Monday, November 20, 2006

From Blindness to Sight

One passage in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book of creative nonfiction by Christian Annie Dillard, tells the real life stories of people who are born blind but have their vision surgically restored through cataract surgery (I actually found the whole passage online and encourage you to read it here). The experiences of these newly sighted individuals got me thinking about people who convert to Christianity after being raised as non-believers, since a number of persecution stories contain conversion experiences. I was also reminded that all Christians, old and new, are forever battling against spiritual blindness, because sometimes it seems easier and simpler to remain in the dark rather than deal with the challenges posed by the light.

What is so surprising about Dillard's description of people who go from blindness to sight is that they do not always respond positively to their new vision. To their untrained eyes, reality is utterly unrecognizable and so can be terrifying. Their mind can't immediately process the colours, shapes and forms and the sheer "bigness" of the world is overwhelming. Dillard quotes one doctor who says that "it oppresses [the newly sighted] to realize, if they ever do at all, the tremendous size of the world, which they had previously conceived of as something touchingly manageable." I suppose it would be something like finding out that there really are millions of other planets out there brimming with life and civilization. Suddenly we would all feel crushingly small against the vastness and foreignness of the world.

Dillard's descriptions shatter all of my idealistic illusions and assumptions about how blind people respond to the gift of sight. I always pictured them reacting with endless joy and gratitude, not depression and shock. In fact, as Dillard describes, a number of the newly sighted go so far as to reject their newfound vision. They deliberately go through life with their eyes shut because it is what feels safe, comfortable, normal and, well, "right."

Not all of the newly sighted have such negative reactions to their sight. Some do take immediate delight in their new sight or, at least, come use it with time. However, even if the experience of new vision isn't always tragic, it is always dramatic. As doctor says, the experience is a "rapid and complete loss of that striking and wonderful serenity which is characteristic only of those who have never yet seen". New vision necessities a complete change of life.

What would it be like to go from complete blackness to the seeing world? I can't even imagine! But these stories at least make me certain that it would take a lot of effort, patience and support to make the transition. I certainly would not be able to do it alone---I would need others to, to guide me, to teach me and, of course, to pray for me.

This same level of support is needed for those who go from living without Christ's "light" to accepting Him as their personal Saviour. I often forget just how incredibly jarring and overwhelming it must be for those who convert to Christianity after years of being completely with faith. Since I was born into a Christian home, I don't know what it's like to encounter the Christian faith from a completely foreign perspective. From birth, I've been told that His "light" was there, I just had to choose how I was going to respond to it. There are some people, however, who come to Christ the same way the blind come to sight. Their truths, their beliefs, their perceptions---everything that they once knew changes. And even if this new reality is beautiful, the adjustment can't be immediate or easy. I can completely understand why some might be tempted to "shut their eyes" and just go back to what is familiar, especially if they are in areas of persecution.

A conversion to Christianity is certainly a cause for celebration and joy. However, we also need to remember that, even after the "Hallelujah! Christ is Lord," there is much work to be done. Although God is at work in the hearts of new believers, Satan is also at working to lure them back into the darkness of doubt and disbelief. When a nonbeliever accepts Christ, it does not mean that the work of the Church is finished. Really, it is has just begun, because it can finally take its true shape and role in the person's life.

God calls us to properly equip new believers for their life of faith by instructing them in God's word, teaching them ministry skills and reminding them that they belong to a communal body of believers. In the work of VOMC, I see this calling being answered in our projects that have an emphasis on training persecuted Christians in biblical theology, leadership skills and methods of evangelism. We have a responsibility not to let new believers be forgotten or unprepared.

But it's not just new believers, of course, who need to be in a constant state of learning and training. We are all constantly learning how to "see." Romans 20:19-21a makes this clear when it says ""if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth---you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?" All Christians must strive to be alert, focused and prepared.

In this life, no man will never be able to fully see God's face; we can only see "through a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:2). But, nonetheless, the Lord requires us to keep straining our eyes toward Him. If we fail to do so out of fear, we could face the same tragedy as those who literally go from blindness to sight. And the last thing that the Lord wants is for His children to "laps[e] into apathy and despair." We cannot do His work if we are stumbling around with our eyes closed---living without faith and trading the glory of the His light for the empty serenity of the dark.

No comments: