnancy at the age of ninety. Nine months of bloating, swollen ankles, and kicks on top of osteoporosis and hearing loss! God got Sarah’s attention. So she laughed. Wouldn’t you? Can you think of anything funnier than turning up your hearing aid to find out that you are going to be pregnant, when you have been childless for ninety years? That’s a riot. It took Sarah a long time to get to the point where she thought the birth of Isaac was a great thing. She had to go through months of something she had never experienced before, and she had to do it with a dried up, elderly body that had no business going through it, and a husband who was ten years older than she was. It was no more natural for her than blindness was for Paul.
Then there is John, who was exiled. Not just away, but alone. Just John on a very small island, with nothing to do but write letters. It wasn’t long until he started seeing things.
Maybe this happens more than we think. Maybe there are times that God has to make sure there are no distractions, when He has to get our complete attention.
For Job, it happened when he lost it all.
For Philemon, it happened when he lost something (or should I say someone). It was devastating to him. He had to review his whole life – what did he really believe? What did he value?
Helen Keller could not remember losing her sight, because she lost it when she was less than two years old. She got sick as a small child, and the disease left her without sight and hearing: Blind and deaf and unable to talk in the back woods of Alabama. She was never in the belly of a fish or on a desert island, but I can’t really believe that anybody has ever been more alone than she was.
For Martin Luther, it was betrayal. A man of God and a preacher of the gospel, he was called a heretic. Talk about being blinded… for him, it was being blindsided.
For Corrie Ten Boom, it was a prison camp, a concentration camp built for Jewish people. She was not Jewish, but she was imprisoned among them. And only because she had tried to help.
And of course, there is Jesus. He knows about being alone and being betrayed. For Him, it was not three days in a fish or on a desert island. It was in a tomb. There is no darkness darker than that.
It would not be hard to decide that God is smiting us with blindness, but that conclusion is inconsistent with what we know about God. God did not smite Paul. In fact, God saved Paul. Remember your Exodus? “While my glory passes by, I will hide you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with my hand as I pass. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen. For no man can look upon my face and live.”
Yes, when Paul met the risen Jesus on the road, blindness was a gift. God protected him so that he would not be overcome by seeing all there is of God. Paul was not then ready, not then able. One day, Paul would be ready, and he would understand. He would write that the gift of the Holy Spirit means that we can become able to see the full glory of God. But on the road, Paul was not yet ready.
When Samson was blind, he saw that he was not self-sufficient. We are not the source of our own strength. We owe everything to God.
In the darkness, Jonah learned that God never takes His eyes off of us. His plan for us endures even the weirdest circumstances and the widest detours we can take. When Jonah’s soul fainted within him, he could remember the Lord. Jonah’s prayer went up to His holy temple, and he cried out to God, and God answered.
Sarah learned to see that there is nothing that God cannot do, even when we have given up all hope. He showed her, in what she thought were her most useless days, that He could use her for His purposes. It was a vision from which ninety years of life had blinded her.
John learned that when there is nothing to see, God sends vision. He learned that Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, that He is worthy to receive glory and honor and wisdom and blessing and riches and power. He learned how extravagant the love of the Father is, that we should be called children of God!
Job never learned the answers to all his questions, but he came to know that it is OK that we don’t understand it all, for we are only human. Where were we when God laid the foundations of the earth? Do we know what it sounded like when all the morning stars and the angels sang together for joy? No. We know that the redeemer lives and that He will stand at the last day. That is enough.
Philemon learned that we must love and forgive, just as God loves and forgives. He learned that what he had lost was really useless until it was touched by God.
Helen Keller learned the name for God. She had always known Him. He came to her in her silent darkness. But now she knew His name.
Martin Luther learned that our God is a mighty fortress.
Corrie Ten Boom learned that there is no place, no matter how dark, where God cannot find us.
What if we are suddenly alone? What if we are betrayed, abandoned, rejected? What if we lose those we love? What if we cannot see what Christ is setting before us? What if everything we understand is suddenly taken away? What if we are asked to do something that all common sense tells us we cannot do, because we are too old or too young or too weak or too … whatever? What if we are blinded by a light?
Or what if we simply lose focus?
We are often blind. We cannot see what is there before us. We lose our focus. I was in a bookstore the other day, and some of the Christian bestsellers illustrated the point so clearly. One was all about how we can simply decide to be happy. Another proclaimed that the single most important issue before us is how the United States chooses to treat the current political nation of Israel.
The number of Christian books that were focused on Jesus was way too small.
We can lose our focus. Our blindness can be self-inflicted. There is nothing wrong with the power of positive thinking. Many Christians hold pro-Israeli political views. I am not disparaging either. But neither is the point of what we are about.
Like Paul, we are blind. Like Saul, perhaps we need to be blinded from the things that have captured our focus.
There is so much that we need to learn, to see. And the only way we will see some of it is if we don’t see anything else. We need to see Jesus. We need to learn about Him. We need to know what it means when He calls. We need to understand to see people and to love people the way that God loves them.
When a storm tosses a child of God into the sea, God sometimes send a fish, but that is to save, not to harm.
Paul learned much that he could only learn first as a blind man: God is the king who is immortal and invisible. Even after he got sight back, Paul would not be able to see God, to understand God, to take God in. Whether we have eyesight or not, God is invisible to us: not because He is transparent but because we have limited vision. At best, we see through a glass darkly. One day, we shall see Him face to face. Now, we are beginning to know in part, but we are still so blind. One day, we shall see God and know Him fully.