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The blindness of each age

The blindness of each age

I’d like to tell you ours.

But I can’t. Like you, I’m a part of our present condition, unaware of what we cannot see. As I often hear in corporate meetings, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

Why aren’t we more self-aware as a people? Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th-century preacher, writes:

“The difficulty is not at all for want of light without us, not at all because the word of God is not plain, or the rules not clear; but it is because of the darkness within us.”

Jesus says, “If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23) The more I think about it, the more I realize what a miracle self-awareness is.

Let me tell you what happened this week. Alison and I had a delightful time in Williamsburg, where one of my favorite challenges is to take photos of the costumed reenactors, framed up to keep the present day out – like opening a photographic portal into the past. It’s a fun pursuit, though I’m sure that I looked odd following people on the street, snapping shot after shot.

I know I’m romanticizing colonial times. But it’s fun to imagine.

Then, returning home, I had a call with a new client, a middle-aged black woman. We talked about our previous weeks, and I told her about our trip. She replied, “Well, I want nothing to do with anything colonial.” And suddenly, I realized how differently she saw that part of our history.

It was a jarring shift of perspective.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus addresses the church in Laodicea with a similar jarring shift of perspective:

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Rev. 3:17)

When you dig into the life of that city, you’ll find that what Jesus calls out are the very things that defined Laodicea. Their strengths deceived them.

I recently discovered that Jonathan Edwards, whose teaching I greatly respect, owned slaves. It’s easy for us to call out this obvious wrong, but it does beg the question: if this great man of God could have such a blind spot, what is ours?

So, coming back to my original question, what will future generations say about our cultural and spiritual sightlessness? If I were to hazard a guess, it would be how we’ve exalted the self. It’s easy to see it in the pervasive demands of individual affirmation in secular society. It’s much harder to see it in the life of the church.

But it’s there. In our worship songs. In our political expectations. In the way we treat others. Even in the way we interpret Scripture.

What’s the recipe for perception in this Age of Self? Here’s how Jesus instructs the Laodiceans:

I counsel you to buy from me… salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (3:18)

Only Jesus has the antidote. But it will cost us our pride, our self-determination, our idols.

Seems like a reasonable price for sight.

Open our eyes, Lord. Show us ourselves, that we may not be lost in the darkness of our unrecognized sin. And show us yourself, that we may find the grace and power to change.

Reader: What do you think is the blindness of our age?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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