Formations 11.30.2014: Helping the Blind to See

John 1:1-5; 9:1-7, 35-41

Carl Bloch, Healing of the Blind Man, 1871

Carl Bloch, Healing of the Blind Man, 1871

How do people see? As we look at things, a stream of light reaches our eyes and falls onto special cells on the retina called photoreceptors. This visual information translated into a kind of code that only the brain can read. It is then passed on to output cells that transmit this code to the brain, where it is “decoded” into images.

Degenerative eye diseases like macular degeneration, however, can interfere with this process. These diseases damage the retina, so the image in front of us never gets further than our eyeballs. The chain is broken, and we become blind.

Recently, Sheila Nirenberg, a neuroscientist at Weill Medical College at Cornell University, has found a way to reconstruct the brain’s code and send it to the eye’s output cells even when the retina is damaged. She and her team are working on a prosthetic device that can bypass the damaged retina and transmit the code directly to the brain. Her technology would help those afflicted with certain types of blindness to see again.

The Gospel of John has much to say about light and darkness. The prologue begins with a sweeping confession of the divinity of the Word as the agent of creation, through whom God caused everything to be. Through the Word, life itself came into being, “and the life was the light for all people” (1:4) that shines in the darkness so that no one can extinguish it. In John 9, Jesus heals a man born blind and uses that occasion to proclaim himself the light of the world. In the ensuing controversy with the Pharisees, he raises the question of who is truly blind and what it truly means to see.

What does it mean to be spiritually blind? Has something gone wrong with the “code” that translates what we see of God’s grace and God’s presence in the world, so that it never reaches our internal perception? If that is the case, what technology could help us bypass the damage and let the message get through?

Echoing the themes in John’s prologue, Jesus proclaims, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). Through him, those who are blind to God’s work in the world can hope to see again.

“The Code that May Treat Blindness,”, 12 Nov 2014


• What challenges confront those whose physical vision is failing?
• What makes blindness an apt metaphor for failure to perceive how God is at work in the world?
• What does it mean to have experienced the light of Christ shining in the darkness?
• What does this experience entail, especially as we begin our Advent journey?
• Is it possible for Christians to be spiritually blind even though they profess to see clearly? If so, what can be done about it?

Reference Shelf

Light and Darkness

In later Judaism, a more fully developed theological use of light/darkness took place. Then one encounters more the concept of salvation/perdition in connection with light/darkness. In Isaiah we find the statement: “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe, I am the Lord, who do all these things” (45:7). Here cosmology and soteriology are combined. Darkness came to mean a basic ignorance of God’s saving action and became the source of sin and evil. “The murderer rises in the dark, that he may kill the poor and needy; and in the night he is as a thief” (Job 24:14).

The NT picks up on this OT salvation/perdition theme of light/darkness. Light has the function of carrying out God’s salvation purpose. Matt 4:16, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” is a quotation of Isa 9:2. God’s light is viewed as a gift given to men for revelation, illumination, or salvation (Heb 6:4; 10:32). Light in the NT has conquered darkness (John 1:5). Thus, there is a strong eschatological aspect of light/darkness in the NT. The day will come when the children of light will rule the world (Col 1:12). Darkness will never prevail again (1 John 2:8). Darkness can be viewed as the state of not receiving Christ’s revelation or receiving it and turning away from it.

James. L. Blevins, “Light/Darkness in the New Testment,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990) 514.

The Wisdom and Word of God

The Fourth Gospel’s prologue happens to use Logos/Word instead of Sophia/Wisdom, perhaps because both it and the LXX of Genesis 1 begin alike (en arche/in beginning), perhaps because a masculine term (logos) seemed more appropriate for the man Jesus than the feminine wisdom (sophia). This interchangeability of names is in line with other early Christian usage: e.g., cf. Odes of Solomon 41:9, 15’s use of “wisdom” with 41:11, 14’s use of “word” and 41:12 where wisdom becomes word.

If John 1:1-18 is a Christianized form of the Jewish wisdom myth of late antiquity, then the parallels ought to be able to assist the reader in determining where the prologue speaks of the preexistence of the Word and where, when it moves to history, it focuses on the earthly Jesus. The following parts of the prologue seem to belong to the period of the preexistence of the Word: (a) in beginning with God (v. 1), (b) the instrument of creation (v. 3), (c) the source of life and light (v. 4), (d) light that is not overcome by darkness (v. 5), (e) the light that is continually coming into the world as general revelation (v. 9), and (f) the one who came to his own people, Israel, only to meet rejection (v. 11). To the period of the earthly Jesus the following parts belong: (a) became flesh and tabernacle among us (v. 14), (b) giving grace (v. 16), truth (v. 17), and knowledge of God (v. 18), and (c) to those who received him, he gave power to become children of God (v. 12) through a new birth (v. 13). The two sections dealing with John the Baptist (vv. 6-8, 15) also would be connected to the period of the Incarnation. The story order/sequence of events is different from the narrative order/surface structure. The latter is recognized by noting the repetitions in the text; the former is discerned by means of the parallels between John 1:1-18 and the wisdom myth of Jewish antiquity.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 74.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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